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Impacted by HurricanesOn November 2, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. As a Category 4 hurricane, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the Central American region in many years. Shortly after, Hurricane Iota hit. Thousands have died and many have experienced displacement. Since Central America is one of the poorest areas of Latin America, the U.S. is in a position to help alleviate the crisis by providing foreign aid to those impacted by hurricanes.

Poverty in Central America

Nicaragua is the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, Nicaragua’s poverty rate sits around 15.1%. Geographically, the poorest area of Nicaragua is the Atlantic Coast of the country. Similarly, Honduras is an impoverished nation located north of Nicaragua. Honduras is also one of the poorest countries in Central America. Furthermore, Honduras’ geographical location leaves it exposed to extreme weather such as heavy rainfall and droughts. The most vulnerable, oftentimes rural and coastal populations, are susceptible to these intense weather changes. Neighboring countries of El Salvador and Guatemala are also impoverished nations with vulnerable populations. The increased climate disasters leave these populations at risk of death, poverty and becoming climate refugees.

Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota

On the eve of Hurricane Eta’s landfall, the Nicaraguan government evacuated around 3,000 families living in the coastal area. According to UNICEF, more than a million Nicaraguans, which also includes half a million children, were endangered by the hurricane. El Salvador evacuated people as a precaution and many of Guatemala’s departments declared a state of emergency.

Hurricane Eta made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm destroyed houses, hospitals and businesses. Widespread flooding and mudslides were responsible for the casualties across the region. Unfortunately, Hurricane Eta was not the only storm blasting through Central America.

Weather forecasters predicted another strong storm, Hurricane Iota. Also a Category 4 hurricane, Iota made landfall 15 miles south of where Hurricane Eta did just days prior. The hurricane further stalled the rescue efforts of the region. In Honduras, the hurricanes impacted around 4 million people with more than 2 million losing access to health care. Moreover, Guatemala had more than 200,000 people seeking shelter after the two hurricanes.

Foreign Aid to Central America

The Central American region is impoverished and vulnerable to natural disasters. Furthermore, many Central American nations depend on foreign aid from the United States. The countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (the Northern Triangle) rely on foreign aid from the U.S. to manage rural poverty, violence, food insecurity and natural disasters. Moreover, that aid has been reduced under the Trump administration. Since Donald Trump took office, the aid for these countries has reduced from $750 million to $530 million. In April 2019, Trump froze $450 million of foreign aid to the Northern Triangle, further diminishing the lives of many. Foreign aid keeps Central Americans from plummeting to extreme poverty and also curtails migration to the United States.

Congress Pleads for Foreign Aid

As Hurricane Eta ravaged through Central America, Rep. Norma Torres (CA-35) wrote a letter urging Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to increase foreign aid to Central America. Torres (CA-35) wrote, “Hurricane Eta was an unavoidable natural disaster, but its aftermath is a preventable humanitarian crisis in the making.” In addition, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), Eliot Engel (NY-16), also showed his support for increased aid to those Hurricane Eta impacted. Engel wrote, “a large-scale U.S. effort is needed to provide much-needed relief to those affected by Eta so that they are not forced to leave their countries and make the perilous journey north.”

USAID Provides Disaster Relief

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has agreed to increase aid by $17 million to the countries impacted by Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota. Studies have shown that foreign aid is a successful policy to reduce global poverty. Any aid given to these countries benefits the lives of those impacted by hurricanes in several significant ways.

– Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

International Aid to El SalvadorEl Salvador faces threats from multiple angles as heavy tropical flooding has been compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While El Salvador has managed to curtail infection rates by imposing strict restrictions, in October 2020, more than 32,000 people had COVID-19, with around 1,000 deaths. Due to the stringent measures to protect against the pandemic, economic growth has been stifled and poverty reduction efforts have waned. Organizations are stepping in to provide international aid to El Salvador.

