Western News – El Salvador research project receives large grant


Felipe Tobar survived three massacres in El Salvador’s 12 years of civil war – a memory he has carried for four decades and has kept alive through a collaborative research initiative.

Surviving memory in post-war El Salvador is one of five Western Partnership and Partnership Development Research Grant recipients announced this week by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

The other four SSHRC grants to Western professors, part of a program Envelope of $ 635 million in financial support in all disciplines, go to Peter Howe and Angela Schneider for research on Special Olympics and Olympics, respectively; Professor Joseph Orange on mitigating the effects of dementia; and Abe Oudshoorn on affordable long-term housing.

Survive the memory, led by Project Director and Western Professor Amanda Grzyb, is committed to documenting the Salvadoran civil war and preventing future violence through commemoration. The partnership grant of $ 2.5 million over seven years will be used to continue and expand the program.

“It’s a gigantic and sprawling project”, which started in 2015 and includes more than 60 partner researchers, community groups and agencies», Declared the professor of the Faculty of Media and Information Sciences.

A dozen other faculty members and graduate researchers from the West contribute to Survive the memory, by the faculties of FIMS, Music, Arts and Humanities, Science, Health Sciences, and Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, as well as Western Libraries.

Elements of the project include building memory through the telling of survivor stories, photographs, videos and books; find massacre and mass grave sites and create an interactive map of their locations; recover traditional knowledge; the constitution of musical archives; commemorate through art, parks and architecture; and enable mental health interventions.

Felipe Tobar from ‘Asociación Sumpul’ in El Salvador

Together, they make up a perpetual register of the living and dead, Tobar said this week through a translator.

“Some of the survivors are already dead, others are in poor health. If their stories are documented, their testimonies will not be lost. And the new generation can see their own loved ones telling their life story and understand that we fought so that the new generation did not find themselves in the same situation as in the 1980s, ”said Tobar.

Keep the legacy

El Salvador is a land whose history over the past 150 years has been torn by a colonial legacy of political instability, division and turmoil.

Salvadoran civil war from 1979 to 1992 – an unequal conflict between US-backed military governments and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups, with civilians caught in the crossfire – killed 80,000 people and displaced a million five million inhabitants of the country.

Tobar was 23 in 1980 when pro-government forces rounded up, brutalized and massacred entire refugee families in Sumpul River, near the Honduran border. He survived this atrocity, escaped a military attack on civilians in El Alto, and then survived the Guinda de Mayo massacre two years later.

Today, he is elected chief of Sumpul Association, a group dedicated to memory, education and restoration.

“I have a whole life during which I accompanied people and lived with these vivid memories, these scenes of all the massacres that I survived and which cannot be forgotten. For this reason, we will continue to fight, to be there for families affected by war, to provide testimonies and to work with young people so that they can continue this important work of remembrance in our communities, ”said Tobar. .

Yet, for most countries of the world, El Salvador’s civil war is almost forgotten; even in this country, despite a Truth Commission that detailed the disguises, there were efforts to downplay the stories and impact of the war.

Tobar said the impact of Survive the memory was “of fundamental importance” to Salvadorans. “The SSHRC team has been with us – they are very educated and understanding people who are deeply committed to understanding our stories and working with our communities. The SSHRC team, our solidarity, is one with the same goal: to fight for justice. This is what moves us all. “

Western PhD student and Principal Research Assistant Giada Ferrucci has been part of the project for three years and is in El Salvador for the ninth time; Survive the memory changed it at least as much as it had an impact on Salvadoran memory.

“There have been so many experiences talking to our partners and our survivors when I got to see their strength, their resilience, their hope.

“Our goal is to listen and amplify their voices. We don’t want to extract our knowledge, do our research and say goodbye. Their legacy should not be forgotten, ”said Ferrucci.

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Path to reconciliation

Tobar said the new grant will allow the team to strengthen and diversify their work.

“We will have the resources for research activities, reunification of survivors and commemorations of the massacres. We are very happy to have the resources to mobilize more people, to carry out the murals and monuments, and for a documentation laboratory that will benefit the population.

Grzyb and the team received the Western’s Humanitarian Award in 2019 for their dedication to the project.

But it puts the credit back to the communities of survivors and the growing transnational group of partners. “I serve the project and try to rally people around a common vision for future projects.

Part of the researchers’ goal is to review the recommendations of the Truth Commission and focus on documenting, commemorating, and recognizing victims of state violence.

“But what we also heard in our workshops, in our meetings with the survivors, is that it is often

to keep alive the memory of those people they lost so that they don’t just become numbers, that they are not lost to history.

“There has to be recognition and commemoration for there to be true reconciliation,” Grzyb said.

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