There is a long tradition in the Basque Country of international aid work. Among the illustrious roll call of names through history that we could mention, today it’s time to remember the figure of Begoña Sopelana Basauri. Born in Iurreta, Bizkaia, on June 23, 1944, she studied education, graduating in 1962.
After working in an administrative capacity through the 1960s, in 1968 she took up a new challenge and spent two years in El Salvador on a volunteer program, teaching daycare techniques as well as working as a medical advisor. On her return to the Basque Country she went on to study sociology and in 1977 she returned to El Salvador, where she worked in the field of education for marginalized persons. It was there that she met, and worked with, Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against the injustices of the regime in his homeland.
She worked in the violent unstable atmosphere of El Salvador through the early 1980s, principally in the field of providing a basic education for the children of the economically impoverished and socially excluded. In 1987, she was central to the construction of Las Vueltas, a purpose-built community in which she organized classes to train people to become teachers. She was especially interested in empowering women in this regard as well as in promoting community projects.
In 1993 she returned to Iurreta on account of her failing health. She died in her home town in 1999.
On November 14, 2012, Las Vueltas was declared a city with zero illiteracy. This was officially communicated as the “Begoña Sopelana” declaration.
In 2015, a monument was erected in her honor in Las Vueltas.
If you’re interested in the topic of international aid work and Basque involvement therein, check out the CBS publication Development Cooperation: Facing the Challenges of Global Change, edited by Koldo Unceta and Amaia Arrinda. The book is available free to download here.