Bringing Water to a Community, Bringing Water to the World
By Ely Flores, LA CAUSA YouthBuild Graduate, Outreach Manager GRID Alternatives - Greater Los Angeles
Being a leader requires more than just authority and a title, it requires compassion, respect, and the ability to communicate and listen. I founded the organization LEAD with that idea in mind and by its full name you can understand who we are; Leadership through Empowerment, Action, and Dialogue Inc.
My life has taken me to various places in the U.S. and the world, most recently to El Salvador. The country is an amazing place with a rich history of empowerment, struggle, and a recent civil war that still has traces around the country. Aside from that, half of who I am comes from there.
Through YouthBuild International, I had a chance to work with Catholic Relief Services through their local YouthBuild Programs (Jovenes Constructores El Salvador) and was honored to share the leadership development work we do here in the U.S. This experience was far beyond just me trying to teach something, I was being taught as well. The social inequalities and socio-economic disparities are far beyond what we have experienced here in the U.S. But still, through all that, there are people and organizations that believe in social justice and believe that young people need to be on the forefront of social change.
My work in El Salvador took me to a community called “Los Mexicanos,” ironically that means “The Mexicans.” There I met two individuals that changed my life.
Beto grew up in a gang along with his brother and because of that, he ended up in prison. In prison he experienced some of the most gruesome things one can imagine. In his words, “I don’t wish for anyone to ever experience the El Salvador prisons, not even my worst enemy.” Now he works for a local YouthBuild Program and does leadership development workshops and trainings. Beyond that he is a huge leader in his community.
Mango also grew up in a gang and similarly, he experienced prison. Once Mango knew he was going to be a father, he decided to try and leave his gang. He explained that in El Salvador, you never really leave that gang, it’s more like you “deactivate.” When he got the permission from the elders to “deactivate,” the word did not completely get to the ground level. Because of that, he ended up being stabbed 25 times with ice picks and shot once in his back. He fought hard with paramedics to keep him alive and he thanks God for giving him a second chance at life. Since then, he has dedicated himself to art and murals. Most of his murals send positive messages to the community. He once did a mural against police brutality and the local police beat him down in front of his community.
The common bond that I share with these two individuals is that we are YouthBuild Graduates, but beyond that, we are people who have historically been on the side of injustice and now are trying to fight for justice in the best ways we can. When I was in their community they introduced me to “San Roke” which is a mountain community where they grew up in. This mountain is a volcano. This community is full of honorable people trying to work hard to survive. I found out that this community has never had a water system. During the rainy season (which is not enough) they try and collect as much water as possible. Families there have to go down the dangerous mountain just to get water. Sometimes young people are sent to do this but they run the risk of crossing into the wrong territories. It was amazing to me that the no government has ever tried to help them out.
After speaking to Beto and Mango and hearing how passionate they were about their community, I felt that I had to offer help. Water is something we should all have access to. I vowed to help them. I made an agreement with them that if I raise the money ($500) to buy the supplies and equipment needed to build the water well/ water pump system, they would have to empower the community to build it with them. They agreed. So far, with the help of some of my fellow graduates, we have raised $300. I expect to raise the rest within the next three weeks.
Helping Beto and Mango with this means a community will have access to water that has never had it before. But beyond that, helping Beto and Mango means that we are giving young people the resources they need to make a positive impact in their community. Isn’t that what YouthBuild is about? It is unfortunate that not all the countries where a YouthBuild is at have the resources programs in the U.S. have, but as fellow graduates, we can be their resource. Not just with money but with telling their story and stories like theirs to people around us. Give positive lights to young people that normally do not get a chance to have it. Think of the graduates around you that you can possibly give a helping hand to. If we take this graduate title away from us, then we become just people. So then it becomes, giving a helping hand to another person.
Connect to more graduates like you through YouthBuild’s 1000 Leaders Network, Facebook, and connect to the great work YouthBuild International is doing as well. Connect with things other graduates near or far from you are doing. Connect with me by visiting leadlanow.org or on Facebook. You share a bond with thousands of others and it is not just being a graduate, it is being an individual that chose to transform your life and transform your community. Let’s stay connected, let’s empower each other, tell your story, and help others do the same.