First Person

Hungry for change? In El Salvador, a contest bridges the culture gap

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Massiel Merino is the winner of an essay contest sponsored by Oxfam. Photo by Elizabeth Hurtado

This piece was written by Tjarda Muller, a regional communications officer for Oxfam America based in El Salvador.

For seven years now I’ve lived in El Salvador. Contrasts here, as in many other developing countries, are extreme. Between rich and poor, between urban and rural areas, between young, trendy university students and small-scale farmers. That was my perception at least—until recently when Oxfam’s GROW campaign launched an essay contest in South America and Central America on the theme of “cultivating a better future for rural women” and a young, trendy, urban, Salvadoran university student won.

When I talk to Massiel Merino, the 23-year-old winner who just earned her degree in international relations, it’s clear that there certainly are young, urban people who feel a connection with rural El Salvador.

 “The phrase ‘Hungry for Change?’ motivated me to participate,” says Merino, citing a tagline that helped promote the contest. “Sometimes I would like to give my contribution, but I think that I can’t do it. So when I read the phrase, I said to myself: This is my chance to do something.”

And that meant speaking out.

“Rural women work hard and earn very little,” Hungry forMerino says. “We live in an unfair system and we must fight to change it. But it’s not only about empowering women, but that awareness should be raised amongst men also.”

Merino believes that public attitudes can change, even if that change is a slow, person-by-person process.

 “I think organizations like Oxfam can do something and that’s the reason why I joined the GROW campaign,” she says. “It was my opportunity to give my modest contribution and help rural women. And at the same time it was the opportunity to express myself and speak out about such an essential issue for development.”

Merino received her prize –an Ipad– Sept. 18 at the University of El Salvador, where she studied. And proving my assumption wrong one more time, more than 150 students attended the event, during which members of the GROW campaign gave an overview of their work. The afternoon ended with a group of women playing “batucada,” a local drum, as some of the students lingered, their desire to make a difference inspiring them to approach me and ask how they could join the campaign.

I was inspired too. The event and the conversation with Massiel Merino have stirred my enthusiasm to start working with a whole new group of people and link them to our global movement for change. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+