Dr. Jerry Westermeyer, a professor in Adler University’s Department of Psychology, shares his experiences and personal stories while visiting the country of El Salvador in his new book titled, “El Salvador Stories: Attaining an Education Despite Poverty and Violence.” Dr. Westermeyer shares the triumphs and obstacles of young Salvadorans who have received an education thanks to his work with the Salvador Scholarships Program.
Dr. Westermeyer’s story begins in 1972, upon visiting his friend in the Peace Corp, stationed in El Salvador. It wouldn’t be until 31 years later, in 2003, when Dr. Westermeyer returned to the country in hopes to provide funds for education scholarships. Since then, Dr. Westermeyer has sponsored many young people throughout their education and employment, and visits twice a year to check in with students, their families and alumni. Through a personal journal, Westermeyer collected the stories of scholarship recipients, highlighting their resilience through economic and social trauma. Today, the total number of individuals sponsored by Salvador Scholarships is about 65 students in either high school or college. Dr. Westermeyer has visited El Salvador about 32 times.
His new book dives deep into the obstacles that young populations must face in their attempt to receive an education, often including poverty, gang violence and political obstacles. In their attempt to escape this, many Salvadorans seek prosperity elsewhere, such as the United States. However, in his book, Westermeyer focuses on those living and working in El Salvador today, in hopes to build a stronger, more stable country.
Each chapter of “El Salvador Stories: Attaining an Education Despite Poverty and Violence,” shares the unique story of a scholarship recipient. These stories shed light on the importance of education and social justice initiatives in El Salvador. Included are stories like Sara’s, a young woman who studied to become a doctor in hopes to provide the much-needed medical care to her country, has overcome immense struggles including growing threats from street gangs in her community. Erika and Jorge, siblings affected by natural disasters, poverty and gang violence, worked persistently to achieve their college degrees in mathematics and engineering. Westermeyer notes that by investing in the education of young people, there is much more gained by the process. He writes, “The psychological component of education involves encouragement and inspiration to help students overcome phobias or destructive self-images.”
Throughout the text, Westermeyer refers to psychology research – sometimes that of his own – often connecting the study to the stories of Salvador Scholarships program recipients. In funding others’ education, Westermeyer writes about the dual connection that comes with the relationships he’s made in Central America. “Social justice is not a one-way street. You discover things about yourself and grow in meeting other people,” says Dr. Westermeyer.
Dr. Jerry Westermeyer will celebrate 30 years at Adler University in Summer 2022. As a professor in Adler University Chicago’s doctoral psychology program, Westermeyer teaches courses in life span development and psychopathology.