Crafts project in El Salvador keeps locals home

februari 2009 -

It has been estimated 700 Salvadorans leave the country every day in search of work. In 2007 alone remittance payments totaled $3.8 billion. This is more than the national budget and makes up twenty percent of their gross economy. While El Salvador's government economic policy encourages citizens to leave and multinationals to enter, small grassroots organizations like Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS) fight to keep locals home.


Solidarity Crafts employee with products

"Salvadorans don't want to leave", explains CIS Director Leslie Schuld. "At a grassroots level they can generate income to support their families. What men make in the countryside is barely enough to put food on the table. Our work is to help improve the quality of life by allowing families to supplement their income."

Since 1994, only two years after the civil war, the Solidarity Crafts program was established as a part of CIS. Their goal is to facilitate a market, both local and international, to sell the wares of nearly 100 artists across the country. Unlike many non-profits, CIS pays the workshops in advance. This allows artists to finance their materials beforehand, generating a better price for their products and better work conditions. However, competing with sweatshops and the black-market can make surviving off crafts sales alone very difficult.

"The country is flooded with imported used clothing that sells for $0.25", admits Schuld. "But in niche markets, like textiles, our artists can compete." The Solidarity artists make a variety of products from pine woodworking to indigo-dye textiles and handmade cards. More than ten cooperatives are scattered throughout the country. Workers range from full-time men and women, to part-time youth and elderly. The minimum wage in El Salvador is roughly $170 a month. CIS’s woodworkers and card-makers have been able to make more. Funds generated from craft sales are reinvested back into the workshops. This allows the program to be self-sustaining. Aside from Solidarity Crafts, the Centre runs other projects. There is an English school and an education scholarship for youth, which is based on economic and social background rather than grades.