Courtesy of Talleres de Poesía

Smiles, music, and poetry abounded at El Patio restaurant on July 17 at an event benefiting poetry workshops for children in El Salvador.

Talleres de Poesía, an organization dedicated to promoting children’s literacy in El Salvador, hosted the “Una Tarde de Alegria” (An Afternoon of Joy) event. All funds raised from the event benefit nationwide poetry workshops for Salvadoran children to be held November 8-10, 2010 in El Salvador. The idea of the workshops is to help youth use their own experiences to discover and express the uniqueness of their voices.

The workshops are being organized by Jorge Argueta, noted author of numerous children’s books, and committees based in San Salvador and San Francisco. The acclaimed Salvadoran author Manlio Argueta, Director of the National Library of El Salvador, is also collaborating with the San Salvador committee.

All funds raised from these events will be used to purchase school supplies, backpacks, books and writing materials in preparation for the November workshops. Among the poets participating in the November workshops are Francisco X. Alarcón, Margarita Robledo, Manlio Argueta, Jorge Argueta, Ana Ferrufino, Jeanette “Lil Milagro” Cornejo, Jackie Mendez, and Rene Colato Lainez.

Jackie Mendez, one of the fundraiser’s main organizers, feels that the November workshops are vital to the continued intellectual growth of Salvadoran youth.

“It’s important to give our kids the inspiration to read and study,” she said. “The poetry workshops will encourage literacy among children and will help curb violence.”

Mendez’s aims are understandable when one considers the statistics surrounding literacy in El Salvador. According to the 2009 Human Development Report, 18 percent of Salvadoran citizens are illiterate, and nearly 62 percent of the population has less than a high school education. By comparison, about only 20 percent of United States citizens and 53 percent of Latin Americans share a similar level of education.

The organization’s supporters hope to lessen the gap in a country where memories of a brutal civil war are still echoed by violent street gangs.

Community members came out to contribute to the event and to take part in the festivities. Haydee Martinez supports the event because she wants to help Salvadoran children discover the power of literature.

Courtesy Talleres de Poesía

“As a Salvadoran woman,” she said, “I believe in the talent of our youth and want to work to support that.”

Children were the focus of the afternoon. Balloons and streamers of all different colors festooned the restaurant. Children’s books by noted Latino authors were discussed and sold. There was even a clown named Gebequita who sang and danced along with the children. Plenty of adults turned out for the event, too, eating and drinking to the night’s festivities in support of the fundraiser.

Gebequita believes that the promotion of literacy in El Salvador will lead to a more peaceful society.

“Kids don’t usually grow up with books over there,” she said “We want to let the children in El Salvador as well as their families know the importance of reading and writing poetry and how their lives can change forever.”

The workshops also aim to promote Latin American literature throughout the Americas. Eva Mejia read some of her poetry to the assembled crowd. She believes that one of the keys to building a healthy self-esteem in children is helping them learn their cultural and literary history.

“There are so many talented writers in El Salvador,” she said. “We want to make these books available to children and to help them develop themselves.”

“We want the kids to have more opportunities than we did,” said Guillermo Bastic, one of the attendees. “We want them to know the importance of literacy and to have fun learning. These workshops are just the first step toward achieving a brighter future for El Salvador.”

The Talleres de Poesía will hold another fundraiser on Thursday, August 12, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at Sunrise Restaurant. To learn more about the organization, please visit their Facebook page or e-mail Anyone interested in volunteering at future Taleres de Poesia events can call Jackie Mendez at (415) 286-4468.