Cover Photo: Portrait of Dago

by Adele Negro

imageBright-eyed and engaging, if slightly bashful, 11-year-old Dagoberto Gómez – or Dago, as he is known – wants to be a computer scientist when he grows up. After a bit of playful prodding, he enjoys showing off his knowledge of English, and loves to chat up the students in our team. He will become buddies with anyone with a laptop and even has his own Facebook page, though he rarely uses it since wireless service is scarce and spotty at best. He particularly likes to romance the girls with gifts of bracelets he weaves of weeds and wildflowers, and with a little encouragement will break into song.

We met Dago four years ago in the village of Ciudad Romero of the Lower Lempa River region in southeastern El Salvador, an area still rehabilitating itself after the ravages of a brutal civil war, which ended in 1992 with the signing of the Peace Accords. Its communities have been endeavoring ever since to implement strategies to break with deeply entrenched inequalities and mitigate the devastating effects of recurring – and worsening – natural disasters.

Dago’s mother, Columbia, has been the sole support of the family with odd jobs at the community center. Dago’s father, long absent, is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence in the United States where he went in search of work and options, which sadly continued to elude him. This is the story of millions of Salvadorans who have migrated for decades, displaced by war, poverty, little hope of employment, environmental calamity and degradation, fear, and insecurity.

Little Dago has the verve and daring to make good on his dream, but like so many children of the Bajo Lempa, he will come up against the constraints of circumstance and history. These include an educational system that is still more of a privilege than a right; the need to help at home with the smaller kids and the chores on the family plot; the absence of a parent; the high incidence of kidney, respiratory, and intestinal disease; and the pull of gangs. Ironically, Dago still faces these problems even though he lives in the only functioning Local Zone of Peace in existence since 1998.

The Stockholm Declaration of 1972 underscores “the fundamental right… to adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.” For Dago’s father, those conditions may have disappeared forever. For Dago and his dreams, that fundamental right vitally depends on the quality of vision, commitment, political will, and public policies that can be developed and sustained at this critical time in El Salvador and throughout the Americas.

Adele Negro is Faculty Director of Team El Salvador, a sustainable development practicum of the Monterey Institute of International Studies founded in 2006 to work with the grassroots organization La Coordinadora, its NGO the Mangrove Association, and the communities they represent, to further their strategic development goals by helping to strengthen organizational capacity and skills for empowerment. It is a student-led initiative with faculty oversight and on-site participation. Adele is also a professional interpreter and translator, with a Masters from the Monterey Institute.

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