It’s not every day that a group of University of San Francisco students
sits down with a leftist rebel fighter to talk politics and
empowerment. But, that was the case for students of USF’s summer El
Salvador Today program.
The program, which can be taken for two
or three credits, immerses students in national and international
factors that have shaped El Salvador’s history and post-civil war
reconstruction. The country, the smallest in the Americas, was one of
the many battlegrounds around the world where the Cold War played out,
pitting socialist rebels (supported by the Soviets) and hardline
dictators (supported by the United States) in a civil war.
1980 to 1992, 180,000 Salvadorans died on either side of the civil war,
including many Catholic priests, nuns, and American missionaries. Among
them was Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who was assassinated
in March 1980 when he was shot through the heart by a band of
government supporters as he delivered Mass. Archbishop Romero, after
whom a USF student leadership award is named, was well known for
speaking out against economic injustice and military repression in El
“We encountered many monumental figures and saw things
that changed all of us forever,” junior economics major Carla Laurel
said of the trip.
For her, the most remarkable encounter
occurred when she and the other students sat down with former leftist
fighter and cofounder of the rebel music group Los Torogoces de
Morazan, Sebastian Torogoz. After recognizing Torogoz on the street and
approaching him, Francesco Rivera, instructor of performing arts and
social justice at USF and a faculty member on the trip, invited him to
meet with the group and talk about the civil war over dinner one
“Sebastian was so knowledgeable and came off as an
everyday guy,” Laurel said. “Speaking with him, he told us that we have
so much power.”
Such heroism by everyday people in standing up to a repressive regime put life in perspective, Laurel said.
Salvador Today is a month-long immersion that includes classroom
instruction at the Jesuit University of Central America in San
Salvador, El Salvador. Classes cover topics such as liberation
theology, Archbishop Romero’s life and influence, environmental
degradation, women’s movements, and contemporary economic realities.
sociopolitical changes in El Salvador, from a recent civil war to a
process of pacification and economic development, present our students
with unique opportunities to explore the development of a civil society
and the human and personal costs brought about by rapid growth and
uncontrolled, industrial globalization,” said Sharon Li, director of
USF’s Center for Global Education.
Students also took part in
field trips to museums, historic sites, and shared stories face-to-face
with people who lived during the revolution, said native Salvadoran
Marco Pernavarre, on-site coordinator for the El Salvador Today summer
program and USF visiting lecturer.
Students visited a coffee
farm, once a bastion of El Salvador’s agricultural industry, and helped
level the foundation for a chicken coop, a service-learning project to
help a village in the country’s north begin a chicken farming business.
Describing the trip as “amazing,” Laurel said she didn’t know
much about the U.S.-El Salvador relationship before the class. Now she
understands the U.S. influence more clearly. “El Salvador is a little
country with a lot of problems that I can say the U.S. definitely was a
part of creating.”
Not surprisingly, that kind of response
brings a smile to Pernavarre’s face, whose goal is to “open students’
minds to realities that are not part of their experience, but powerful
enough to make them want to change what has to be changed in the world.”