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Moje - Make Art Not War

Make Art not War
By: Giovanni Marquez

Moje Student spinning pots for SearsOf the many non-profits working in El Salvador to reduce youth violence, MOJE (Asociacion Movimiento de Jovenes Encuentristas – Youth Movement for Young Discoverers) takes a creative approach.  MOJE (mo-hay) is a non-profit organization that focuses on young adults living in the state of Cabanas, one of the poorest areas of El Salvador.  Most of MOJE’s students are no longer attending school (through graduation or an inability to finish) and they join the program to learn marketable skills in the arts as an alternative to joining gangs.

MOJE began in 1996 with Calvanist Father Francisco Molina, however, in 1998 it changed to a non-denominational organization.  Today, MOJE consists of two major cooperatives, Red Juvenil Empresarial (Youth Business Network), which works with 10 groups of young adults, and AccoArte, comprised of 16 small groups and they service about 150 youths in total.  Classes offer instruction in ceramics, woodworking, metalworking, culinary arts and tourism, just to name a few. 

There are three main focuses at MOJE.  First, they teach young adults about accounting, saving, planning and how to manage a business.  Secondly, they teach students skills to better their lives and earn an income – welding, carpentry, spinning clay pots, painting and design among others.  Master instructors from El Salvador and around the world are invited to share their expertise with MOJE students and often, former students will return to share their experiences.  Lastly, there is a large focus on creativity.  In a country where every store seems to sell the same handicrafts, MOJE is challenging students to come up with unique artesanias with Salvadoran flavor.

When students “graduate” from MOJE, they have the option to apply for a grant to start their own business individually or in a group.  A limited number of grants are awarded based on student business plans.  Much consideration is given to the creativity of their ideas and it shows in their small store on the main street of Ilobasco.  Meter-high ceramic vases decorated in metal or rope stand guard around a table holding handmade jewelry.  Ceramic figurines dot the table, including traditional sorpresas, miniature scenes depicting everyday tasks in El Salvador (making tortillas, washing clothes, gathering eggs) hidden under a brightly colored lid.  Silkscreened t-shirts offer mayan-inspired prints in modern colors.  Traditional anil (indigo) dye has been reinvented and used for a variety of clothing, purses, and household wares.  Cuadros, a traditional Salvadoran art-form meticulously crafted out of wood, depict facades of houses lining typical streets and hang from the walls.

Pots ready for exportSorpresas - traditional Salvadoran ArtTriples - Traditional Salvadoran ArtMayan Silk-ScreenCuadros - Traditional Salvadoran Art

Currently, MOJE generates 40% of it’s own revenue through the students’ products and they are aiming to raise that number to 65% in the near future.  Students involved with the program give 30-40% of their profits to help pay administrative costs, logistics, packing, transportation and promotions of their products.  This money is then put back into the program in the form of supplies, training, and even micro-loans.  For example, MOJE ships a large quantity of ceramics to Sears.  Since Sears doesn’t pay until all the goods are sold, students often need a short-term loan to create their products and wait for payment, which can take up to 2 months.  In this case, MOJE offers them a small loan and they pay it back when they receive payment.  In December of 2012 alone, Sears paid more than $3000 for MOJE products. 

For people looking to support local artists with quality products, MOJE can be found in stores throughout the country and is hoping to organize a chain of small tiendas in the future to sell their products.  For the time being, you can find their goods in the following San Salvador locations:  Sears in Multiplaza Mall, Blanche in Multiplaza Mall, and in Nahanche in Basilea Mall near the Hilton Princess.  In Suchitoto, MOJE ceramics are found in Hotel Tejado.  Most MOJE products have a tag with their logo for identification.

How to help:  MOJE is constantly looking for volunteers from El Salvador and abroad to help teach new skills, to give talks about their businesses or artwork, and to open their students’ eyes to creative ideas from around the world.  They are especially interested in having Salvadoran business owners who have started from nothing to create a successful business come and talk to students about their experiences.  For all volunteer inquiries, contact the director, Salvador Hernandez at +503 2384-4770, +503 2332-0659, +503 7102-4763 (cell) or (Spanish only).

The MOJE store is located on Av. Carlos Bonilla #2 Barrio El Calvario in Ilobasco, about an hour from San Salvador.  Their products can also be seen on their website at: www.mojecasaartesanal.com