El Mozote -- the rebirth of hope

Seventh in a series

The name "El Mozote" will forever be linked with a massacre and some of the most unimaginable cruelty inflicted by one set of human beings on another.   But El Mozote is also the name of a community where people today live, dream, and struggle to support their families.   El Mozote was a deserted, ghost town at the end of the civil war, but some of its former residents who were not present on the day of the massacre have returned. Without ever forgetting the past, hope is being reborn.   In a town where so many children are buried, children now paint images of life and hope.

If you travel to El Mozote, one of the things you will see is this mural on the side of the little church which faces the plaza. The mural was a project of visual artist Claudia Bernardi who uses art and murals as a tool to restore a sense of community in populations impacted by massacres or other human rights atrocities.  The "Wall of Hope" was developed in connection with the 2006 commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the massacre.

A recent article on the Huffington Post tells the story:
To see Bernardi's gorgeous images is to be seduced by their jeweled colors of raw pigment and lured by their lyrical titles. But a closer look reveals skeletal remains, fragments of the silenced, drawn with indelible tenderness. Her work weaves visual poetry with a brutal frankness informed by her time spent in mass graves exhuming innocent victims of political conflicts. As a member of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (AFAT), a scientific organization founded to investigate human-rights abuses against civilian populations, Bernardi has worked at sites throughout the world.

It was in 1992 that her work for AFAT first took Bernardi to El Salvador. The team was to investigate rumors of a massacre eleven years previous in the hamlet of El Mozote. Their focus was initially limited to a small building known as "The Convent," where they would subsequently unearth the remains of 143 people, 136 of whom were under the age of ten. AFAT would return to El Salvador several more times, completing their investigation of El Mozote in 2004.

She visited the village of Perquin in 2001, four kilometers north of what was now the ghost of El Mozote. There, Bernardi began working with the community and together they would eventually create a mural dedicated to the victims of the massacre. Inspired by the villagers' ability to use art to overcome their longstanding differences and personal traumas, Bernardi would found The School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin in 2005.

Today, the school continues to use art as a tool for education, community development, and a voice for victims of human-rights violations. The school is free and open to all. Students, from children to the elderly, sometimes walk miles to learn to draw, paint, make textiles and wood sculpture. It is run by four local artists who, just five years ago, had never even made a work of art.
On a recent visit to El Mozote, one of those students who worked on the mural took pride in showing it to me and pointing out the portions of the wall where he had painted.  He was an embodiment of the images of hope on the wall of that simple church.

You can see a photo album of the development of the El Mozote mural at this link and read more here about Walls of Hope and its recent project at the site of a massacre of indigenous campesinos in Guatemala.  There is a link of photos from one of my visits to El Mozote at this link.

Also working with the people of El Mozote is Sister Anne Griffin of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.  From their mission in nearby Arambala, Sister Anne and others work to support the returned residents of El Mozote with reconciliation and healing, as well as development and a path forward.  She wrote of plans to create a center for such healing:
However, there is still much to be done and the people of El Mozote need access to a Healing – Reconciliation process which, from the beginning, would have the infrastructure necessary to support its ongoing development. El Mozote receives many visitors and the center could change the fame of El Mozote from a massacre site and a place of death to an acknowledged center of reconciliation and healing.
The planned center would have cabins, a spirituality/healing center with rooms for meetings and therapy, a chapel, and infrastructure to support many visitors.  I hope to learn more about this project.   Perhaps the reparations of which Mauricio Funes spoke this week with Sr. Anne and residents of El Mozote could help to make it a reality.

You can watch a DiscoveryNews video at this link in which both Claudia Bernardi and Sr. Anne Griffin tell the story of El Mozote and some of the signs of hope and new life in El Mozote.

You can also see the signs of hope and new life in  a short video by Los Angeles writer Marcos Villatoro called The Women of El Mozote which features interviews with some of the women who have returned to El Mozote after the massacre and the war.  They are remarkable women, and they now tell the story of El Mozote to those who visit there so we will never forget: 

Marcos told me that he made the video so that the women can sell it from the small tourist kiosk they have at the site of the monument to the massacre.  The YouTube version is a 7 minute version of the full length version which runs about 38 minutes.  So pick up a copy of the full video if you ever visit and support the women of El Mozote.

I want to conclude this post about rebirth in El Mozote with a quote from Claudia Bernardi on the 25th anniversary of the El Mozote massacre:

This was what was so wonderful about El Mozote! We are all still here and we are remembering the dead by providing evidence of our collective existence. 
We have forgotten nothing but we are all here to celebrate the life we still have, the love we are capable to share, the dreams and visions that we want to make happen as a militancy of hope.


Dennys said…
Good Story. I was surprised about the program and the murals. Is there a way that I can help or make a donation?

This is Dennys. I had a great time with you in the airplane. Hopefully I had a chance to get together before you leave.