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.
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. 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.
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. His approach was distinctive, and is referred to as the “Alas Approach”. 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. 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”.