Dual Disasters in El Salvador

In May and June of 2020, the tropical storms Amanda and Cristobal wreaked havoc on the people of El Salvador. Nearly 150,000 people were affected by heavy rain, flooding and severe winds. Developing countries such as El Salvador have poor building infrastructure and during natural disasters homes are more likely to be destroyed by storms. The World Food Programme (WFP) has estimated that about 380,000 people in El Salvador do not have sufficient access to nutritious food due to the dual disasters that have weakened infrastructure and the economy. An estimated 22,000 farmers have suffered from the destruction of flooding, with over 12,000 hectares of agricultural crops being destroyed.

COVID-19 Pandemic Increases Poverty

El Salvador has been moderately successful with poverty reduction, marked by a consistent decline in poverty over the past 13 years, as poverty rates plummeted from 39% to 29% between 2007 and 2017. Extreme poverty was cut from 15% to 8.5% over this time period as well. Additionally, El Salvador has increased its level of equality and is now the second most equal country in Latin America.

Despite this positive trend in poverty reduction, El Salvador has suffered from forced economic restrictions due to the pandemic. Its GDP is projected to decrease by 8% this year due to economic restrictions, a weakened international market and diminished funds sent from El Salvadorians abroad in the United States. Additionally, low income and marginalized individuals are becoming more vulnerable to health issues and wage deficiencies and are falling victim to predatory loans. El Salvador’s economic shutdown and destruction from tropical storms have prompted calls for international aid to alleviate the crisis.

Swift Action to Mitigate COVID-19

El Salvador has seen relatively low COVID-19 cases as a result of its swift response to the pandemic. It adopted strict containment measures faster than any other Central American country and invested heavily in its health system. The government has provided cash distributions to the majority of households, food for low income households and payment deferrals for rent and mortgages in order to curb the effects of the pandemic on citizens.

International Aid to El Salvador

Requests for international aid to El Salvador have been granted in the form of assistance from USAID and the WFP. These organizations are providing disaster relief and bringing in resources to those affected by the storms and the COVID-19 pandemic. USAID has donated $3 million to be dispensed by cash in stipends for vulnerable citizens to buy food. This stipend will boost local economies and reinforce food security for impoverished citizens affected by the dual disasters.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Women-Owned BusinessesNonprofit organization Mary’s Pence is working towards a world of empowered women making changes in their communities. To get there, Mary’s Pence partners with grassroots organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Central America to provide funding and development programs for women-owned businesses.

Executive director Katherine Wojtan believes Mary’s Pence is different from other nonprofits because the organization not only cares for the individual women, but also oversees the sustainment of their small businesses. Mary’s Pence also values the idea of “accompaniment,” explained by Wojtan as utilizing the abilities of everyone to accomplish a long-term shared vision. This concept is applied to the organization’s execution of both the programs in the states and in Central America, focusing on improving the whole rather than the individual.

ESPERA

The program in Central America called ESPERA, or Economical Systems Providing Equitable Resources for All, was created almost 12 years ago. “Espera” is the Spanish word for hope, a fitting name for the life-changing program working with women in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“This is very intentional, it is not about making individual women rich, but about ensuring all women have access to resources and skills to make their way in the world and earn what they need for a good life,” Wojtan said.

ESPERA aids women who were victims of domestic or gang violence or are single mothers struggling to make ends meet. By giving grants to grassroots organizations in struggling communities, Mary’s Pence creates community-lending pools which women can take loans from to start local women-owned businesses that generate income. To ensure success, the staff of Mary’s Pence teach the community loan management and help elect leaders to track the lending.

Gilda Larios, ESPERA team lead, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and worked with Central American refugees before starting work with Mary’s Pence. ESPERA funding gives back to the whole community, not just the women receiving aid. Instead of focusing on building credit, women realize the importance of circulating money and products.

“Their confidence grew – first they asked for a very small loan, and over time they asked for larger loans and grew their businesses,” Larios told The Borgen Project. “With their strength, they are role models for new leadership in the community.”

