Friday, September 23, 2011

Joining Hands – El Salvador

Thursday and Friday, September 22 and 23

On Thursday and Friday Cecilia and I went to San Salvador for an assembly of the organization “Joining Hands.” The organization is part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and formed about a year ago. We’d met the mission co-worker, Kristi, who lives in San Salvador several weeks ago when she same to Berlín to learn more about the Pastoral Team. A couple weeks ago the Team got an invitation to go to San Salvador for an assembly they were having. First I’m going to provide a little info about the entire organization of Joining Hands, then info about Joining Hands in El Salvador, and then write a little about the assembly.

Joining Hands
The Joining Hands Initiative is an innovative way to mobilize people in focused campaigns to tackle systemic causes of hunger both in the United States and abroad as a witness to the wholeness of God’s creation. Joining Hands is committed to a holistic hunger ministry and its work is integrated with the mandate of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, outlined in the Common Affirmation on World Hunger. The five components of the mandate are: Relief of chronic hunger, development assistance, public policy advocacy, lifestyle integrity and hunger education. It also considers that spiritual wholeness is necessary for a sustainable community as indicated in Hope for a Global Future and adds this dimension to the five programmatic areas mentioned above.

Both presbyteries and congregations are invited to work within a denominational coalition that joins with marginalized people in ten countries, including churches, nonprofit organizations, community groups and members of other faith traditions – what we call communities of mission practice, who in disciplined ways, engage the world together through common spiritual and ethical values. Rather than replicate project-based mission, the goal of Joining Hands is to organize together in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres to campaign for peaceful social change in a globalized world.

Most of the issues identified by global partners as contributing to poverty abroad are also relevant in the United States. This effort is not about going somewhere else to do mission. Instead, we look together at the immense troubles we all face on a small planet and pull together in prayer, research, repentance, and in a process of mutual transformation that reflects our shared commitment to restoring the wholeness of God’s creation by contributing to the building of a more peaceful and just world.

We envision a growing and spiritually-grounded movement that maintains an ethical focus on:
• addressing the root causes of injustice, inequity and the lack of human dignity
• promoting the self-sufficiency of poor and marginalized groups
• confronting and influencing the structures of exploitation and injustice

We see a movement that:
• grows strong through knowledge, communication, education and skill-building
• values ethnic, religious, cultural and economic diversity
• draws upon common threads of spirituality and unites peoples of diverse faith in worldwide action
• involves congregations in global partnership
• models democratic and participatory decision-making at all levels

We envision a transforming partnership that is:
• characterized by equitable relationships based on mutual respect and not dominated by money
• built upon frequent exchange visits between and among networks including people of all ages
• strengthened by open, frequent and effective communication

We look forward to:
• effectiveness in advocacy for change
• opportunities for coordinated action

Our campaign issues:
• Food sovereignty
• Water privatization and pollution
• Extractive industries
• Land grab
• Trade reform

(Info from the Joining Hands website:

Joining Hands – El Salvador
As the Joining Hands Network facilitator in El Salvador, Kristi Van Nostran is helping to build bridges of solidarity between churches in the United States and a network of churches, grassroots groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in El Salvador. Together they work to combat the root causes of poverty and suffering through community education, advocacy, alternative economic activities, lifestyle changes and spiritual grounding. The goal is to restore the wholeness of God‘s creation and the healing of the human family through prayer, mutual visits, humble accompaniment and mutual transformation.

RUMES is the name for the Joining Hands network in El Salvador. It stands for Red Uniendo Manos El Salvador. The Coordinating Committee of the network is made up of 7 people from various organizations in El Salvador. Attending the conference today were 33 people from over 20 different organizations around El Salvador.

Assembly in San Salvador
Various organizations, groups, communities, and churches from around El Salvador were invited to attend. When we arrived Kristi gave us an overview of what we’d be doing over the next two days and what the objectives of the assembly were. The purpose of the assembly was to get to know each other and the work that is done in all our communities and organizations. We were also going to get a better understanding of Joining Hands in El Salvador and around the world. Together we can collaborate for a more just world and live a dignified life.

