Projects for Peace winner to help farmers in El Salvador

Esther Avalos Flores ’25 will provide soil enrichment workshops to address sustainability and food insecurity

Esther Avalos Flores ’25 was born and raised in Santa Tecla, a small city in El Salvador. While in middle school, each spring she and her parents would travel to the countryside with their church group to work with volunteers from Canada and the U.S. to help build houses for farmers and others.

“Those experiences provided a glance at the routine of farmers, and the importance of soil for them and all of us,” Avalos Flores said. “Soil keeps us in place, feeds us and is the place where we stand; if we don’t take care of it, life will perish.”

This summer she will return to El Salvador to help farmers take care of that precious resource as a 2023 Projects for Peace award winner. The Wheaton College sophomore hopes her project, “The Soil Under Our Feet, El Salvador,” will help address food insecurity and soil contamination from pesticides and fertilizers, which she said are major issues in the country.

“I feel enthusiastic about connecting two important parts of my life: my academic life and my life back home. I feel hopeful and trust this project will be a seed for the community, since many of the people I will work with have been part of my life for a long time and others are very interested and enthusiastic about working on the project with me,” she said.

Avalos Flores, an international relations major, plans to partner with environmental experts and farmers to provide strategy workshops on soil enrichment and fertilizing techniques for farming families and urban ecological workshops for students living in Santa Tecla. Session topics will range from how to treat or recover damaged soil to how to create organic fertilizers and homemade orchards.

She also plans to invite school teachers, so they can incorporate the lessons into their curriculum, and will create virtual handbooks or blogs for students and teachers to have ongoing access to the information.

The Projects for Peace grant is possible thanks to funding from the late Kathryn Wasserman Davis, who chose to celebrate her 100th birthday by committing $1 million toward projects that promote peace around the world. She was the mother of alumna Diana Davis Spencer ’60 and received an honorary degree from Wheaton in 2008. The program is open to undergraduate students who are enrolled at a Davis United World College Scholars Program partner school, such as Wheaton, as well as a few other participating institutions.

“Peace for me means that everyone has the chance to prosper in healthy ways and cooperation is key to achieving prosperity,” Avalos Flores wrote in her Projects for Peace proposal. “I want to motivate people to not only take care of the soil but to support healthy ways of youth involvement, so they learn how to solve issues like food insecurity and soil degradation.”

At age 16, Avalos Flores won a scholarship to study at the United World College of South East Asia, an independent international school in Singapore. There, a class called “Environmental Systems and Societies” began the spark of the ideas that eventually led to this project.

“The subject opened my eyes to environmental consciousness and taught me how much knowledge there is in the world that is not applied in some areas that need it just because people don’t have access to the information,” she said. “This means that the resources are there, but the real problem is who has access to those resources. With my resources, I could bring some of that information to those places that need it the most.”

Also, her Wheaton education has bolstered her interest in agriculture and being a change agent. “One course that definitely helped was ‘Globalization,’” she said. “It made me realize how connected the economic systems of small and big countries are, and how changes in agriculture or environmental policies can benefit an extended range of the population.”