“Many women have become more respected leaders as a result of their work on disasters,” said Doris Escobar, my guide on a recent trip to El Salvador.
As we made our way from a flood-affected village in the western department of Ahuachapán to another across the country in San Miguel, Doris told me the story of how a team of first responders made a difference when an extraordinary storm struck El Salvador in October 2011. (Read about the team’s response to the flood emergency.)
The team was founded four years ago by Oxfam and our Salvadoran partners, and it is coordinated by Escobar herself. It began as a core group of dedicated volunteers—more than half of them women—interested in becoming experts in emergency WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion) and willing to be deployed anywhere in the country at a moment’s notice. More recently, the group has been training up new members from 150 communities around the country to ensure that the people who are living in vulnerable areas have the know-how to protect the health and safety of their neighbors.
Helping women take leadership has been a priority from day one.
“Self-esteem is so low in women in the communities,” said Escobar. Many, she said, “feel they can’t do anything except work in the kitchen, prepare food, care for children, and clean.”