Carmen Morán Broz

Date of Birth

December 15th, 1923

Date of Death

September 17th, 2015

Memorial Meeting

Palo Alto Friends Meeting

Minute

Carmen Morán Broz died peacefully on the morning of September 17, 2015 in Santa Rosa, California at the age of ninety–one.  Carmen had been a member of Palo Alto Friends Meeting for over forty-five years, serving for many years on both the El Salvador Projects Committee and the Peace and Social Action Committee.

Carmen was born December 15, 1923 in Sonsonate, El Salvador to Carmen De Morán Paredes and Juan Antonio Morán. Her mother died when Carmen was four years old and, as a nine-year old, Carmen lived through the genocidal “La Matanza” that killed many thousands of indigenous Salvadorans. At the insistence of her older sister Elizabeth, her father enrolled Carmen in a boarding school where she received a strong education from Catholic nuns. At age 20, she accompanied the family of a former teacher to the United States to care for their children. Carmen remained to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1951.

Carmen first encountered Quakerism through a work camp of the American Friends Service Committee in Nayarit, Mexico. That led to an opportunity for scholarship support to earn a master’s degree in Social and Technical Assistance at Haverford College in 1953.  There she was introduced by Quaker philosopher Douglas Steere to Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker service organization.  After Haverford, Carmen lived and worked for a time with Dorothy Day at the Catholic Worker House on Christie Street in New York. In an autobiographical statement, Carmen wrote: “It was here where Dorothy’s example and/or words imprinted in the deepest part of my soul that the only meaning in our lives is to serve our brothers and sisters. She taught me also how to beg, a great gift that has served me well to raise funds for El Salvador Projects.”

In 1953 Carmen married Perry James Broz. The marriage ended in divorce in 1970.  They had four sons: Franz, Lawrence, James, and Robert. 

They lived for a time in Phoenix, Arizona where Perry studied architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright at his Taliesin West compound in Scottsdale.  While there, Carmen became further acquainted with Quakers - attending, with her family, the Phoenix Meeting.  After their return to the San Francisco Bay Area she became a reading specialist in the Millbrae Elementary School District, near San Francisco, advancing the educational prospects of a great number of low-income and disadvantaged children.  And it was here that she became a member of the Society of Friends - her membership by convincement was recorded by Palo Alto Friends Meeting on November 28, 1969.

Carmen retired from her teaching career in 1986.  That summer, six years before the 1992 peace accords settled the civil war in El Salvador, Carmen joined an international delegation sponsored by the SHARE Foundation to accompany peasant families intent on reclaiming their agricultural lands in El Barío, a rural area of Suchitoto, after massacres and intense bombing by the military had made them refugees for years. With supplies loaded on buses and trucks, they camped overnight in the bombed-out town of Aguacayo, between Suchitoto and El Barío. While attending mass in the ruined church of Aguacayo the next morning, they were suddenly surrounded by soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion, known for its massacres of campesinos (rural people). In this tense and dangerous situation, Carmen found it possible to move from fear and anger to recognition of common humanity with some of the soldiers.   She had been speaking quite strongly to one of the soldiers when he calmly said to her, "Señora, no somos animals, somos seres humanos también.”    (Madam, we are not animals, we are humans, too.)  At this point she realized how badly her anger had been directed at the soldier who was just following orders and she embraced him, creating a moment of reconciliation within a context of threat and terror.

The very next day Carmen and the other internationals were jailed and expelled from El Salvador.  Remarkably, the campesinos were allowed to continue to El Barío. There they reestablished their agricultural pursuits and created the village that today is home to the El Barío School.  Built initially with funds from a grant that Carmen and Robert Broz wrote with the villagers, the school now educates some 500 students from El Barío and surrounding villages.

Banned from El Salvador as persona no grata until she acquired a new passport without that forbidding imprint several years later, she worked with the SHARE Foundation in Nicaragua, teaching reading and helping communities develop clean water supplies. Returning to El Salvador in 1989, with the civil war at its peak of violent intensity, she was particularly overwhelmed by the tragedy of the many children left orphaned and even homeless by the hostilities.  Carmen set to work to provide them with a school which was also a place for them to live, and much more – food, clean clothing, supplies, not to mention a sense of belonging, and a realization that they were valued.  With that in place, she then worked to establish nursery schools with Montessori methods and good nutrition. A committee was formed in the Palo Alto Friends Meeting to assure that she would have the support, financial and logistical, needed to keep the projects going.

After the Peace Accords were signed in 1992, her emphasis shifted to providing medical care to remote villages in northern Morazán. By the time a nongovernmental organization launched a program to offer clinics in that region, Carmen had concluded that “Education is the fastest way to end poverty.” Redirecting financial support that continued to flow from Palo Alto Friends and a small but growing number of kindred spirits elsewhere in the U.S., Carmen administered funds for school uniforms, shoes, and books to enable campesino children to attend school – a life-changing opportunity in rural zones where previously very few people had advanced beyond the second or third grade, and the majority of adults were functionally illiterate.

As the children of rural families moved toward high school age and governmental funding for elementary education in rural areas began, the El Salvador Projects increasingly emphasized support for secondary education for promising students. Eventually the first of those students graduated, and some came to Carmen to ask her what could come next. They wanted advanced education – and Carmen determined that she would help them gain it, knowing that when one person in even a large Salvadoran family is well educated and employed it is very unlikely that anyone in that family will ever again be destitute.   Sending peasants to college in El Salvador would be a profound change, she thought. She obtained sponsors for students eager to continue. This became the student loan program, which continues and which now has almost 100 graduates.

Over the years Carmen hosted many visits from supporters across the country – always happy to show to others the impact their support of her work was having.  Perhaps none were as memorable as the service learning trips organized for teens of Palo Alto Meeting and other nearby Meetings.  The teens inevitably came home powerfully transformed by what they had seen, learned, and done.

Carmen founded the El Salvador Projects to raise the level of education for young people of the poorest communities in El Salvador. Her whole life had prepared her for this work. When she returned to the war-torn country of her origin, Carmen had brought with her deep cultural knowledge, professional training as a teacher, and the strength of character and spiritual foundation of decades of Quaker faith and practice. The Projects have been highly successful.  Now, almost 100 young Salvadorans have been aided in their quest for higher education, including more than 50 with 2-year degrees in such practical areas as teaching, nursing, pharmacy, and other technical areas, and 35 with four-year or higher degrees as well as 12 university students who are currently being supported in the 2015 school year.  Continuing under the auspices of the Palo Alto Friends, and now under the able leadership of her son Robert Broz, the El Salvador Projects will be Carmen’s chief legacy and stand as her testament to the uplifting power of education.

In 2013, UC Berkeley recognized Carmen Broz for her extraordinary service and activism in Central America by electing her to the UC Berkeley Wall of Fame.  The road to this high achievement began many years earlier.

Carmen Broz was a powerful presence in the world because she lived her life in service to others.  She was fulfilled and at peace when she passed away, having understood that “the process of dying begins at the moment of birth” and thereby living her life to its fullest potential.