Henry Chicas with Delmy Garcia-Hoyt. Sarah Cashmore
In 2017, Henry Chicas was recognized as one of the Top 30 Under 30 by the Alberta Council For Global Cooperation (ACGC). For six years now, Alberta NGOs have been invited to nominate young change-makers. This year, a candidate nominated by Sombrilla, a local NGO, was selected and invited to attend the ACGC annual meeting in Calgary (October 23-24) and to give a number of presentations in Edmonton. I was selected to interpret for Henry. I always welcome such requests since I spent over seven years in Guatemala and Nicaragua and have accompanied delegations to El Salvador many times – including two with Edmonton’s Salvadoran community. Twice, I was an international election observer. The program and translation into Spanish was done by Delmy Garcia.
Henry was the recipient of a scholarship offered by Sombrilla, an organization that partners with communities in Latin America to empower them to assert their democratic, economic, cultural, and social rights. It’s easy to see why scholarships are essential! There is only one public university in El Salvador. All the other universities are private and their prices are way beyond what a scholarship could provide. There are around 40,000 applications each year to this public university but only room for 8000 entrants. You need excellent high school marks and as well excellent marks in the entrance exams. No wonder El Salvador’s only public university is considered the best university in the country! The necessity for scholarships is also beyond dispute. Henry calculated that the cost of transport, room, food,and other essentials is about $220-280 US/month whereas the income of families in Perquín, the rural community where he lives, is $220-280 US per month. All four scholarship recipients of the first graduation are now actively engaged in their community and their skills are invaluable in all the projects undertaken by the community.
On October 26, we had a presentation with Amnesty International at the Carrot Café, followed by a meeting with the Latino community at Alberta Avenue on October 28 (I didn’t need to interpret but I welcomed the opportunity to meet my Latino friends). We were welcomed at the Sombrilla AGM at the Tiramisu Cafe on October 29. Then came the serious work – a Spanish class and a Social Studies class at Scona High School, an evening meeting with the UoC Faculty of Social Work, and the International Team at Norquest Community College.
My most moving meeting was at Boyle Street Community Services with a group of practicum students! Why? Because I had finally begun to grasp Henry’s kind of leadership and why it works. It’s a kind of leadership instilled in him from his childhood. It’s based on what they call CEBES – Communidades Eclesiales de Base El Salvador – what we call Christian Base Communities. Each person is important – even children. It’s important to discuss, make decisions, and work together. In each presentation, Henry insisted on the need to instill values. This means inclusion, participation, helping each other, and being present to the other. He usually cited the fact that several people might be sharing the same table for hours but none of them were communicating or present to those around the table. Look around you the next time you are on a bus or even at the next family meeting!
Each person is important – even children. It’s important to discuss, make decisions, and work together.
Henry’s presentation focused on inculcating values. Henry participated with the youngest age in CEBES activities and he replicates this in his community today with groups of young children dancing and doing skits where the entire community assists – the youth doing music together, participating in hikes such as the annual one on the anniversary of the massacre of El Mozote. The same with adults, women, seniors. These events are called convivencias – living together.
As well, he has created a credit union so that small sums of money for projects are borrowed. Agricultural projects with women provide some extra income. All this is part of creating peace. It’s working together, participating, being heard, and valued. It’s creating values.
One last comment: during the time of Stephen Harper’s government, the government’s grants to small organizations such as Sombrilla were cancelled by the stroke of a pen! They have not be restored. The government is now giving huge sums of money for huge projects with little participation of the beneficiaries. Such grants are out of reach of Canadian NGOs run by volunteers. Let the Prime Minister know that you would like these funds to be restored.
Cecily Mills lives in Boyle Street. She is a teacher who retired to do full-time volunteer work in Nicaragua and Guatemala over a seven-year period. Since 2000, she has served as translator for a dozen or more delegations to Central America. For the last 17 years she has volunteered at Change for Children.