ESPERA and COVID-19

ESPERA has helped develop many small women-owned businesses that create jobs for their communities and generate income for struggling women. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put many of these businesses at risk as workers feared for their lives, but the ESPERA team responded fast, changing their focus from long-term development to responding immediately to the needs of the women.

As some women panicked about their businesses and the effects of the pandemic, the ESPERA team responded with a 12-week emotional wellness series, delivered via WhatsApp, and supported stores so they could keep reasonable prices for the communities. For women in the midst of paying back loans to the community-lending pool, their status is put on hold until they have the income to continue their payment.

Despite the support network ESPERA provides, the pandemic revealed some gaps in the system. It was challenging to ensure the safety of women experiencing domestic violence. The lack of access to phones and the internet made communication between communities and ESPERA leaders challenging. However, this time of crisis also brought the communities closer and proved the importance of working together through local businesses.

In her interview with The Borgen Project, Larios told of a woman named Aminta, who is in the ESPERA program in San Salvador, El Salvador. She transitioned from working in a “maquila,” or factory, to starting her own business sewing uniforms for local sports teams. During COVID-19, she also began sewing masks to help keep her community healthy. Success stories of women-owned businesses like this one propel communities into further financial security and empower other women to do the same.

Confidence and Creating Futures

Above all, ESPERA and Mary’s Pence hope to give women confidence in their own abilities to create the future they want for themselves and for their families. For Larios, the most rewarding part of working with ESPERA women is the “feeling of satisfaction and joy to see them embrace their possibilities and capacities that before they thought they didn’t have.”

Through ESPERA and their role in the creation of women-owned businesses, Mary’s Pence continues to change women’s lives by showing them the power they already had within themselves.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Google Images

El Salvador is a small country in Central America that, for several years, has been going through an economic crisis. Due to the persistent levels of gang violence and extreme levels of poverty, it has been challenging for El Salvador to overcome its economic instability. Although economic freedom is insecure, attempts have been made to aid the fight against violence and poverty.

Background

In the 1980s, El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war, and once they prevailed, they set out to become a democracy. The country was praised for its seamless transition into a neoliberal order. However, the levels of gang violence began to rise. Additionally, the government’s lack of acknowledgment was feeding into the political silence.

Gang violence in El Salvador is still a predominant problem because it has led to national security issues. El Salvador currently holds the title for the highest murder and violence rate against children under the age of 19. The NCG, or the National Crisis Group, believes that in order to effectively mitigate these issues, specific police, justice reforms and legal frameworks for rehabilitating former gang members are key for a pacification process.

Gang Violence and Poverty

The severe incline in gang violence has a direct impact on the economic crisis in El Salvador. Nearly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty as both a result of and companion to gang violence. Because of gang violence, the country’s government spends a massive amount of money to relocate individuals to communities across the United States. Moreover, gang violence started with poverty. Poverty in El Salvador was already significant before gang violence became a norm. Additionally, poverty actually fed the rate of gang violence because of the lack of a suitable education system. This led children and teens to grow up on the streets. Gangs would later come full circle and feed into the rising poverty rates.

7 Funds

Amidst all of this political and economic turmoil, David Beckham started a fund to aid those in need in El Salvador. This project is known as the “7 funds.” Beckham started this project by teaming up with UNICEF. Moreover, the focus of the project is to fight violence so that children can grow up free from fear and realize their potential in El Salvador. Furthermore, the 7 funds set up a hotline for children who are in danger or affected by violence.

This project also trains teachers to support children who may be at risk. They have set up committees that help keep schools safe. 7 funds encourage students, teachers and parents to work together and work with the authorities to make a safe place for children to play sports.

Looking Forward

El Salvador has certainly seen better days and will likely see them again. With the work done by David Beckham and UNICEF, the economy is taking a turn for the better. Poverty rates are still high and so is gang violence. However, the rates in childhood violence have gone down, delivering a promising future for prospective generations in El Salvador.

