Sheila Marie Tobbe on Current Migration Crisis in Latin America

This story clip can be aligned to the following Ohio Department of Education Social Studies Standards:

  • American History #4: Historians analyze cause, effect, sequence and correlation in historical events, including multiple causation and long- and short-term causal relations.
  • American History #24: The United States followed a policy of containment during the Cold War in response to the spread of communism.
  • American Government #22: Individuals and organizations play a role within federal, state and local governments in helping to determine public (domestic and foreign) policy.
  • Contemporary World Issues #11: Decisions about human activities made by individuals and societies have implications for both current and future generations, including intended and unintended consequences.



Sister Sheila Marie Tobbe is an Ursuline sister who was a member of the Cleveland Latin American Mission Team during the 1990s. She visited El Salvador at the outbreak of the Civil War and during the full interview she talks about her time in El Salvador with Dorothy Kazel, one of the four churchwomen who were brutally murdered by paramilitary forces in 1980. She explains how the reluctance to train government officials and public service professionals (other than those the U.N. trained) have destabilized the region. She sees major problems within El Salvador decades after the El Salvadoran Civil War – they simply have never recovered from the political, economic, and social trauma of those twelve years. In the pinnacle moment of this clip, Sr. Sheila states military is “not the basis of democracy – it’s civilian police; it’s mayors; it’s judges that are the basis of democracy.”

The School of the Americas (renamed The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001) that she mentioned is a United States Department of Defense Institute that was established in the early stages of the Cold War as a means of training military to fight communism abroad (1). Many Salvadoran high-ranking military officials learned intimidation, policing, and anti-guerrilla warfare techniques there. However, because of this training and direct military aid from the United States, many in El Salvador’s military committed heinous crimes of war against their own people in an effort to deter people from joining the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) or offering support to them – be it bodily or in resources.

Potential Classroom Uses:

  1. Teachers can use this clip to discuss consequences of government actions (both past and present), as well as our current immigration issues.
  2. This can also be combined with a unit about United States Cold War intervention to stop communism’s spread.
  3. Sr. Sheila here (and throughout the rest of her interview) discusses some of the push factors that may prompt El Salvadorans and other Central Americans to leave their home country for the United States. Teachers may use this clip to open up a greater discussion on human migration. Click here and here for more information regarding push and pull factors.

Sources to consider:
On “The Northern Triangle”:

On Post-Civil War El Salvador:

Global Migration:


(1) “What is the SOA?,” SOA Watch, 2018Accessed August 6, 2018.

Other Sources Used:

eSchoolToday. “What are the Pull and Push factors of migration?” Accessed August 6, 2018.

British Broadcasting Coorporation. “Migration Trends.” Section: “Why do people migrate?” BBC GCSE Bitesize. Accessed August 6, 2018.

To download and view the full interview of Sr. Sheila Marie Tobbe click here.

[Photo Credit, El Salvador,, accessed August 13, 2018.]