Bikes for the World

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Spotlight on El Zapote: The Future

In stark contrast to the tough streets of inner city San Marcos,  beautiful beaches and tranquil shores define  the western coast of El Salvador. Here, palm trees and fishing poles replace gang signs and guns.

El Zapote is a small community bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Guatemalan border to the north. Garita Palmera and Barra de Santigo are two nearby fishing villages. 'Nearby' is a relative term. In Barra de Santigo kids attending school in El Zapote would have to hop a 2 1/2 hour truck ride to get to school. While the two towns are close in distance, they are separated by an inlet of the Pacific Ocean (think Ocean City MD with no bridge). To cut the commuting distance, kids living in Barra de Santigo use a combination of canoes and bikes just to get to school.

To say these small coastal villages are isolated is an understatement. The infrastructure of a town is non-existent. Despite the absence of violence and gang activity notorious in El Salvador, these communities continue to struggle. With little economic opportunity within the community there is little hope for a productive future for many youths, who opt instead to leave.

When Bikes for the World visited El Zapote in 2014 we observed several coyotes (human traffickers) waiting on the edge of town to transport 'customers' to the nearby border. The week before we arrived, El Zapote lost three students ages 14, 10, and 8 to this illegal emigration.

The local school in El Zapote is run by two native brothers: Hector Morales, Director of the school and Jonathan, lead teacher. Together they are bringing change to Centro Escolar Caserío El Porvenir-- Porvenir meaning Future. In an effort to protect their community and build a better future, Hector looked within his own school for a solution.

Hector Morales
Now, the students are engaged in a wide variety of activities, many focused on sustainability and protecting the environment. Hector first introduced hydroponic gardening to the students over 6 years ago. They are using this skill to help feed the kids during lunch, with the excess being sold in the community to help fund the project. 80% of the kids took this skill home and implemented within their families.

Next, they added tilapia ponds and shrimp ponds. Other kids were taught weaving skills and now make hammocks that are sold to tourists. "When one has problems you weave and weave. You end up concentrating on the task and you forget your problems," says Luis, student weaver at El Zapote School. Luis looks forward to this activity that often spills over outside of school.

One parent noted, "I see kids doing really diverse activities like art, sports, and outreach. Before these things were very limited or didn't exist at all."

Hector Morales expands on the program, "The environment is a vital part of the curriculum at El Zapote School. As a school we think it is important to engage in several projects aimed at minimizing people's impact on the environment. We hope to transform our students into well rounded individuals with values and habits necessary for a peaceful, harmonious co-existence with the earth."

Because students are responsible for maintaining these sustainable projects at the school that require constant care, they are often going back and forth between home and school. Several years ago Hector approached Bikes for the World to inquire about receiving bikes for those students.

Find out what happened when Bikes for the World, El Zapote School, and bike beneficiary partner, CESTA, all sat down together in 2014...

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