Kristi continued on saying that we all knew the famous saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” But what if there are no fish in the river? What if there is no water? What if the water you’re fishing in is contaminated? These are some of the problems that face Salvadorans every day. These are problems that people all over the word face every day.

What Joining Hands seeks to do is work together with organizations, institutions, churches, and communities on mutual problems and questions that people have. This is not going to be done through temporary projects, but instead the organization hopes to transform systems that contribute to injustices and create companionships to help with structural change.

This is a holistic and integrated approach where we all work together for equality. Everyone can teach and we can all learn. Everyone will be included and have a right to give their opinion. Furthermore, communities have the strength to solve their own problems because they know what is best for their particular community. The people from the US who are in solidarity with the communities can listen to what people say but have no right to say what the community’s problems are and what they need.

The Joining Hands Initiative began in 2000 through the Presbyterian Church (USA). The PC(USA) now has Joining Hands networks in 10 countries around the world including Bolivia, Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti, India, Lesotho, Peru, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador.

Food Sovereignty
Since a focus point of the network in El Salvador is food sovereignty we spent a little time discussing the subject. Though we spent an hour and a half discussing this topic I’ll just outline the points.

• Some of the causes of hunger and food problems in this economy are the global food system, agro export, biofuel, competition for land, the consumer society, and the hegemony of neoliberal capitalist society.
• Food insecurity in El Salvador is due to low food production, elevated importation rate of food, high volatility of food prices, climatic change, and uncertainty in production.
• Market focus vs. Human rights approach: the dominance of neoliberalism and the transnational corporation, the state’s role in the hegemony of the market, consumerism and dominant ideology, the terminal crisis of neoliberalism, and the paradigm shift, change of era and civilization.
• According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food security will be achieved when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient food that is safe and nutritive to meet their dietary needs and preferences with the objective to lead a healthy and active life.
• Different approaches of how to solve the problem of hunger: private enterprise, government, social movement.
• Food sovereignty is the right of people to produce their own food on their own land in ways that are reflective of their cultural values. It is ensuring that people from the country, small farmers, and rural women have the right to have all the resources needed to produce food, have greater access to land, and more control over the seeds, water, and means of life. Food sovereignty requires a genuine and powerful agrarian reform.
• The food sovereignty base – a paradigm shift: the content (agricultural development), methods (farmer to farmer), and the subject motor (small farmer production).
• The values of food sovereignty include sustainability, solidarity, gender equality, economic justice, cultural identity, common property, human rights.
• Principles: comprehensiveness and synergy of the components, rescue and assessment of the practices of our ancestors, promotion of equity and social justice, based on the needs of families and communities, not the market.

Statutes and Work Plan
The Coordinating Committee of Joining Hands had put together an Annual Work Plan for 2012 and the statutes of the organization for us to review on Thursday. Both were extensive and I was impressed with them. I’m not going to share what specifically is in the documents because I’m not sure if it’s public knowledge. But I will say that the work plan included information about the vision, mission, and objectives of Joining Hands. It discussed community education and outreach, advocacy, social and economic initiatives, and promotion of spiritual integrity and support. It also included information on institutional strengthening, financial resources, and organization of Joining Hands.

The statutes of Joining Hands have 12 chapters and 46 articles. On Friday morning we spent quite a bit of time discussing the statutes. I admit that I got a little lost during parts of the conversation of statutes. One reason being that macro focus work has never been my strong point (I’m reminded of my organization and community practice class in grad school). The second reason being the entire conversation was in Spanish. The entire conference and all materials were in Spanish (what with us being in El Salvador and all). So this assembly really challenged me to use my Spanish skills. I was just proud that I was able to follow as much as I did.

Final thoughts
It was a good two days and I certainly learned a lot. There was a large amount of information to take in and some of it I’m still digesting. But it was all interesting and I’m glad I had the opportunity to go.


The Coordinating Committee of Joining Hands - El Salvador

1 comment:

Matt said...

Joining Hands sounds like a great organization. Pretty cool that you got to be a part of the meeting in San Salvador. That is a great experience.