Exhibit Documents Women's Work for Social Change in El Salvador

June 4, 2008 — In the exhibit "'We Have to Dream While Awake': Courage and Change in El Salvador," Sharon Davie, director of the University of Virginia Women's Center, and local photographer Peggy Harrison present colorful portraits and explanatory text panels that illuminate Salvadoran children and adults, mostly women, who are working to improve their lives and their futures despite violence, poverty and the lingering trauma from the country's civil war that officially ended in 1993.

The traveling exhibit will be on display in the Newcomb Hall Art Gallery from June 5 through Sept. 10. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, June 5 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. To coincide with Reunions weekend, there will be a special open house on Saturday, June 7 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

A grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities will enable the exhibit to travel around the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, as well as overseas. This summer, Davie will take it to the 10th International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women in Madrid.

Davie and Harrison first visited El Salvador in 2006 with a women's delegation. Davie, who is working on a project about women and activism around the world, returned the following year, taking a group of U.Va. students for a short course, many of whom described the trip as "life-changing."

They spent part of their time in Ciudadela Guillermo Ungo, a village where most of the men have emigrated to find work and the women struggle to keep their families and community together. Despite hardships, the people are "immensely rich in spirit," Davie wrote.

The students lived with families, met women who started a collective offering energy massage therapy and sewing clothes and puppets; women who belong to CoMadres, the group that protested the disappearance of loved ones during the civil war; and Supreme Court Justice Mirna Perla, who works on education programs for imprisoned youth and who started the Network Against Violence Against Women.

When the group visited the Monument to Truth and Memory in the capital city of San Salvador — built thanks to the CoMadres' persistence — one of the U.Va. students found her grandfather's name among those who had died.

Davie said this kind of study-abroad program shows "what we can learn from others outside of our own daily world … and what others are doing to create change."