Caminos de Accion has worked in El Salvador - Tehuiste Arriba and Tehuiste Abajo - since 2012. If you look for the village Tehuiste on Google Maps in the La Paz department in El Salvador, you have to find the two country roads that converge between San Rafael Obrajuelo and San Juan Nonualco. Somewhere in that unmarked land are the two joint communities of Tehuiste Abajo and Tehuiste Arriba (Los Tehuistes).
In Los Tehuistes, educational opportunities are limitied with only two schools in the community that are housed in dangerously deteriorated buildings. For a community that is 50% young adult with 25% under the age of 18, the lack of educational opportunities combines with health and infrastructure challenges to keep the community in poverty.
We’re working to change that by empowering the local community to tackle these issues from the ground up.
Getting to Tehuiste is an adventure. From the capital city, San Salvador, you hop on a bus at the Southern Bus Terminal for a one-and-a-half-hour to possibly three-hour ride stuffed between people heading to their home departments (like states) La Paz, San Vicente or Usulutan. The bus is guaranteed to be an old school bus from the States and reggaeton or bachata music is sure to be blaring from the speakers. Women, men, boys and girls get on and off at each stop, yelling “puuupppuuuussssaaasss!” or other snack foods they’re selling. The fare collector jingles his coin purse and collects your 70 cents.
It’s hot. It’s humid. And the windows are your only air conditioning as you head down the highway, full of potholes, a canopy of mango and coconut trees above you, roadside stands for fruit, vegetables, pupusas and sweets that sweep past, Korean sweatshops that billow, volcanoes quiet and green in the distance. You track your progress by that one volcano, knowing that Tehuiste Abajo is at its base and that you’ll find Tehuiste Arriba as you travel up the main road to the top of the mountain.
You count the overpasses, two, so you don’t miss your stop: San Rafael Obrajuelo. You push through the crowded bus and tell the fare collector, who’s clinging to the railing and hanging out the bus’ front door, that you’re getting off at the Mango. As the bus driver brakes, you too hold on tight to the railing and squeeze yourself upright so you don’t tumble onto the highway. The bus pauses for a split second as you jump down, and it's off again with a roar.
It’s time to find a mototaxi to take you into San Rafael Obrajuelo. You manage to squeeze in with a few other people and off you go, past the medieval-like wall near the highway, up the country lane and by farmers who are drying their beans on banana leaves on the road. All of a sudden you’re amidst brightly painted homes, with decorations hanging over the road for the current celebration the town’s having, because there’s certain to be some celebration this week. You zoom past the city hall, the alcaldia, near the town center, and promptly you find yourself at the market (see picture). It’s crowded. It’s loud. People are haggling over fruit, vegetable and seafood prices. Women are over hot griddles patting and tossing tortilla dough to sizzle and cook. Tall stacks of fresh tortillas are ready to go, 10 for a $1. You buy some freshly cut green mango drenched with lime juice and covered in spicy chili powder. Your tastebuds light up. You’re ready to find the truck that can take you to Tehuiste. Let’s hope you’ve arrived in time to catch one of the two that go in and out of the community each day.
You’ve caught the morning truck! It’s full of people headed to Tehuiste and the neighboring communities. They’ve already been in San Rafael for hours, having caught the sunrise truck. They’ve been to the medical clinic, to church, to the market for goods not already produced at home or in Tehuiste, maybe for bottled water if they can afford it. It’s time to head home.
Tehuiste’s only 3-4 miles away, but this trip’s going to take about an hour. You pay the jingling fare collector his 20 cents and, standing like everyone else in the bed of the truck, you lean against the railing at your chest and take it all in.
The road’s paved, initially, and the ride rather smooth. You’ve left San Rafael and its vibrant market and colorful houses behind, and now you’re in the countryside, a few houses here and there amidst the trees and fields. Passing several villages, you eventually come across the house with the fox-like dog and you’re on dirt and gravel; the road splits, and the ruts make the trip slow going. You’re coming up on the bridge across the river that floods in the wet season and leaves the community thirsty in the dry season. Up a steep hill, and you’ve reached the first few houses of Tehuiste Abajo.
You’re on the main road of the community, and almost all the homes along the road are made of cement blocks, with latrines out back and access to the haphazard and dangerously hung power line that runs along the road. You drop off Don Noel (vice president of the water committee) at his home and his fields of corn and beans and herd of cattle. Up the road is the main “intersection” of Tehuiste Abajo where the school, grades K-9, and the Catholic church house meet. Here, a bunch of your truck bed companions jump off, including Don Napoleon of the water committee. The trail to Don Napo’s is also the main trail down to the river where the majority of the community gathers their water when it’s flowing. This main intersection is also the only place where a street lamp is lit at night, and it’s the local teenager hangout, although it hasn’t been so much of one recently because of the increased gang presence that’s infiltrating the community and breeding fear.
The truck lurches forward, and you’re moving up the road, past the family with the adobe and bamboo home. The family’s youngest daughter, who washed her only pair of shoes (for school) and had her older sister brush her hair so you could take a picture of her last time, is growing. Her father is off working at the factories, and her mother is even weaker than the last time you saw her. She’s bedridden, and her own mother is shucking the corn by her bedside. Her neighbor, Niña Rena, secretary of the water committee, is singing and hanging laundry outside her home, her teenage girls helping their single mother.
You’ve reached the boundary of Tehuiste Arriba and the location of the newly perforated well. Niña Magaly’s cement block home stands watch over the project. Piping has just been installed, connecting the well to the water holding tank a kilometer up the road. Piping to individual homes is underway, soon to be completed. This has been a long haul, this water project, but it will soon come to fruition, after 30 years of playing political games.
On your way to the water holding tank up the road, you pass water committee member Niña Transito’s home where CdA meetings and trainings are often held. Then you’re passing water committee president Don Manuel’s home, and you’re at the water holding tank. Here, you jump off with a few members of the water committee who take you back past the water holding tank, down the ravine to the river where women are washing clothes and children are playing in the water, splashing and giggling. Nearby is a spring that has long been considered the cleanest water in the community but was recently tested to be highly contaminated.
Back to the road with the community members, you walk to the Tehuiste Arriba intersection where a field opens up. The horse races are tonight, and you’re here to enjoy the entertainment, the fresh tamales and pupusas, and the joyful laughter of the people of Tehuiste. Welcome.