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.
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. Because of the coordinated efforts thousands of students in 23 schools 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.
Next Izote sponsored workshops attended by teachers and other educators on how to set up school libraries and use the books as tools for active learning. Teachers were taught to integrate the books into the curriculum in order to open children’s imaginations, foster analytic thinking skills and promote intellectual curiosity. It was inspiring to witness the joy and enthusiasm of educators and students who took active roles in establishing vibrant libraries in their schools.
Presently Izote is focusing our resources on five schools that have most successfully utilized and integrated the books and teaching methods that we have introduced. We are developing their book collections, sponsoring additional teacher training and making significant infrastructure improvements. These schools will serve as models of how to develop high quality sustainable school libraries.
Finding space to house the new libraries continues to be a challenge because the schools are underfunded and overcrowded. In order for the schools to have truly sustainable libraries, investment in capital improvements was 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.
In order to create permanent and sustainable library spaces, 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 new addition.
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. We also funded a computer to expand access to information and to link the library with other national libraries.
Thousands of schoolchildren and their families have benefitted 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.
BATTLING BLINDNESS PROJECT
In 2013, Izote created the first-ever eye surgery unit in El Salvador providing free operations 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.
Izote's mission is to create sustainable change. Therefore, our first priority was to make a connection with a local ophthalmologist with whom to team up. Through the efforts of board member Juan Jose Urias we were introduced to Dr. Rafael Lopez Bermudez in 2011. Recently hired by the San Pedro National Hospital in the department of Usulutan, Dr. Lopez was the first ophthalmologist on the staff.
It was kismet. Izote wanted to create an ongoing eye surgery unit while Dr. Lopez was frustrated by the lack of equipment needed to perform cataract surgery and in-depth eye exams. 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 other needed surgical instruments, the microscope was shipped to the public hospital in Usulutan and a burgeoning ophthalmology unit was established.
That summer the hospital administrator invited Izote to see 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 2013 and again in 2014 we rolled up our sleeves and the Izote board set about creating our own surgical missions headed by ophthalmologist board member Dr. Robert Appel. During the 4-day missions 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.
Other Izote board members, who participated at their own expense, took part in the missions. It was a wonderful opportunity for Izote and the people benefitting from our project to meet one another. Juan Jose Urias and his wife Elizabeth Urias greeted the patients on behalf of Izote and then several patients were interviewed and shared their life stories with Risa Procton while waiting for surgery. Lauren Meyer a psychologist conducted relaxation exercises for the patients pre-operatively. Izote's vice president Louise Cooper served as scrub nurse for Dr. Appel. The patients and families expressed their gratitude to us and to all the supporters of Izote.
After the missions Izote went on to improve the quality of ophthalmology care at the hospital. We sent equipment that allowed for thorough 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 of an operating and recovery room to create an out-patient surgical unit for eye surgeries as well as other out-patient surgical procedures. We also purchased vital sign monitors for the new unit. An out-patient surgical unit greatly lowers the risk of hospital-acquired infections. A plaque thanking Izote for our partnership with the hospital graces the entrance to the unit.
Thanks to our efforts to date over 300 people have had their eyesight restored. With your support we can expand the reach of our sight-restoring project.
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 44,000 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.