Cristosal Foundation

The following is an interview conducted by Hugo Acosta, the CNY Latino newspaper Publisher to a member of our Syracuse’s community, who has not only integrated into the Latino community of El Salvador, but it has also learned our language, our culture and is helping the country to develop a democratic system. He represents an example of dedication and determination, and pride in our community and the contribution of the history of a Latino country.

Now we’re here interviewing Noah Bullock and we have several reasons why we are interviewing him…

Hugo – Who are you and why are we interviewing you..?
Noah – I was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up here in Syracuse. I am currently the Executive Director of the Foundation Cristosal. That is an organization working in El Salvador. It is an organization that was born out here in Syracuse and also perhaps that is why we are still here. Also several board members still live here and have a strong bond with the community of Syracuse. This is the first time we have had closeness with the Latino community in Syracuse and I am happy to share with you.

Hugo – Why don’t you start from the beginning… Why do you speak Spanish, which is your nationality, where are you from..? You said that this organization was founded here… Take us step by step, the story of how you started and did you end up in El Salvador..?
Noah – I have been living in El Salvador for the past eight years. I arrived there for the first time in 2005 with the intention to learn and study human rights issues. And Cristosal Foundation has had an office for the defense of human rights in El Salvador since 2003. I began as a volunteer and was from that year that I started learning Spanish and I certainly learned the Salvadorian way of speaking. I really learned in the field, because the first year I lived in a very humble community in the rural area. Then I’m American but I live and am a resident of El Salvador. My work with Cristosal foundation began as a volunteer in 2005. It began to develop a little more each time, over time. I assisted in the office, help with immigration issues. One of this organization specialty is the topic of immigration and immigrant rights, people traveling to United States and those arriving at El Salvador from other countries ….

Hugo – Is that the purpose of the organization or part of its function ..?
Noah – The organization has three programs. We consider ourselves as a human rights organization. Human rights work in three areas. One is in the area of community development where we provide technical assistance to people in poverty, social exclusion. We help them organize, train them in management issues, advocacy. In short what we do there is help people with technical assistance to solve their problems. The other area we work which is the human rights office, we offer free legal assistance to poor people and legal counseling to poor communities and people seeking help. Under that program we also supervise a program of The United Nations refugee care. Then, there are people who come from Africa, Asia, Central America mainly looking to finish at the end in the United States but as Central America is a region of transit, weapons, people, drugs are first passed through Central America. Then our office also gives attention to the people who come to El Salvador.

Hugo – So when you’re talking about helping people they are not necessarily Latinos but they can be of any nationality..?
Noah – In this regard.. what I meant is that the legal office and the program for refugees see mostly Salvadoran people seeking asylum in the United States. People who have been displaced from their homes for reasons of the gangs phenomenon. Because of other violence, who have been driven from their house and have no choice but to seek refuge in another country. The problem is that we in the program have no mandate to serve Salvadoran people on that subject because they have to leave the country to be considered a refugee. But that is a very important issue that we are seeing and we are creating a new program to give attention to people with the problem of forced displacement in El Salvador because according to statistics we see with the United Nations that the same number of people in Central America are seeking asylum from before the time of the wars of the eighties or nineties. Therefore it is a phenomenon of violence is still quite strong in Central America.

Hugo – Can you briefly explain what is the situation of El Salvador’s political government issues..? Many countries, especially our Latin countries have almost a dictatorship and an almost death Democratic government… I’m from Venezuela. One of the most famous makes noise as we say, it was Hugo Chavez who died a few months ago and the government situation in Venezuela was not as prosperous as many people expected.
Noah – This is a very good question… El Salvador comes from civil war process that ended in 1992… When the peace agreement was signed in El Salvador you can say it was the time when it began to have some form of democracy, In other words the political opposition could participate in political and governmental processes. I do not know if your audience or readers will know of Monsignor Romero, who said that he was the voice of the voiceless. But the signing of the peace agreements meant that the village had voice. It meant that it already won through armed conflict freedom to engage in political action, talk and speak freely without fear of state repression. Then we come since 1992 in a process of building democracy by the fact that the mere vote does not exercise their full rights as citizens. We tell the people in the communities that we won through conflict to have a voice and now we have to use it to claim the other rights a citizen has. It is a process of building democracy and indeed the historical process is what guides the work of Cristosal. So we worked on the issue of human rights with a focus on the development of rights because we do not see poor people as beneficiary of a project but as a citizen with rights and duties in a society. I am not sure if you know anything about the recent elections in Honduras but it is a model of dictatorship as you said. Then what El Salvador has, as many countries of Central America, is that since the conquest we have had an authoritarian model and that has been the social structure that has ruled the country for centuries. And when peace agreements are signed a democratic system is implemented but with the same social structure. What this means is that the social fabric is still very authoritarian. There was a report that came out of a recognized Human Rights organization in the Area which said that at Central America level we have achieved an authoritarian democracy. This means that the people vote for dictatorships. Because what happens is that when choosing a president. He takes over and consolidates the power independently of being the left or the right. In 2009 in El Salvador it was the first time someone from the left party wins. It can be said that for the first time a party that was not directly linked to the strike Salvadoran here took power. Then it was the first peaceful transparency of power here in the history of El Salvador. In February we have a new presidential election and we are seeing opportunities that the traditional party from the Right and the official party of the left are still in the electoral battle. We do not know how it will end but regardless of who wins the interesting thing is to see how will be the second transfer of power be. Make it a leftist government to a successor or a government of the Right to a party to the right. So we still can say that we are in a very tender moment of democracy…

