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Spokane women build community library in El Salvadoran village

As an outgrowth of 14 years of supporting education in Huisi (Huisisilapi), El Salvador, the nonprofit Hermanas Spokane now seeks to build and equip a sustainable (green) library there.

“The goal is to promote literacy in Huisi through a library that will be centrally located near the grade school, high school and community plaza, where it can be used by students and community members, said Phyllis Andersen, who organized Hermanas Spokane out of her connections with the village.

To help raise funds for this project, Hermanas Spokane is hosting a Salvadoran Dinner and Auction from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 27, at All Saints Lutheran Church, 314 S. Spruce.  Dinner will be served at 6:15 p.m. All proceeds will go to the community library project.

The circle of Spokane professional women have worked in solidarity with women leaders in Huisi since 2002, based on mutual respect, support and collaboration, Phyllis said.

“We have raised money to support education in the village, because it’s a priority of villagers,” she said.  “We have also educated Spokane’s high school students by facilitating exchanges through a program known as Camp Salvador.”

The summer of 2005 was the first high school youth exchange between Spokane and Huisi.

Twelve high school youth and six adults from Spokane visited Huisi.  Families of high school students in Huisi hosted the 18 visitors.  It was the first time the village had hosted international visitors.

“They had confidence to do so because of the solidarity established between their women leaders and Hermanas Spokane,” Phyllis said.

The visitors took computers donated by St. George’s School to set up a computer lab.

For the next four years, Hermanas Spokane, Rotary clubs and youth from Lewis and Clark High School raised more than $40,000 to help establish a high school program, financing a classroom, buying some internet connections, hiring teachers, and buying curricula and novels. 

Four Huisi high school graduates  also graduated from university in 2014, which Phyllis said is “a phenomenal accomplishment given all the obstacles the students had to overcome.”

Several families who have visited Huisi throughout the years have consistently donated money to help the young people pursue a university degree.

Since the initial exchange in 2005, there have been seven exchanges and another is planned for the summer of 2016, which is also when architectural plans for the community library will be presented.

Now the Spokane group will help build a library, providing curricula, books and internet connections for students to read and research online.

The women already have $31,000 of the $50,000 they need to build the library and provide it with internet. 

“Local community leaders have agreed that building a library is the next necessary step to improve education and quality of life. They and we believe that literacy is essential to an individual’s capacity to explore the world and contribute to society,” said Phyllis. “Increased access to books and technology in a library setting adjacent to the school will provide an invaluable tool in helping Huisi students and all residents shape the course of their lives.

“In El Salvador, the cost of living is much lower than in Spokane,” she explained.  “A typical Salvadoran household in the rural areas makes an average of $362 per month, but the cost of books is comparable to U.S. prices.

“Hermanas grew out of a research project on seven women leaders in Huisi, but it has come to be much more,” said Phyllis.

She met the women in Huisi while living in the community to conduct interviews and observe daily life.  It was part of her study of the change of consciousness of seven women from pre-civil war to post-civil war years.  All were older than 30 when the war began.

The women’s stories and lives became Phyllis’ doctoral dissertation, “Life Stories and the Change of Consciousness of Seven Rural Salvadoran Women, 2006.”

The women said what they wanted most was education for their children and grandchildren.

“We in Spokane continue to have meaningful exchanges with the community of Huisi,” said Phyllis,  “From the visits, we gain much understanding and compassion and, in turn, we are better citizens of Spokane and of the world.”

For information, call 481-5157 or visit

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