The Anacostia Community Museum Academy is an after school program dedicated to broadening the horizons of some of the younger members of our local community. One late afternoon in November the ACM Museum Academy crossed international borders and paid a visit to the Salvadoran Embassy in DC. There, they met with Ambassador Francisco Roberto Altschul; learned about El Salvador; tasted traditional Salvadoran food like pupusa de queso (a thick corn meal tortilla filled with cheese) and served with curtido (a delicious cabbage slaw made with vinegar); and enjoyed a film screening with Oscar-winning Salvadoran director Andrè Guttfreund about a Salvadoran man who had an idea and turned that into a school that benefitted the entire community.
Andrè shared this story about Hector Morales , a director of a poor rural school, El Zapote, in El Salvador who changed the face of a community. In Andrè’s own words:
Hector Morales, El Zapote’s hero Director, took over 4 years ago. In that time he has done the following:
1) Introduced hydroponic gardening all done by the kids themselves in order for the school to feed itself. Leftover produce is sold by the kids to raise money for their other projects. In addition, 80% of the kids took hydroponics home, so that their families now also feed themselves, and barter what they don’t need with fishermen, allowing both parties to balance out their diets.
2) The kids and their parents, with the help of community members, have built two tilapia ponds and one shrimp pond. What they don’t eat has already been pre-sold to fish markets in the area.
3) Given that there is no artisanship in their village of 500, and because Hector felt the kids needed an activity which they would enjoy, instill pride, and help them make some money for themselves and their families, he brought a teacher in, from an area in El Salvador which weaves for a living, who taught the kids how to make hammocks. This program has been so successful that the kids are having to catch up with the orders. Each kid gets $25.00 for their hammock; the rest goes for the materials involved. Hector introduced them to branding, by having the kids choose the colors which would identify the hammocks as having been made in El Zapote. They are now sold to tourists at airport gift shops, and orders have started to come in from abroad.
4) Hector made a deal with local turtle egg fishermen in which they keep 70% of their crop and give the other 30% to the school. This helps conserve the species, and makes the kids responsible for taking care of the eggs, and then releasing the turtles before they imprint. This project is part of his biology class, and he has integrated ecology, environmentalism and self-sustainability into the entire curriculum
5) Every Friday, the whole school participates in a total community clean-up operation, ending with recycling and mulching.
6) Some of the recycled material is used to make puppets for a puppet show on environmental awareness, which the kindergartners perform throughout the county.
7) Before Hector, education at El Zapote would end at 8th grade for 95% of the students. The closest high school was a 2 1/2 hour bus ride away (each way). Now a ninth grade schoolroom has been built for the upcoming school year, and one will be added every year until the 12th grade is finished. Every eighth grader has been inscribed other than three whose families are moving.
Andrè finished his impassioned presentation by telling the students that they had the tools to create a film like the one he made (linked to below), with the ubiquity of personal technology like smart phones, and outlets like YouTube and Vimeo, we all can be the creators of our stories and share them with the world. Andrè Guttfreund’s movie served to create awareness of how one dedicated person harnessed a community to become positive conduits for change, and has since inspired the curriculum at schools around the world. Watch it below.