A big lift up in El Salvador
There are many challenges to life in the numerous marginalized communities in and around San Salvador. Poverty, gangs, gender-based violence, lack of safe spaces, and more, combine to afflict the physical, mental and emotional health of the inhabitants of those areas.
One unique start-up program that seeks to address these issues in a holistic fashion is Pesas y Poder (Weights and Power) -- a "powerlifting for empowerment" initiative, working through the disciplines of fitness and strength, and the safe space of a community gym. The goals of Pesas y Poder are to promote gender equity, community empowerment, and healing from trauma through the practice of strength sports in El Salvador.
From the program's website:
To serve this purpose, Pesas y Poder develops and delivers fitness and leadership curriculum to Salvadoran people of all genders and ages. We provide powerlifting instruction at a community gym for marginalized neighborhoods on the outskirts of San Salvador. These neighborhoods confront extraordinary gang and police violence, domestic violence, poverty and social stigmatization. These challenges have contributed to sedentary lifestyles, which are implicated in high rates of diabetes, and many locals express their struggles living with body fat. Thus, the Pesas y Poder program seeks to improve public health indicators in an underserved community.
In the context of gendered patterns of violence, the program also self-consciously cultivates social spaces for women’s leadership. In so doing, it subverts entrenched gender norms, revaluing women’s bodies as a source of strength and offering men a safe space to express their own vulnerabilities. Men are often the victims of gang and police violence, while Salvadoran women are more likely to die of diabetes than bullets. Men and women train together, learning from one another in a teambuilding environment that rewards community resilience. In this way, the Pesas y Poder program addresses trauma, while confronting the larger power structures that shape our opportunities for fitness. In summary, Pesas y Poder is a research-informed, public health engagement project that uses athletic practice to fulfill a feminist social justice mission.
The program is the brainchild of Prof. Noelle Brigden of Marquette University in Milwaukee, herself a record-holding power lifter. She is a scholar of El Salvador and Central America and author of the excellent book The Migrant Passage: Clandestine Journeys from Central America.
The Pesas y Poder program is currently in a fund-raising stage to take it from a start-up concept which has shown its value in a community to a sustainable, fully-resourced program. You can find ways to get involved and contribute at their website. If you are in the Milwaukee area, there are a number of fun events and fundraisers going on which you can find on the Pesas y Poder Facebook page.
No single program offers a cure for all of El Salvador's ills. Pesas y Poder offers a way of rethinking personal and community empowerment, through a sport with power in its name.