Jimmy Alvarado: My country is like one of the five most violent countries in the world according to the United Nations. Right now, we are like one of the five places most violent in the world. In this country, there are some places where nothing happens; there is little violence. Last year, those five places didn’t have any homicide. In El Salvador, we have 262 municipalities. Last year we had 50 cities without homicide. We basically picked five cities (they are like villages really) that were in a corridor that connects to Honduras. Those five villages didn’t have homicides. We wanted to know why.
That we found out was that during the 80’s, these villages were really damaged by the Civil War. Most of the people dissented with the government- they wanted to have their own land and during that time you were considered a Communist for that. So the government/army was trying to kill them. So the people fled to Honduras and came back to the villages when the Civil War ended. They built up everything. There were some villages that had something. But 4 of the 5 villages, the people built everything because there was nothing left due to the Civil War. They had a strong organization among those communities. When the civil war ended, they kept that. The first years after the Civil War were busy. During the 5 years, they kept this kind of organizations alive. For example, there was this municipality where all the people had meetings every few months. They talked about everything. They didn’t have water so all the community worked together to get the water project running. This is history. This is the background of those communities. Right now, what they are doing is something similar. They are working together.
They are now doing that with security. All the people in those communities are eyes and ears. Right now we have two mafias that control everything in this country. They fight for territory because they sell drugs. They control the people. But in these five communities, the people have a way to stop these gangs from coming to the area. The gangs have tried to control those high areas but the community worked together and they stopped them. So the story is about that system of organization. It describes the history of the community, why the people trust each other, and how they work with the state.
There is a municipality that was founded in 1986. Since 1994, it has zero homicides – in one of the deadliest countries in the world. There are territories that are not open at night because they know they are surrounded by other municipalities where there is violence, homicides, gangs.
Have you always been interested in being a journalist?
JA: Yeah, since I was in high school I actually enrolled in bachelors in journalism. But at that time, it was tough. There was one university that was offering a bachelors and they were shooting down every month once. So it was better I take another role. So I studied communication/arts. Most of the people think of journalism as a way to solve problems. But I don’t think like that. What drives me to journalism is a little bit selfish. I really like to write. I have always loved to write and I think that was the first thing that moved me to journalism. I started loving it and then it was a commitment to me. I tried to do it the best way I could. I tried to do my best to go further, not just to tell the story but try to find something else, something more to tell. I think that’s what drives me.
Are there certain stories you like to work on?
JA: The thing is it helps me be in the skin of someone else. You are not leading their lives, but you get close to it. You get close to know different worlds. You get close to understand why other people are suffering to understand what other people’s needs are. I really like that when I started working in journalism, there was this photo that said, “If your work is not making people in important positions – politics or people in the economic sphere- feel uncomfortable, then you are not doing well your job.” I like that motto because it makes me have my feet in the ground. I live in an unfair country. I like to think that what I am writing helps people understand that we need to change.
How do you feel about being a journalist in El Salvador? Do you ever feel unsafe?
JA: Most of the time I cover politics and I feel safe because I don’t have to move to the [remote] areas. There was one story where I interviewed people who were fleeing because of threats and I felt unsafe then. When I work, I follow a few protocols. If we are going to a particular place where we know the government doesn’t have control, we first talk and take measures like we’ll send a telegram or a text. We stay in touch. We have a person who is always making sure that everything is working okay. We also try to take measures. For example, when we go to the unsafe areas, we try to arrange the meetings in an area where we know we will be safe. We try to make plans to how we are going to get there and such.
How was it working with a journalist through REM?
JA: It was a great experience. I have gone to a rural area before but I have never spent five days in one place looking for a story. It helped to have a wide understanding of the work, those places. It helped me to make more complete a story. If I had just gone for one day, I don’t think I would have had the same story. It was good to have a foreigner working there. I think things were bad. We get everything. We got all the stories very quick, which was good. I really liked the support that Round Earth provided to the project. It made things easy. All the resources we had- we got everything we needed to tell the story. Financial resources. Everything was on time so it was wonderful.
Would you recommend REM?
JA: I totally recommend it. I think more people working in journalism, if they get a similar opportunity…we are in this profession where don’t have the time to stop, the time to focus on one project, to try to get the most from the people, getting different stories and putting everything together. Journalists usually don’t have those resources and time to work on those projects. The kind of support that REM provides helps to build these special projects that are really important for your career, for you to understand more about working this profession.
Any recommendations, advice, suggestions?
JA: Just enjoy it. If you like journalism, you will enjoy it. Try to find those topics that make you feel that you are not just doing a job but you are doing something for the people and for your own learning experience. That’s the most important thing I can tell you. Choose something that is important to you and everything will be good.