Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997
Once upon a time Rosa Elia Argueta was a frightened young girl who fled the civil war engulfing El Salvador under the cover of darkness and spent years of anguished exile in neighbouring Honduras. These days the poster announcing her candidacy for Congress from the Department of Morazán portrays a different woman, a smiling confident mother of two, community leader and promoter of change.
Interview by Patricia E. Morales
"I am originally from Torola, Morazán. In 1980, the army carried out its 'fine toothed comb' operation there, searching for alleged enemies of the state. They were so thorough that they would use ropes to search rocky cliffs. I was about six months pregnant and I did not want to take chances. I decided to go to Colomoncagua, in Honduras, where my grandmother had a house. I was afraid to go in a group, since the soldiers sometimes caught people because the children couldn't keep quiet and began to cry.
"A man went with me through the forest. We walked all night and came out near Mount Santo Domingo in Honduras. When fleeing like that all you think of is survival. When we arrived in Honduras, they took me to the hut where my grandmother lived and I stayed there. She was crying for joy or sadness or heaven knows what.
"The first years in Honduras, we didn't know what day it was or which saint we were worshipping. UNHCR arrived in the middle of 1982 and I remember the UNHCR workers as deeply humanitarian and ready to risk their own lives. The people at the camp felt comforted by their presence. Their morale was boosted and the people felt supported. We felt as though we had come back to life.
"I am not afraid to say what I think. Once I told a young man from UNHCR in the camp: 'If you are going to work on behalf of the refugees, you are going to have to stick your head out'. I believe that we all learned a lot from the experience of working together, and even when we had heated discussions, the aim was to reach an agreement.
"Long gone are the days without names and without Sundays in the refugee camp. Now the days fly by at a new rhythm, with projects to launch, and with children and young people looking ahead and shaping the future.
"I want to be able to teach the youngsters a trade, to help them in their studies, to strive to live together and to be economically independent. I have backed my sons with the support of the community, there they have the best chances I can give them.We must leave room now for young people who are coming up to forge the future."
The future that Rosa Elia could not have even imagined from the dark depths of her flight one day in 1981, is blossoming now like caraos and maquilishuats – the lovely Salvadoran flower trees – in the midst of the dry hills of Morazán.
Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)