PART ONE: CHENCHO’S APPROACH TO PEACEBUILDING

This is the first post in a four part blog series, "Peacebuilding and Spirituality in El Salvador: Exploring Appreciative Inquiry Methodology".

During our time with Chencho, former Catholic priest, peacebuilder, community builder and eternal optimist, I had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the approach he uses in his peace work, which has changed over the years.[1]

Early years

In his early years as a parish priest in the 1960s and leading up to the Salvadoran civil war, Chencho appealed to the wealthy and elite; he met with the government and people who controlled the land and the resources. He advocated for fair land distribution, better working conditions, and better pay for the poor.[2] These were challenging times in El Salvador and those who advocated for the poor, including Chencho, experienced threats and violence. Chencho left El Salvador in 1977 for his personal safety. He remained in exile in the United States until after the civil war ended, returning to El Salvador in 1993.[3]

The Alas Approach

Prior to and following the civil war, Chencho’s approach to peace shifted to address the root cause of conflict in El Salvador: the poverty and misery that people had experienced for generations due to inequitable access to land and a long struggle to overthrow the military government.[4] His approach was distinctive, and is referred to as the “Alas Approach”.[5] He engaged in initiatives to empower the very poor, the campesinos or peasants, by providing educational workshops, creating networks and grassroots movements for change and facilitating conflict transformation.[6] His many successes with this approach include achieving peace between rival gang members in Tierra Blanca in the late 1990s as well as the creation of the Coordinadora del Bajo Lempa (the Coordinating Committee of the Lower Lempa River and Bay of Jiquilisco) an organization that declared the Lower Lempa area, a “Local Zone of Peace”.[7]

Peace Project

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The Peace Centre hub

The Mesoamerica Peace Movement is Chencho’s latest initiative. The goal is to create a peaceful response to globalization by empowering people and creating sustainable development. Chencho believes that globalization is taking advantage of poor people in Latin America who have been marginalized for generations due to lack of access to land and resources. He believes that when people are able to build economic self-sufficiency and power they then gain a voice in society.[8]

The peace movement uses education and training workshops to work toward peace. In the peace movement peace is defined as: "… the constant recreation of the harmony between God and humans, among human beings, and between human beings and the Earth".[9]

The workshops bring people into new relationship with themselves, the “other” and the environment. There are seven workshop themes to help participants explore their own values and principles and create a vision for themselves and their communities.[10] This vision is realized through training initiatives that provide practical skills to help individuals and communities create their own jobs and build connections in the local community.[11]

What I find most compelling about Chencho’s peace work is his focus on the positive. He does not engage in a process that opens old wounds. Instead, he reminds people of the positive they have within themselves and helps them to use that as a foundation to make change for a positive future. One of the ways Chencho achieves this by using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) methodology, as a framework for the training workshops.

My next post will explore how Chencho has adapted AI methodology into his work with the Peace Movement.

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[1] Joanne Scofield, “Chencho Alas: Peacemaker and Peacebuilder in El Salvador,” (Case Study, Religious Peacebuilding, Victoria University, 2012), 7.

[2] David Little, Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 32-34.

[3] The civil war in El Salvador happened from 1980 – 1992. Little, Peacemakers, 42.

[4] Jose “Chencho” Alas, interview by author, Richmond Hill, ON (Skype), October 8, 2012.

[5] Little, Peacemakers, 34.

[6] Ibid., 44.

[7] Ibid., 46.

[8] Alas interview, October 8, 2012.

[9] Mesoamerica Peace Movement, “Peace Projects,” Mesoamerica Peace Movement http://www.discover-peace.org/peace-projects (accessed May 28, 2013).

[10] Mesoamerica Peace Movement workshop themes: earth and ecology, myself and the other, gender, human rights and obligations, conflict transformation, economy and politics. Mesoamerica Peace Movement, “Themes,” Mesoamerica Peace Movement, http://www.discover-peace.org/themes (accessed May 28, 2013).

[11] Ibid.

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