A Central America Diary – Thursday, July 29: San Salvador, El Salvador

by Secretary Hilda Solis on August 5, 2010 · 12 comments

Secretary Solis visits the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador

Secretary attends a luncheon in the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador where she met two former child laborers, Ana Deisi and Douglas. As young adults, they are both involved in programs to help other children.

I’ve got just one day here . . . but the schedule is packed!

First, an early morning meeting with El Salvador’s first lady, Vanda Giomar Pignato. Besides her ceremonial and social duties as the wife of the president, she is also El Salvador’s secretary of social inclusion, and oversees many of the country’s social services for at-risk children.  I like her immediately, and our time flies by.  Like me, she’s passionate about diversity issues, women’s issues, and kids. She is implementing very creative programs to include vulnerable populations that have been excluded from the real economy in the country.  We see a lot in common in what we are both trying to do in our countries, and we promise to stay in touch.

Now off to a meeting with my Salvadoran counterpart, Minister of Labor Victoria Velásquez de Avilés, and other members of the Salvadoran cabinet.  I announce a new U.S. government contribution of $10 million to support the Salvadoran government’s efforts to eradicate child labor. This initiative involves working closely with the government of El Salvador to combat the root causes of child labor in Comunidades Solidarias, communities that the Salvadoran government has identified as the most disadvantaged. It is estimated that 188,884 children work in El Salvador, representing 10.3 percent of minors ages 5 to 17.  The minister is very pleased to know that we will soon be reaching out to the Salvadoran community working in the United States, to make sure they get educated about their labor rights.

I’ve been following our child labor efforts in El Salvador for some time.  Right outside my office suite at the Labor Department’s headquarters in Washington is a large display of artwork, poetry, and essays from Salvadoran children participating in after school enrichment programs and other efforts we sponsor in El Salvador.  The artwork is delightful and whimsical, and tells the story of our efforts in a way that only children can.  It’s one of the first things I show visitors and dignitaries when they come to visit me.

I joke to the staff traveling with me that I should have packed my roller skates.  My next stop is a meeting with the president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes.  We have a little bit of history.  I first met him years ago in Los Angeles, when I was in Congress and he was getting ready to launch his presidential campaign.  He came to the U.S. and reached out to several members of Congress seeking their support.  During our visit, he tells me how grateful he was for that encounter, pointing out that I was one of the few members of Congress who took the time to meet with him, and he appreciated my advice.  I remember being very impressed with him back then.  I feel the same way today.  He is knowledgeable about our efforts to combat child labor and has an obvious desire to make a difference.  We talk about Better Work and our vision to extend it to El Salvador.  He will certainly be an ally in making that possible.

Since meeting him and the first lady, I can’t help but be reminded of President and Michelle Obama.  Both “first couples” are a lot alike:  young, energetic, dynamic duos, with a passion for service to their country, and especially a passion and desire to better the lives of children in their respective nations.

My last scheduled event before leaving El Salvador is a luncheon at the U.S. Embassy.  I have the opportunity to meet briefly with two former child laborers, Ana Deisi and Douglas.  They both tell me how they benefited from U.S. DOL-funded projects that assisted working children. I’m fascinated by their stories and very proud of their success.  As young adults, they now are both active members in their local community and are involved in programs to help children. I can’t help thinking that so many people talk about the “circle of poverty” . . . but Ana Deisi and Douglas represent the “circle of promise.”

I want to spend more time with them, but I’ve got a plane to catch to go home.  A few hours after I land in Washington, I’ve got a major speech to deliver, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On the way to the airport, I’m thinking that I should be exhausted, but I’m still on a high. The trip has been an awesome experience.  I feel good about our work in Nicaragua and El Salvador, but know that there is still more to do.  I’m anxious to get back to D.C. so I can get updated on other programs we sponsor to support worker rights and combat child labor around the world.  Before I board the plane, I send a quick email from my blackberry to staff back at DOL, requesting that additional briefings be added to my schedule.  Based on this trip, I have lots of questions . . . but even better, more ideas.

We’re going to make a world of difference for workers and children all over the world. We don’t have a moment to lose.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jean Ackerman August 5, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Thanks for sharing this diary!

2 Gulaid Ismail August 6, 2010 at 9:44 am

Wonderful story of how DOL is making an impact around the world. It is refreshing to hear that the hard work that we do here as civil servants, carries beyond the boarders of the United States. Thank you for sharing your diary with us.

3 Virginia Reilly August 6, 2010 at 9:45 am

What a wonderful story of events that took place and for a good cause.

4 William Bridges August 6, 2010 at 10:09 am

As a fellow Nicaraguan, its awesome to see the Secretary reaching out to the children of Nicaragua. I know from personal experience that there are many impoverished children there who go barefoot and hungry through the streets. As Americans we take if for granted that our homes have roofs over our heads and carpet under our feet. Many of these children literally live in huts with dirt floors. Replacing child labor with education is the only way these children can break out of poverty. Promoting education doesn’t just help the children but it also helps Nicaragua develop economically and become a better partner in the world economy. I’m thankful that we as Americans are reaching out to a country that is impoverished and literally in Americas back yard.
Great Job Secretary Solis!!!

5 LaTeeka Washington August 6, 2010 at 10:58 am

I enjoyed the diary entries a great deal! I loved to hear of the collaborations between cultures, organizations and countries to ensure the safety of children. GREAT!

6 Raul Quintanilla August 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

Madam Secretary Solis,
I really admire your dedication and desire to help others. Being born and half-raised in El Salvador and now working for a great agency such as the U.S. Department Of Labor here in Washington DC, feels like my efforts are really benefitting those I presently work and live with and those I once lived with. All working for a great and worthy cause. Thank you!!

7 Jane Walstedt August 6, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Thank you, Secretary Solis for sharing your informative and enthusiastic diary with us. For those of us who work under your leadership at the Labor Department, it vividly brings to life the activities we read about in the Department’s press releases and your speeches.

8 Nancy Barboza August 9, 2010 at 10:05 am

Thank you, Secretary Solis for sharing your amazing trip throughout Central America. It is nice to know that our leaders today are motivated to go a step beyond and above to fight for what is right.

9 Mary Flaherty August 17, 2010 at 10:48 am

Dear Sec. Solis, I commend you on your great efforts to help the children. It must be wonderful to meet digniteries, children, and encourage the education of children for they can be so creative, talented, and loiving in many ways. Your work is very inspiring. Thank You Mary Grandmother of four children

10 whatisthis April 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Thank you for this great piece of content. Best Regards

11 seo exeter April 14, 2011 at 1:18 am

This really answered my problem, thank you!

12 seo bristol April 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I don’t entirely agree with you on this.

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