Report to the Prairie Region Council
Rachel Albiez, CEIU Local 80858 (Lethbridge, AB)
Young Worker’s Delegation to Central America
I was recently privileged enough to have been chosen to represent the PSAC Prairie Region in the Young Workers' Delegation to El Salvador and Honduras, sponsored by the PSAC Social Justice Fund.
I went to Honduras and El Salvador from November 29 to December 10, 2011 with a group organized by CoDevelopment Canada. The purpose of this trip was to provide an educational journey to deepen our understanding of the challenges faced by Latin Americans and strengthen our commitment to engaging in solidarity here at home. We visited various partner organizations such as women's collectives, human rights groups, and organizations supporting the rights of workers who work in maquilas (which are basically sweatshops). Overall, this trip was an amazing learning opportunity that let me expand my horizons and reinforce my passion for social justice work.
In Honduras, one of the most powerful experiences was the meeting we had with CODEMUH (Collective of Honduran Women), who work to promote labour rights for women who work in maquilas. We sat down with a group of maquila workers who described the experience of working in a sweatshop, where they sewed clothes for multinational companies. These women described working for long hours in cramped, unhealthy environments where they are pushed to meet their quotas of 400-500 dozen pieces of sewing per day. These women worked without breaks and one even described being reluctant to turn her head around because of the second that this would cost her in production time.
The maquila workers cried as they talked about the years of labour which have left them with irreparable damage to their bodies. Often workers with health problems face discrimination in the maquila, or are fired if they are unable to produce enough. Part of CODEMUH's mission is to help these women understand and fight for the rights that they have. This non-profit organization also places pressure on the companies and the government to provide better protection for workers.
Hearing about their experiences and the oppression they have endured has really made me think about the importance of solidarity and fighting to protect the rights of the poor and working class. This experience also emphasized the need for education and awareness about the working conditions that exist in Central America.
In El Salvador, one of the highlights was seeing projects organized by APSIES (Association for Intercommunity Health and Social Service in El Salvador), which focuses on health promotion and gender equality education. In a small town called Nueva Guadalupe we visited a women's group that does consciousness-raising about issues such as violence and gender roles, microcredit loans for women to start small businesses, and organizing seeds and land for the women to start community gardens. It was great to see how these women were cooperating and working collectively to improve their living conditions and become self-sufficient.
This trip was an extraordinary learning opportunity that really opened my eyes. It was both humbling and inspiring to see the passion and determination that people in Central America have to improve their living conditions and fight for their human rights. There is a shocking contrast between the quality of life in Central America and Canada, and the meetings and conversations we had on this trip have led me to reflect on the extent to which this disparity is caused by globalism and North American economies.
Another message which was emphasized through my experiences on this trip was that labour and human rights need to be defended and fought for. In this respect, Canada is similar to El Salvador and Honduras, because we need to act in solidarity to promote human rights causes and to defend the advances which our societies have achieved.
I met many amazing people and heard many moving stories during this trip, so I am very grateful that I have had this opportunity. Going on a trip like this and experiencing things first-hand provides a deeper level of learning than you could never get from simply reading an article or seeing a documentary. I hope that other young workers will get similar life-changing opportunities to develop global awareness and solidarity in the future.