El Salvador - Our story

I didn’t think books alone could make a difference

– After 4 years of working in educational development in Central America, Founder Debra Gittler returned to study at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She and her classmates started a school project to help develop school libraries in El Salvador, building partnerships with book distributors, publishers and Avianca Airlines to access Spanish books at low prices and ship them for free.

“I didn’t think books alone could make a difference,” explained Debra. “From my experience, I knew that the culture of schooling relied on copy and dictation—it wasn’t about bringing resources, but changing how teachers thought about students and learning.”

Now, the challenge was how to make those books make a difference in student learning… Not just to teach how to read, but to encourage critical thinking and debate

A unique teacher training model



In 2011, Debra and co-founder Zoila Recinos launched the pilot of a
teacher-training program at three schools in El Salvador based on two types of
talk in the classroom and lifting the level of thinking.

After two years of trial and error, the team saw meaningful changes in schools.
Kids were reading books every day. They were asking questions in class,
taking books home, parents were getting involved.
And notebooks were no
longer just for copying off the board… they were deposits for students’
authentic thoughts and ideas.

Addressing violence through rehabilitation
as well as prevention


Students in rural public schools were writing illuminating, haunting stories about lives of poverty and violence. It was clear that it was time for ConTextos to expand its methodology. In 2013, ConTextos launched the Soy Autor writing program, first in public schools and after school centers in gang-controlled areas, and in the following years in prisons and juvenile detention centers.

Internationally recognized psychologists Dr. Selena Sermeño and Dr. Jim Garbarino guided us to integrate trauma-informed practices to develop pro-social behaviors and a love of learning. We witnessed how the process of becoming an author created necessary spaces for reflection and positive self-projection for people who have experienced some of the El Salvador’s most horrific realities.

Where to go from here?

So is ConTextos a literacy organization or a violence reduction organization? Are we dedicated to education or criminal justice reform? Do we work domestically or internationally?

The answer is… Yes!

Research tells us that perpetrators begin as victims, and victims as witnesses. We work in environments where violence is ubiquitous and young people are underestimated and underserved. Text-based dialogue and the Authors’ Circle are powerful methods for transformational change: for individuals, institutions and society at large.


Our work looks at the long haul. Yes, there are immediate results… but the most important results are generational, not transactional. We will continue to grow our work in El Salvador and into other areas of Central America as we expand in Chicago. We prioritize working with the underestimated and the underserved, young people who are considered “at-risk” but whose stories can transform.

Board members

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Anthony Barash

Chairman of the board

Recently a Fellow at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, Cambridge, MA, is an attorney with extensive experience in private and corporate practice. After retirement from practice, Tony lived for 15 months in Uzbekistan, working on an international legal reform Project. He then served as Fellow-in-Residence and Scholar-in-Residence at the Richard W. Riley Institute at Furman University.

In 2005, Tony was appointed Director of the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono, where he served until 2010. He is passionate about national and international initiatives to provide Access to justice for the poor.

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Javier Alfaro

Board Member

General Manager for Cinemark Central America and the Caribbean since 1999. Responsible for Cinemarks' operations in 7 countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Curacao. The company currently operates 17 theaters with 122 screens throughout the region. He holds a B.S. degree in International Trade and Finance from LSU and a Master’s degree from Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business. For the last 4 years he has served in the Board of Directors of AFP CRECER.

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Ricardo Cevallos

Board Member

Senior Litigation and Arbitration Partner in El Salvador, his practice focuses mainly in banking, financial, contract and comercial law as well as arbitration and litigation. He is a member of the Texas and El Salvador Bars. Named by Latin Lawyer magazine as one of the 40 best attorneys under the age of 40 in Central America (2005), he also received the american Jurisprudence Award after receiving the highest grade in ADR in law school (1993). His international experience developed during his work at various firms in the United States and at the UN participating in UNCITRAL arbitrations.

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Darlene Mc. Campbell

Board Member

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Omar Egan

Board Member

Omar is the CEO of Industrias Caricia, the second largest shoe company in Central America, also he is the Founder and Director of a Startup in sensorial marketing technologies for retailers. He holds a B.A. in Economics from ESEN, the top business school in the country. He produced the first podcast in El Salvador in 2005 and currently produces 3 weekly podcasts from his home studio.

