Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Dr. Selena Sermeno has witnessed first-hand the devastation caused by the civil war in El Salvador. On Wednesday, Sermeno spoke to Swarthmore students about the Zones of Peace initiative in El Salvador. The lecture was sponsored by FFS, Peace and Conflict Studies, Women’s Studies, Sociology and Anthropology and the Intercultural Center.
Sermeno was born and raised in El Salvador, and the civil war broke out when she was 18.
“I grew up seeing a lot of poverty and a lot of injustice,” said Sermeno.
According to Sermeno, during El Salvador’s civil war, 1000 people “disappeared” each month out of a population of 5 million, the victims of kidnapping, gangs, and political violence.
“Social change happens very slowly. You have to be patient; you might not see results in your lifetime,” she said.”
“That would be the equivalent of 50,000 people disappearing in the U.S. in one month,” said Sermeno.
Using her experience in dialogue work, Sermeno received permission from the U.N. in 1992 to go into Salvadoran war zones and interview adolescents about their experiences with violence.
“In my study I found that 88% of Salvadoran youth had post-traumatic stress disorder, and on average each youth had lost eight loved ones,” said Sermeno. “Most of them had no hopes for the future and thought they would be dead in two years.”
Zones of Peace were created by Salvadoran mothers and priests, concerned that their communities had sunk too far into violence.
“It comes from the concept of sanctuary in the Old Testament,” said Sermeno.
Zones of Peace are designated communities that have decided to live in peace, become self-sufficient, commit to learning about human rights, and learn about environmental awareness. So far, there are 86 Zones of Peace in El Salvador.
“Since 1988, in these communities, there hasn’t been hunger, no alcoholism, no smoking, and people grow their own food,” said Sermeno.
“Social change happens very slowly. You have to be patient; you might not see results in your lifetime,” she said.