How is school in El Salvador?
Schooling is free in El Salvador, a country located in Central America according to countryvv. School attendance is compulsory up to the age of 15. Primary education comprises nine school years. They are divided into three times three years. The third cycle, i.e. the 7th to 9th grade, corresponds to our secondary level.
Then follows the “middle education”, which would already correspond to the high school for the Abitur. The pupils either go to a general school for two years or to a vocational school for three years, which prepares them for a specific profession. These schools are completed with an examination and the Bachiller (pronounced: Batschiljer), i.e. the Abitur. Attending these schools is not free, but poor families have to pay less and siblings are free.
96 percent of the children in El Salvador go to first grade. School enrollment takes place at the age of 7, after the child has been in kindergarten for three years. On request, a child can start school at the age of 6.
Grades are given from 0 to 10. 10 is the best grade. In order to pass, you have to achieve at least a 6, in some schools also a 7. The lessons are in Spanish.
Schools, especially in rural areas, are often not very well equipped. There is a lack of teachers or the teachers themselves are not well trained. In some school classes there are up to 50 students.
84 percent of adults can read. Among the young people (15 to 24 years old) the proportion is 96 percent.
How are the children in El Salvador?
Poverty is a big problem in El Salvador. Many children are hungry and, even as babies, do not get enough to eat. However, poverty often also means that families do not have clean drinking water and do not receive treatment from a doctor when they are sick. Poor families live in shabby huts in the countryside, and in the city often in quarters with self-built houses made of corrugated iron. Poverty also drives children to work – either after school or all day long, so that they do not even go to school.
Child labor is a major problem in El Salvador. 19 percent of all children between the ages of 5 and 14 have to work. They work on coffee, cotton and sugar cane plantations, in fireworks production or in fishing. Although the state has taken action and the numbers have meanwhile fallen, there are still far too many children who are being exploited here.
Some children are driven to the criminal gangs, the maras (see gangs and gangs). Other children live on the street. They take drugs so that they can forget their fate. They are often sick.
A major problem in El Salvador are gangs of mostly children and adolescents who do not shy away from murder and manslaughter. These gangs emerged when Salvadorans who fled the civil war to the United States and became criminals there were expelled and had to return to their homeland. In the USA, especially in Los Angeles, some of them or their sons had founded gangs in the 1980s. In El Salvador, the returnees were left with no prospects, often without a family.
The young men, some of them women, had no prospect of work or training, they had no money. They formed or joined youth gangs. Two youth gangs, the maras, are particularly large and compete with each other, so they also fight each other: the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18.
Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18
The Mara Salvatrucha continues to operate in the USA and the other Central American countries, but especially in El Salvador. The word trucha means vigilant, salva stands for Salvadorans. Sometimes they are also called MS 13 or Mara 13. If you want to become a member of them, you have to allow yourself to be beaten by a group of bystanders for 13 seconds without defending yourself. A murder may even be a prerequisite for joining the gang. M is also the 13th letter in the alphabet.
The Mara 18 was also founded in Los Angeles. Their headquarters were in the Rampart district on 18th Street.
Tattoos and clikas
Around 25,000 children and young people are said to belong to the maras. Another 10,000 gang members are in prisons. Signs of membership are tattoos. This is often the name of the gang or a motto like “La vida por las maras” (Life for the gang) or “la vida loca” (the crazy life). Often the face is also tattooed. Tattooed tears represent murders that the gang member committed.
The maras are organized in clikas, groups of ten to 70 members. They have a leader, the Palabrero (spokesman). Each clika is active in a certain street district. The word mara comes from marabunta, the wandering ant. Like these ants, the Mara gangs invade an area and destroy everything.
No end in sight?
With the mediation of the church, government and non-governmental organizations, the two gangs signed an agreement for a ceasefire in 2012. Indeed, the murder rate fell and hopes of an end to the everyday violence grew.
In 2014, however, the murder rate rose again. El Salvador has the highest murder rate worldwide before Honduras, the neighboring country. Eleven people are murdered every day. In 2015 this number rose again to 15 murders a day. In the meantime, the rate had fallen to “only” five to six murder victims after the agreement. But the agreement was apparently short-lived.
The gangs rule entire neighborhoods. They extort protection money (especially from bus companies) and deal in drugs, rob and organize kidnappings. It is particularly dangerous in San Miguel, Mejicanos, Santa Ana and San Salvador.
Christmas in El Salvador
Less contemplative, but all the louder and more colorful is Christmas in El Salvador. At 30 degrees it is also wonderful to meet on the street and celebrate outside with neighbors or friends. Snow never falls here!
The houses are decorated with a Christmas tree and ornate nativity scenes. The children get presents on Christmas Eve, but only at midnight.
Typical Christmas meals are tamales with corn dough and chicken or turkey sandwiches, which are made from a baguette with meat, lettuce and radishes. For dessert there is pan de dulce, “sweet bread”, a type of pastry. People like to drink hot chocolate, coffee, pineapple juice or horchata. This drink is made in El Salvador from the seeds of the Morro tree.
Christmas is also always greeted with fireworks! Send your families rockets into the sky and igniting other fireworks as Volcancitos and Estrellitas. It usually starts days or weeks before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the night sky becomes particularly colorful and the bang lasts all night.