El Salvador: Marta Benavides

Peace is not built, peace is something within us. What we need to build are the processes to manifest it. We cannot buy or obtain it, because peace is inherent.

— Marta Benavides

Marta Benavides is a spiritual leader who has led many initiatives towards peace in El Salvador. Marta has faced great dangers and lost many friends to violence. She currently lives in Sonsonate, one of the most violent cities in El Salvador, and in Santa Ana where she cares for her elderly parents. In both places, she works with local people, manifesting peace through the creation of opportunities that nurture life, including training for livelihoods, cultural activities, education for sustainability and planting butterfly gardens.

Marta began working with marginalized communities as a student. Since then, her work has evolved into conflict transformation. Marta understands that one cannot force change: “You have to work with all the problems, because things do not change from one day to the next. Instead, we have to intentionally move from one stage to another according to our dreams. It is not about fighting and surviving. It is about living and being.” Due to assassinations and exile, Marta is one of the few remaining from her original group. During the war in El Salvador, Marta used ‘accompaniment’ to enable her to work inside El Salvador. One time, she was accompanied by only one person when they were captured by the military. “The thing that most helped me through that was that I looked at the soldiers, and I realized that they were just young men. I realized they probably had been forced into the military, that they had no options in life, that they might be the only bread-winner in their families. And I no longer saw them with fear. I knew it would be hard for me–this was a very intense moment in my life–but, when I questioned myself, I knew that I would choose to do the same again.” Marta says that her love for El Salvador keeps her going. “Sometimes I wish I could stop because it is so difficult to see your country bleeding. There have been moments when I thought I could work within the government, or take a position of authority, but nobody is doing what I am doing. People have to see that transformation is possible. It will take a long time, and there is no glory in it, but it has to be done.” Marta draws strength from her creativity. The butterfly gardens represent her love of life and El Salvador.

Rural Cooperative of Planta Nueva Lenca Civil Association Highlander Center for Popular Education