Bioneers Recap Part 2: Estrella
Estrela Hernandez, simply put, is a living model for frontline communities all over the world who wish to develop the tools for climate resiliency while maintaining community cohesion and cultural integrity, as well as true grassroots leadership skills that are both robust and intergenerational. Ms. Hernandez (actually CONGRESSWOMAN Hernandez, but we’ll get to that in a moment) is a key leader of "La Coordinadora," a collective of over 100 coastal El Salvadoran communities that have led the way in community based disaster preparedness, building a grassroots democracy movement and even influencing the national policy of El Salvador as it pertains to Climate Justice and Disaster Preparedness. Ms. Hernandez's efforts have not gone unnoticed and rightfully so. In 2012 she was elected to the El Salvadoran Congress and now sits on the Environment and Climate Change Commission of the current Legislature. Additionally, she and her community are featured in Avi Lewis's soon to be released film, This Changes Everything, which was made to accompany his wife Naomi Klein's book of the same name.
Congresswoman Hernandez led a session at the conference with Avi Lewis, who treated participants to clips of his film (we were the first audience to ever see the clips), which features La Coordinadora and their amazing work. During the session, the Congresswoman explained many of the steps that her organization took to develop climate resiliency skills/tactics. And they clearly paid off, as their network of communities were the only ones to report zero casualties or severe property damage after successive climate change events in recent years. This impressive accomplishment garnered her an invitation to New Orleans after Katrina to observe the rebuilding effort there. Something that she said about her trip was so profound; that is, "What shocked me the most about my trip to New Orleans was that the majority of the people who were a part of the rebuilding effort were not FROM there."
When I let this statement resonate, it hit me what I believe she was evoking. This idea that climate resiliency leadership and other efforts to thwart the devastating effects of climate change must come from the communities that are affected the most…a bottom up process that allows these communities to maintain their cohesiveness, their cultural/ethnic integrity and further allow them to make the key decisions. This idea was recently demonstrated when Congresswoman Estrella lobbied her legislature to reject a $300 million loan from the U.S. because the loan came with the caveat that El Salvadoran farmers must use GMO seeds developed by Monsanto. That kind of temerity can only be espoused by an empowered community with strong leadership that has taken the initiative to rebuild, maintain and define themselves; and that in itself is quite deserving of many accolades.
When I spoke with the Congresswoman after her session (In Spanish I might add) she also explained that it is important to foster a culture of intergenerational learning. Ultimately, climate resiliency is for the young as they are the ones who will have to repair the legacy that we have left for them. With that, she invited me down to El Salvador in the summer of 2015 to see her organization in action. I think I may have to take her up on that offer and possibly bring a delegation of young climate activists with me. Stay tuned for more on that excellent opportunity. But for now, I will leave you with the same words that I left the Congresswoman with: The irony should never be lost that a country as small as El Salvador can offer big lessons to a country as large as the U.S. The idea of a bottom up approach to climate resiliency can literally save the world one community at a time.