By: Jeremiah Watson
We woke up early in the morning and started our journey to a small community on the outskirts of Ilopango named Milagro de Dios or “Miracle of God”. The land for this community was given to the impoverished people of El Salvador by the government. People have moved to this community in the search of hope. Some of the people of Milagro come from the poorest parts of the city in hope of receiving land and a home, while others have been drawn from the countryside by the possibility of getting work. Now, as the city expands, the people have been informed that the government is planning to kick them off the land they were given so the city can build apartment complexes.
This displacement would be devastating because most of these people come from an agrarian background. It is in these agrarian roots that the people find hope in a place like Milagro de Dios. Being a farmer here, like in many parts of the world, is not a lucrative occupation. After the Salvadorian Civil War (1980 - 1992), free trade and the American dollar took over the economy of El Salvador. With free trade came subsidized commodities. The American food system relies on such subsidies to keep grain prices down so that food can remain inexpensive. These subsidies go to the American farmer in order to support the farmer and their family, because selling their grain at such low prices does not pay them enough to live. Here in El Salvador this has the opposite effect. As grain is imported into El Salvador it comes at such low prices that the farmer here - who does not benefit from these subsidies - is unable to sell their product for enough to survive.
The only option for these people, who have been farmers for generations, is to move to the city in hopes of a job that will pay to feed their families. To no longer have the ability to grow one's own food has economic and psychological effects on those who have relied on it for so many years. For these people, to be given land is like a Miracle from God.
The people of Milagro de Dios live in houses of tin roofs and tarp walls, but most of them have between five hundred and seven hundred square feet of land they can grow crops upon. To grow enough food for a family on such a small plot takes ingenuity and some sort of education in bio-intensive gardening. Even without this type of education, the people do all they can and just having the option to try brings them hope for the future. We can participate in this realm by teaching bio-intensive gardening and construction using local resources. The possibilities for practical development In Milagro de Dios are almost endless. At the same time there is an overarching feeling throughout the community that they may be forced to leave any day.
In the midst of this threat the community has bonded together. They have been attempting to meet with those in places of authority only to be told there is nothing that can be done. They are attempting to contact media in order to have their voices heard. They, unlike the city that surrounds them, are bound together in their common plight. All the while they have greeted us in their impoverished condition with smiles and open arms. We are encouraging the families we know to let their voices be heard, to not give up hope, and that God is with them. We are building relationships so that trust can grow between us and opportunities for development can be forged.