Salvadoran surfboard program offers hope for deported migrant women

By Hugo Sanchez

San Salvador, May 25 (EFE).- Idalia Garcia left El Salvador bound for the United States before running into a roadblock in Mexico, where authorities detained her and placed her in a migrant processing center for 30 days.

But whereas she once had found little reason to stay in her homeland, a small government program aimed at bolstering the development of a growing surfing industry has completely changed her outlook.

Under the initiative, a dozen women meet several times a week to learn to make and repair surfboards at a hotel in El Tunco, a popular beach located 38 kilometers (24 miles) south of San Salvador that is world-renowned for the quality of its waves and will be one of the venues of the ISA World Surfing Games between May 29 and June 6.

They are linked by a common past, all of them having left that Central American country in search of a better life or to escape gang violence and all of them having been deported back to their homeland.

They now also share a common aspiration: to thrive economically in the surfing world as business owners.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 65 percent of people who were deported back to El Salvador in the first quarter of 2021 migrated irregularly because of economic factors, 21.8 percent for family reunification purposes and 12.4 percent due to high levels of crime.

Garcia, a young woman from El Tunco, set off for the US for the first time in September 2019, although her journey lasted just five days.

Her second attempt took her as far as the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, where she and her son – now aged seven – arrived last October.

Nearly 11.7 percent of Salvadoran migrants who were returned to their homeland in the first three months of 2021 were minors – 76 boys and 37 girls.

“They caught me again in Monterrey, but it was tougher for me because I was held there (at a migrant processing center) for a month,” she told Efe, adding that her return home was delayed in part because Mexican authorities were waiting to have enough Salvadoran migrants to fill a bus.

Esmeralda Monterrosa, an inhabitant of a Salvadoran coastal zone that is home to El Majahual beach, also was deported from Mexico and, like Garcia, spent a month in a migrant lockup.

Both women say they have no intention of trying to reach the US again without documents, partly because the surfing program has given them renewed hope.

“I wouldn’t go back now because I have two sons and I’m responsible for them. Also, they’re giving us the opportunity to put down roots in our country,” Monterrosa said.

Jaime Delgado, an expert who is helping to train the 12 beneficiaries of the program, said the project offers assistance with brand creation and budgeting to facilitate the women’s business journey.

“Surfing is a big industry” and “practically 90 percent of El Salvador’s beaches are suitable for practicing this sport. There’s a growth opportunity,” he said.

The expert, whose interest in surfing dates back to the age of 14, said he found “the American dream here” in El Salvador and that the sport “has given me practically (everything) I am now.”

El Salvador’s Foreign Ministry inaugurated this $30,000 project for returned migrant women in March, with the funds being used to pay local mentors and purchase equipment and tools.

Monterrosa said that before signing up for this program “she had met some surfers and watched them, but really I knew nothing about boards,” noting that she had considered the sport to be cost-prohibitive.

Even though surfing still carries the stigma of a “sport for drug addicts who do nothing,” she said her family was excited about her participation in the project.

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