Tuesday, March 15, 2011
El Salvador, Take 2
It's been a year, and as the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero approaches, Geoff and Joanne have once again selected a group of 10 Stanford students to head down El Salvador for Spring Break on a solidity mission. We are Doc, Angela, Edgardo, Sarah, Araceli, Hanni, Thomas, Erin, Rassy, and Hannah. We are all sophomores, juniors or seniors (and just about all of us seem to be HumBio majors).
Over the past 10 weeks we have prepared for this trip in many ways. We've had two orientations with the members of Southbay Sanctuary Covenant Church, and we've heard from guest lectures who have presented use with a number of different perspectives on El Salvador--historical, environmental, religious, and even medical. However, I think few of us would contest that one of our most thought-provoking guest lecturers was Stanford Political Science professor Rob Reich.
Professor Reich presented us with Ivan Illich's speech entitled "To Hell with Good Intentions" and asked what gives us the right to go down to El Salvador and force ourselves upon the the salvadoreños? Don't we as Americans do more harm than good in other countries? Haven't we caused enough damage in Central America? How have we come to be so morally superior as to believe that are first world ways are better than theirs and that we can create simple solutions to their problems and provide them with a "better" lifestyle? And even if we could possibly help them, what could we possibly accomplish in a mere 10 days? What attitude do we approach the people of El Salvador with? Do we admit to our power as Americans or do we try to disempower ourselves and feign equality?
Professor Reich asked us a number of tough questions. We were able to come up with answers to some to them, others we will come to answer as we are in El Salvador, others we may never be able to answer. As a class we discussed that we aren't trying to change anything in El Salvador and have no intention of doing so. If anything, we acknowledge that this trip will benefit ourselves much more than it will benefit any of the salvadoreños we may meet; however, the question what gives us the right to impose ourselves upon the salvadoreños for our own personal gain remains. There is no easy answer, but the best we could come up with (at least at this point) is that going to El Salvador and participating in a cross cultural exchange is far better than sitting at home in our Stanford bubble. We feel that we have an obligation to learn about the world instead of only looking inward at our somewhat utopian community.
We realized that we may be able to justify our trip on some level if we use it as an educational experience to teach not just ourselves but also other Americans about experiences in El Salvador. To accomplish this we plan on recording conversations with El Salvadorians so that Stanford can have them on file for academic purposes, and we also plan to use this blog as a way to document our trip and share our experiences with other members of the Stanford community.
That being said, our departure is a short three days away, and I think it's safe to say that we are all eager to get to El Salvador and meet her people.