2017: Year of Positive Action

**This opinion editorial appeared in El Mundo newspaper on January 2, 2017.  This text was originally written and published in Spanish; this is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish version should be considered authoritative.

In talking to people all over El Salvador, I have found a commonality: Salvadorans have an indelible spirit of entrepreneurship and a deep love for their country. Time and again, I have seen that the hope of having a “Salvadoran dream,” and the power to take positive and concrete actions to turn these dreams into “Salvadoran successes” is the driving force behind this country’s workforce. When someone has hope that things can change, he will be willing to stay and work hard to get ahead here, at home.
I have to admit that I am often accused of being one of those people who always sees the glass “half full”. I wear that badge with honor because I believe we all have the ability to change our circumstances. I have seen with my own eyes how young Salvadorans from communities in areas hit by crime are able to take advantage of opportunities, such as the more than 164,000 youths who participated this year in education and job training programs funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Another example occurred during the Generation Now Festival in November: young people adopted the slogan “I Dare” and committed themselves to dare to transform their lives, their communities and their country.

I have seen people begin to feel hopeful that the law is there to protect them as communities begin to build relationships with the police through programs such as the Police Athletic League (PAL) or the Resistance Education and Training Program The Gangs (GREAT). A survey in the municipalities where the PAL is in operation shows that 98% of the participants have more confidence in the police.

I have seen mayors of different cities across the country working together with citizens to improve security, recovering public spaces for the community, as in Zacatecoluca and Sonsonate; and creating central markets for sellers to work free of extortion.

I have seen entrepreneurs increase investment in their workforce, as shown by League Outfitters, which makes it easier for their workers to continue their studies while working. I have seen teachers and community leaders in the Don Bosco Industrial Group and in the Azteca Foundation put their hearts and souls toward supporting young people, as in the case of Joanna, who found the strength to her trust her angelic voice to sing in one of their programs. I have seen how USAID assistance to approximately 11,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has generated 22,000 new jobs in the last five years. Young entrepreneurs like Violeta Martínez who started her small company, Vaiza, by making high-end women’s wallets and providing machines so that women can work from the safety of their own homes. And I’ve seen many Salvadorans committed to protecting the environment, like a 15-year-old girl I met in San Blas, who helps her parents protect sea turtles.

I have seen the thousands of young volunteers dedicating their time to improving public spaces just as we did in the Children’s Park in San Salvador. And I have seen the courage of Salvadorans working in the Office of the Prosecutor and other institutions, leading a path of integrity and putting their country first. But, what we need most now are more communities, businesses and individuals who are able to foster hope and swim against the tide together. The United States works in concert with El Salvador to support the creation of more opportunities, which will give people the opportunity to build their lives here.

President Obama reminded us clearly that hope is action:

“Hope is not blind optimism that ignores the great challenge of the tasks that await us or the obstacles that we will encounter along the way.
“Hope is that tenacious feeling within us that insists, despite everything indicating otherwise, that the future holds something better, provided we have the courage to keep trying, keep working, keep fighting.
“Hope is the belief that fate will not be written for us, but for us; By men and women who do not conform to the world as it is, but have the courage to redo it as it should be.”

I invite you to generate the spirit of hope that will drive El Salvador. That as citizens you do not conform to things being as they are, but work to make them be as they should be. 2017 has to be a year of positive action. I invite you to make the decision to be part of a change. Let’s raise the voices of optimism.

To those who are making a positive difference — many of whom I have met week after week as I travel the country — you are who inspire each of us at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. El Salvador is worth it and the United States is with you.

We believe in El Salvador, because we believe in Salvadorans.