Larissa Hotra

Larissa Hotra (Survivor Corps in El Salvador): Larissa graduated from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources in 2004. She worked at the nonprofit SafeHouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan as a legal advocate and as an environmental science educator to high school students. She then served as the Midwest campaign coordinator for Global Impact, a nonprofit that raises money for international humanitarian organizations. By night, she worked as the Political Affairs Editor for a Ukrainian Internet Newsletter, e-POSHTA. Throughout her time in Chicago she dabbled in everything that the city had to offer: producing a story for Chicago Public Radio on the Ukrainian diaspora; organizing and working with the Ukrainian diaspora through PLAST – a Ukrainian youth scouting; attending free cultural and musical events; practicing her Spanish language skills in Latino immigrant neighborhoods; and trying to play soccer on every piece of green space in the city. At the time of her fellowship, Larissa was in the first year of a Master’s program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.



Day 1 at the office: The inns and outs of LSN-ES

02 Jun

It’s Day 1, and I am refreshed after a ten-hour layover in the Panama Airport the evening before last. Today, at 8 am sharp an LSN employee arrives at the hotel to whisk me away to my new home and family (my new network) for the summer–LSN. I am quickly roused out of my breakfast slumber, seeing as it’s already 8am, yet still digesting my breakfast ‘tipico’ (eggs, beans, cheese, and fresh cream) and pondering the (weather) report of the day: rain, politics of President Alberto Saco’s 4th year in power (it began in 2004), rain, the TACA flight that crashed in Honduras and killed 3 (or so the papers say), rain, Sunday’s 2008 El Salvador Football Champions, Team Firpo, and you guessed it-rain. For me, the rain seems refreshing. In my conversations with El Salvadorans, I frequently remark on the rain, both in polite conversation and honest opinion. It seems like a safe and healthy topic. I later find out that the rain in El Salvador symbolizes more than just a simple conversation…

Upon arrival at the office one minute later, I meet “The LSN Team”. The Team consists of eight outreach workers (OWs) and a total of eighteen employees. Two minutes later I have met the outreach team and am staring at a map, trying to memorize the various regions around San Salvador where each outreach worker is employed. Three minutes later (slight exaggeration on the timeliness of everything) I am in a meeting, learning the ins and outs of LSN-ES: the new mission to address the needs of all survivors of conflict; the complexities of taking transport to reach all the survivors in far-away regions; the politics of the Disability Law in El Salvador; and the daily reporting that is necessary to document survivor visits, among many other topics. I understand the majority of what is being said, but probably every 20th word escapes my Spanish brain. Nonetheless, I am absolutely content to soak in both the magic and the mundane of the work that the organization does to help survivors.

After the meeting I am led to my own large office, the windows tinted black and reminiscent of a police investigation room. Before settling in, I walk to the kitchen, where Maria is making coffee. We indulge in simple conversation-back to the rain again-and I ask her if she likes it. Assuming she will say yes, I relax and revel in the cool mist that the shower brings. And then I see a dark cloud cross her face.

“No,” she says. “So much rain is not good.”

Surprised, I ask her to explain. “It is not good for the poor, and the people who have disabilities. It makes it very difficult for them to be healthy and move about.” The shadow on her face lingered as I digested this novel concept. The lightning bolt of understanding shot across my brain as I realized that she was talking about the very people that LSN works to empower–the survivors–those people most affected by rain and misfortunes.

This led me to start thinking about the quickness with which we forget about the simple pleasures in life, like enjoying the pounding rain and being able to lift a box with two arms. It reminded me that we cannot forget the wars of the past and those in the present. For those who have lived through a civil war that has ended, it seems that the clouds may lift, but even a slight wind can bring them back.

I wanted to give you all some insight into the situation on the ground in El Salvador. The country is rife with direct and indirect consequences of the war. Armed security guards guard the entrances to most major buildings in the capital because of the explosive crime rate (El Salvador is ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world). The President is a conservative member of ARENA, or the Nationalist Republican Alliance of El Salvador, who sent Salvadoran troops to aid the United States in the Iraq War. It is believed that ARENA aided in the death squads during the civil war.

I am quite tired…so much to digest. More to come.

Posted By Larissa Hotra

Posted Jun 2nd, 2008

5 Comments

  • Amoeba DawgPawz

    June 3, 2008

     

    I’m not a fan of rain myself. Look forward to hearing more from you. hugs hugs

  • Krystal

    June 4, 2008

     

    Hey Larri! That’s very interesting that the simple subject of rain, a typical small-talk subject in the West, would evoke such emotions. It’s definitely enlightening. I would love to hear more about how your work with LSN is getting along. Here in Jordan, things are moving quite slowly!

    Krystal

  • Ash

    June 4, 2008

     

    Glad you made it in safe! Isn´t Latin America incredibly nuanced? I can´t wait to hear more. Let us know how your meeting goes! Abrazos!

  • hannah

    June 10, 2008

     

    We missed our chat before you left! Glad you’re in San Salvador safely and hope you get in touch with Paola and Elizabeth at CARE. I don’t think I ever gave you the nitty gritty details of my travels to El Salvador in April but will try soon via email. Go to the Romero Center Museum at the University. It’s heartbreaking.
    xo
    hannah

  • Shalini

    June 12, 2008

     

    that really is incredible…
    i did pro bono legal work on the nicholas carranza case and tend to associate the civil war with his death squads and something that ended before he came and hid here in the US…
    naive, i know.

    i’m so pleased you are getting more than the academic/books only experience–and that I can be reminded of realities i tend to push out of my mind through you.

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