History of Izote
Izote was founded in 2010 in Long Island, New York as an all-volunteer 501c3 organization. The inspiration to create Izote came during a medical mission trip to El Salvador in which we saw the lack of any children's books in the schools and unavailability of cataract surgery for the poor. Izote founding members were working side by side with local Salvadoran grassroots community organizations that were working for sustainable change. We returned to the states and created Izote in order to work with the Salvadoran organizations in addressing these specific issues and to support ongoing ecological projects. We chose the name Izote because it is the national flower of El Salvador and the flower bud is used to prepare pupusas, the national dish!
We aim to strengthen impoverished communities in El Salvador by creating sustainable projects that improve literacy, increase access to health care and promote ecological conservation.
BATTLING BLINDNESS PROJECT
In 2013, Izote created the first eye surgery unit at San Pedro National Hospital in Usulutan, El Salvador, enabling the provision of free ophthalmic surgeries focusing on cataracts. Untreated cataracts are a pervasive problem in El Salvador due to the intense sunlight throughout the year and eye injuries arising from accidents while working outdoors. Few alternatives exist for those who cannot pay for surgery. Most people do not receive treatment and live with debilitating cataracts causing partial or total vision loss.
It all started with our goal of creating a year-round ophthalmic surgery unit that would not rely on visiting ophthalmologists from the USA. Therefore, our first priority was to make a connection with a Salvadoran ophthalmologist living in El Salvador with whom to team up. In 2010 San Pedro National Hospital hired its first ophthalmologist, Dr. Rafael Lopez. But with no equipment or instruments with which to perform ophthalmic surgeries all Dr. Lopez could offer was basic eye exams. He grew increasingly frustrated as he diagnosed cataract after cataract that he could not treat.
In late 2011, Izote board members were introduced to Dr. Lopez and our collaboration began. Izote set about raising the funds to move the project forward. We were able to purchase an ophthalmic microscope costing thousands of dollars. The ophthalmic microscope is the cornerstone of eye surgery, enabling the doctor to visualize and operate on the eye. Along with donated and purchased surgical instruments, the microscope was shipped to San Pedro National Hospital and the ophthalmology surgical unit was established.
That summer the hospital administrator invited Izote to see first-hand what was being accomplished. Also the backlog of patients applying for free cataract surgery at the new unit was overwhelming and Dr. Lopez asked us to help him. In 2012 we rolled up our sleeves and Izote board members went down as a team led by ophthalmologist board member Dr. Robert Appel. During the 4-days of surgery, Doctors Lopez and Appel worked side by side providing cataract surgery to dozens of people, many of whom had been waiting for over ten years for the operation. We paid our own expenses and we were honored to be participating in the work which Izote donors had made possible. In 2013 the Izote team returned to continue to help with the backlog of patients needing the sight restoring surgery. The patients and their families expressed their deepest thanks to all the supporters of Izote.
In the ensuing years, Izote went on to improve the quality of ophthalmology care at the hospital. We sent equipment that allowed for more complex eye examinations with which to make differential diagnoses. For two years Izote paid the salaries of two nurses trained by Dr. Lopez to assist him. As a result, the eye surgeries were more efficient and safer. The hospital administration successfully petitioned the Ministry of Health to add the nurses to the permanent staff.
In 2015 Izote funded the refurbishing and new monitoring equipment necessary to create an out-patient surgical unit for ophthalmic surgeries, as well as other out-patient surgical procedures. This was invaluable to our goal of creating an even better ophthalmic surgical unit as out-patient surgeries greatly lower the risk of hospital-acquired infections.
Izote was founded to provide children’s books to rural public schools in El Salvador. Rural communities have been plagued by barriers to literacy for generations and most adults are only marginally able to read. While local Salvadoran community groups aspire to advance literacy, they have been hampered by the enormity of the task, the weak infrastructure of the schools and the lack of government assistance. Over time we learned that while providing books is crucial, more is required to increase literacy and engage students in learning. We have expanded our goals to include creating and funding dynamic school and community libraries that foster active learning.
Grassroots organizations comprised of rural villagers selected the schools that would receive the initial book collections. We received and distributed our first donation of 5,000 Spanish-language children’s books in 2011. The following year we shipped and distributed 30,000 more children’s books dispersed to 23 schools. Because of the coordinated efforts, thousands of students were exposed to children’s books for the first time in their lives. Izote’s literacy project has been highly successful and demonstrates our ability to initiate creative ideas and coordinate with on-the-ground groups in order to achieve our goals.
As of 2019, Izote has successfully transformed five schools through our sponsorship of an innovative library and literacy program. The school library and literacy program begins with the provision of engaging children’s books for lower grades, and Kindles (loaded with over 200 books) for older students. This is followed by intensive teacher training on how to replace rote teaching methods with methods that actively engage students’ creativity and critical thinking skills through read-aloud, independent reading time, and lively class discussions. We have begun working with our sixth rural school which has about 400 students. We are developing a network of impacted schools that serve as models for the surrounding schools.
Finding space to house the new libraries has been challenging because the schools are underfunded and overcrowded. In order for the schools to have truly sustainable libraries, investment in capital improvements has been required. Critical components of sustainable libraries are accessible display of books, comfortable places for children to read and be read to and tables to look at books on. Izote funded a variety of physical improvements. In a few schools we enclosed open windows and repaired leaking roofs. At one school we funded the enclosure of an outdoor assembly area. At another school we oversaw and funded the design and construction of a completely new addition from the ground up.
Izote was also instrumental in creating community libraries in two rural areas and linking them to the Ministry of Culture’s nascent national library system. In one library Izote is funding annual stipends to pay young adults to run the library and lead reading programs.
Thousands of schoolchildren and their families have benefited from the school and community libraries, with teachers reporting marked improvement in the reading levels and active participation in learning of their students.
With your help Izote can continue to open the world of books and literacy to the children of El Salvador.
Community Sea Turtle Hatchery supported by Izote
Community Sea Turtle Hatchery supported by Izote
El Salvador’s 191 miles of Pacific coastline provide key nesting ground for four imperiled sea turtle species: Hawksbills, Leatherbacks and Green and Olive Ridley sea turtles. Hawksbills were thought to be extinct until scientists discovered them nesting in the mangroves and beaches of El Salvador’s Jiquilisco Bay.
Izote is providing critical support for sea turtle conservation in the Jiquilisco Bay by teaming up with the Mangrove Association. The Mangrove Association is a grassroots community organization working to achieve environmental sustainability and economic security for over 90 marginalized communities. They provide the financial and technical resources needed to foster a locally led vision for sea turtle conservation.
Traditionally families living by the Jiquilisco Bay have relied on the collection and sale of sea turtle eggs as a source of income. Through the Mangrove Association’s provision of conservation education and employment opportunities, communities have learned to protect the eggs of imperiled sea turtles. Locals now gather the eggs from the unprotected nests and bring them to community run hatcheries, where after incubation the hatchlings are released into the ocean.
Izote’s support has kept over 100,000 sea turtle eggs from underground market consumption and enabled them to hatch and be released into the sea.
Please help us protect the ecological balance of El Salvador’s Pacific coastline and the preservation of sea turtles.