Hugo – Very interesting, you obviously have a lot of knowledge about this… What is your past education or concentration, do you have a title..?
Noah – Yes, here in the United States I went to the University of Montana and completed the degree in International Relations with a specialization in the area of Peace and Conflict. In El Salvador I studied local development at the Central America University in Saint Salvador (UCA).

Hugo – Let us now return to the organization… Does it have a geographical limitation or does it have a branch office serving in different cities..?
Noah – Yes, our main office is in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. We work in four communities. Two are in the peripheral of San Salvador and the other two are in the east in the area of Usulután. The communities differ in urban, semi urban and rural. And the communities in the East, in the area of the field are very interesting because it consists of veterans of the war. People who fought or were expelled during the war and now have returned. Then they are communities that are not even 17 years of existence. It’s a great experiment. These are lands taken during the guerrilla war and after the negotiation of peace agreements and following the peace accords the land was partitioned and given to people on both sides (the guerrillas and the army). We work with them and thus it was with them that I lived the first five years and learned Spanish. You asked me about my education and my biggest training I’ve had is with the country people. With them I have learned more.

Hugo – The native training, where you are with the community… It is interesting to talk about these things, to create countries and to create democracy in these modern times. This is something that generally we study in schools that have happen years and years ago and so on. Is there any intervention of this organization here in the United States or is purely in Salvador..?
Noah – Not purely in Salvador. We have three programs. I mentioned the program of Community Development, the Office of Human Rights and Legal Aid and we have a program called Global School… The Global School has three series. One is academic exchanges. We coordinate research, we receive people of different universities in the United States to conduct research and volunteer work in El Salvador. An interesting case in Syracuse is a new relationship we are doing with Le Moyne College. We also receive university groups, people of Churches, and civil society in the United States and Canada. They come and incorporated into a course with people from Salvador and these courses deal with issues such as human rights, development, building democracy and peace. The goal here is that we believe these are truly global issues and the conversation we have around them must be global. So that’s the approach, exchange of ideas, knowledge through the overall program of the global school.

Hugo – To our audience, our readers and to those who visit us on the Internet, can you give some reference, perhaps a website, an email… I will not say how old I am but now with twitter and facebook that young people today use and we can read more about this organization.
Noah – Yes, we have a web page … You can find us on the website at cristosal.org.

Hugo – There you can get information on how to volunteer, of course, of the organization and how we can connect with you. There is something you want to take advantage of our media tools, something you want to share now of what they need and want, if they need money, donations.?
Noah – Well, I forgot to mention that yes we have twiter and facebook… But now I do not remember the reference… In that sense you win. But if they enter our website, they can see and connect with us.

Hugo – What kind of support do you need and what is the goal you are seeking in your organization ..?
Noah – I invite anyone who is interested in doing something in the world that want to participate as a global citizen to check the web page to see if there is a topic that catches their eyes. Like us on facebook. Knowing a little more about the history of El Salvador and Cristosal and if you have interest in working to contact us and see how we do. Sometimes it is just making another connection here in the United States because we are in El Salvador. We need more help as well a form of an extensive networks, donations certainly. I will not deny everything works on that basis… But I think it’s more, just to have a Friends… Through friendships and solidarity, I think that’s the most important thing for us to get what we need.

Hugo – Yes, it’s interesting because here in what is called Central New York, in almost ten years that I’ve had in publishing, we have known Latinos almost all parts of Latin America, but those are very few of such central America south as Guatemala, South of Mexico there are either very few or very hard to find. I do not know if you have an idea of how many people from El Salvador are in this area..? I went to a convention in Maryland and I found quite a few people there and surprised me. Because here 61% of Latinos are Puerto Rico, after that they are Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans. I am from Venezuela and I know only two Venezuelan in this area without counting the students in universities that are here. It’s something interesting to see how we Latinos are segregated in different areas and communities…
Noah – Perhaps you will not believe me… But if I’m not mistaken Salvadorans in the United States are the third in the Hispanic population in the United States. If I’m not mistaken, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Salvadorian. There are over three million Salvadorans here in the United States. And there only exist in El Salvador just under seven million Salvadorans. So nearly a third of the population lives here in the United States. As you said, most of them live around the Washington DC area, in LA’s there is a strong population in Texas and in Boston Massachusetts there are quite a lot of Salvadoran…

Hugo – Yes, I read an article recently that said that in Massachusetts there is an increase in the Latino population. Is there anything else you want to say before saying goodbye..?
Noah – perhaps a salute to the people and thank you space …

Hugo – Thank you very much bro… Good luck with your Cristosal Foundation and maybe next year we call each other again and give us what they call an “update” of the organization…

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