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Graciela Fontg

Board Member

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Jill Gross

Board Member

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Anne Hand

Board Member

Anne comes to the ConTextos board with multidisciplinary experience and expertise in philanthropy, nonprofits, and education. She has worked on a variety of multi-stakeholder initiatives with public and private partners specifically related to education, violence prevention, public health, and transnational leadership in the Americas.

She passionately believes that the circumstances of one’s birth should not limit what people are able to accomplish in their lives, and that literacy and storytelling are essential tools to allow all people to dream. Anne is currently Senior Program Manager for Leadership and Equity Initiatives at Hispanics in Philanthropy. She holds a B.Sc. in Psychology from McGill University, and an Ed.M. in International Education Policy from Harvard University. A New York native, she is based in Mexico City.

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Oscar M. Orozco Sr.

Board Member

He was born in San Salvador, El Salvador and at age 11 he moved to the United States of America, where he completed all his studies. He is a graduate of the University of Washington with a Master's degree in Banking Administration.

Oscar, started working in banking in 1971 and during those years he has held many jobs within the Bank. Start as a driver, cashier, collections, credits, Branch Manager, Area Manager, Executive Vice-President in US Banks and 45 years later he serves as the Secretary Secretary of the Board of Directors of Banco Promerica, as well as being the Regional Advisor of the Organizational Culture and also develops special projects for the Promerica Group.

He was a member of the ARMY of the United States for 3 years and during 1 year he fought in the Vietnam War.

I worked for 17 years in one of the most recognized banks in the United States, Wells Fargo Bank, where he managed the largest branch of the company and managed to be Vice-President of the same. His banking experience has been in Retail Banking in branches, where his main focus and passion has been Customer Service.

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Gabriela Poma

Board Member

Has worked as an educator and editor in Central America since 2002 and currently is affiliated with Harvard University’s Cultural Agents Initiative. She has has devoted over 25 years working to strengthen the non-profit sector of her home countries El Salvador and Nicaragua, especially in the areas of arts, literature, and strengthening education through democracy. Gabriela has a degree in French and Italian from Georgetown University’s School of Languages and Linguistics, a Master’s in Spanish from Stanford University’s ILAC Program, and a Master’s from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications.

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Gloria Raskosky

Board Member

A native of Nicaragua, Gloria has lived in El Salvador since 1994. Prior to devoting her time to humanitarian efforts, she worked in the banking industry and as Director of Planning and Special Projects for the Nicaraguan Minister of Culture, Gladys Ramirez Espinosa, during the presidency of Violeta Chamorro from 1992-1994. Gloria is affiliated with FUSAL-El Salvador, a health and human development institution, was a board member of Tin Marin, El Salvador's Children's Museum from 2009-2012 and for ten years, has taught the FORJA character building program methodology at the American School of El Salvador.

Gloria has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from Connecticut College and graduated high school from the Carrolton School of the Sacred Heart in Miami. She is a passionate supporter of initiatives that address social issues and believes that education plays a vital role in closing the gap between poverty and self-actualization.

Discover our big family

Staff members

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Debra Gittler

Founder and Executive Director

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Jackeline Ascencio

Library Specialist

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Rebecca Barriere

Communications Coordinator

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Jennifer Coreas

Program Coordinator: Soy Autor

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Daisy Díaz

Soy Autor Teacher Intern

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Maité Funes

Director of Finance and Administration

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Jennifer Knapp

Soy Autor Teacher

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Alejandra Mejía

Director of Development and Communications

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Teresa Mejía

Assistant

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Diana Melgar

Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist

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William Melgar

Logistics Support

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Melvin Moreno

Teacher Trainer and Soy Autor Teacher

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Enrique Quintanilla

Teacher Trainer and Soy Autor Teacher

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Carlos Recinos

Program Coordinator: Soy Lector

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Zoila Recinos

Director of Educational Programs

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Anne Ruelle

Programs Associate

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Flor Romero

Administrative Coordinator

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Esmeralda Zarceño

Teacher Trainer

Our partners

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