09/12/2014 09:27 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2014

Healing Central America Starts With Women

Throughout the summer months some media outlets focused on the high number of children crossing the border from Central America. There were many back and forth of what to do with the high number of children seeking asylum. While both sides argued what should happen to the children and Washington scurried to find a solution, none asked where the healing should begin.

Yes, the violence in Central America has escalated to levels usually seen during a civil strife. As in many cases, gang violence has a solution -- but are we willing to invest in these? Educational and economic opportunities that allow children and youth to dream of a better tomorrow are integral to achieving peace. This is not to say that these are the only two solutions, but definitely part of a holistic approach to end the violence and begin the healing. Where do we start? Who do we start with?

In mid-August, a delegation of 16, myself included, ventured to El Salvador to work on a few projects, teach the children (ages 10) within the delegation that we are part of a global society, and as an organizer -- to hear the stories of these afflicted communities. Our seven-day journey was more than we ever bargained and learned that the key to healing must start with women.

We found our projects with women-led co-ops through our partner organizations Mary's Pence and SALEF. Our goal was to assess what they needed before our arrival, fundraise for these projects, and give the gift of self-sufficiency. We were not going to impose our own privilege as our desire was to replenish their wells so they could drink from them, a term and concept coined by the fathers of Liberation Theology.

The first Co-op, Confecciones La Colorada was made up of women who in order to survive their husband's $3/day wages, decided to form a small business that could help their children succeed in life. Their co-op has raised funds to send over 10 kids to high school and a handful to college.

At La Colorada, we established a four-laptop & colored printer computer lab on their request. This would permit that their children don't have to spend $5 to travel to the mainland and do their homework. In addition, it would become a small cyber-cafe for the locals, generating another source of income for the co-op. We ended that day by painting the co-op, breaking bread, and rejoicing in their stories of perseverance.

Our second co-op, Centro de Desarrollo Infantil, in La Libertad was heart-wrenching and heartwarming all at the same time. This is a community that didn't give up on their children and strives to ensure quality education and better living conditions. This childcare center feeds the kids two meals a day and lets them dream of a better tomorrow. Their chalkboards barely have any trace of green on them and their playground is a semi-broken metal swing set. Prior to our arrival they requested funding to build a shelter over the playground, allowing the children to play even during the rainy season. We met the children, heard from their mothers and realized that women and members of the community want to find solutions to end violence and keep families together.

Yes, we met with the Vice Minister of External Affairs, Liduvina Magarin, and also with the First Lady of El Salvador, Margarita Villalta de Sanchez, and those meetings were the icing on the cake. Each, in their own way, echoed the sentiment of reconstructing communities through the emerging co-ops of the country and through the many infrastructural changes they are making to improve economic opportunities, good living wage jobs, and keep their country safe.

The women at each co-op told us of the many obstacles they have overcome, but more so the brighter future they are working toward. We walked away feeling welcomed into the lives of many and embraced by their humbleness in seeking the greater good. As partners in the journey of life, we were but a stepping stone in their progress and we wouldn't have it any other way.