Sarah Mobarak
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Central AmericaCentral America, which includes Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, has a history of human rights violations. The three northern countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) are considered the most dangerous countries in the region for vulnerable communities. The United Nations defines human rights as rights thought to be inherent no matter any status. Violations of these rights include violence, discrimination and injustices.

Vulnerable Communities

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ community, women and children are the most prone to violence and discrimination in Central America. Violence against LGBTQ people is severe and spread far throughout the region. In northern Central America between 2014 to 2019, 243 LGBTQ people were murdered.

The northern region is also the most dangerous for women. This is because El Salvador has the highest rate of gender-motivated killing in the world. Guatemala follows closely behind at third-highest while Honduras is sixth. In 2017, 2,559 cases of gender-motivated murders were reported in Latin America and the Caribbean with Central American nations making up a majority of the countries with the highest risk for women. El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua are included within the top 10.

Another highly vulnerable group is children. Children suffer from gangs, sexual violence and poverty. Many are forced to flee from Central America to the United States in the hopes of living safer lives, but this journey is often dangerous due to the drug-trafficking gangs. In addition to violence, poverty is also a significant driving force for children and families fleeing Central America. More than two-thirds of children live in poverty throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In El Salvador alone, 86.8 percent of children live under the poverty line. However, families who do make it to the U.S. border are detained and often separated.

Human Rights Defenders

There is constant work to expand existing organizations and encourage a public environment that allows human rights defenders, local civil society groups and individuals to carry out their vital work without fear of violence. The people on the ground doing research, providing aid and services and protesting injustice are the foundation of the cause.

OutRight Action International, founded in 1990, works to improve the lives and protect LGBTQ people in Central America. In Guatemala, OutRight hosted a security training for LGBTQ activists in 2016. They document abuse and work towards creating a more tolerant society.

Journalists and activists that carry out such work are often detained or arrested for speaking out against the violation of human rights. 87 human rights activists were murdered or died in detention in Central America in 2016. The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) recognizes the importance of activists in the fight for human rights and has launched many campaigns advocating for laws protecting human rights defenders. In many cases, the violence and crime against activists are ignored by law officials and in response, human rights organizations have implemented devices, such as contact buttons and emergency plans, to keep people from being punished for speaking out.

Furthermore, the Pan American Development Foundation, based in Washington D.C., is currently 4 years into a 5-year plan to strengthen human rights in Central America. The project began in 2016 and has provided help to at-risk communities and has established protection systems for civil society groups and human rights defenders.

Moving Forward

Human rights in Central America are challenged every day. These rights are often abused due to the ineffectiveness of government intervention efforts and gang-related violence. Central America has a long way to go in providing a safe and enriching society for its citizens, but with the continued efforts of activists and community groups, there is a possibility for improved safety and livelihoods.

Taylor Pittman

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in El Salvador
El Salvador is the most densely populated nation in Central America, with a population of 6.375 million people and the size of 21,041 kilometers squared. Citizens of El Salvador are impacted by daily petty crimes such as thieft and pickpocketing, as well as more intense gang violence. El Salvador has the fifth-highest murder rate in the world, mainly caused by gang violence. Many gangs also partake in human trafficking, exploiting victims both domestically and abroad. These 10 facts about human trafficking in El Salvador aim to shed light on the main perpetrators, as well as steps taken to combat these abuses.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in El Salvador

  1. Women, children, and LGBTQ people are at a higher risk of exploitation than men. Traffickers will often exploit El Salvadorans, as well as citizens from neighboring countries such as Nicaragua and Guatemala, who fall into those demographics. Transgender people are particularly at risk for sex trafficking as they are often dehumanized and fetishized in Latin America and other parts of the world.

  2. According to the United States Department of State, El Salvador does not currently meet the bare minimum standards for combating human trafficking. The government has made some small efforts, such as investigating an allegedly complicit government official and providing psychiatric services to female victims. These small efforts demonstrate a willingness to be on the right track, which makes El Salvador a strong candidate for potential growth in combating human trafficking.

  3. Gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, more commonly known as MS-13, lure women into trafficking by offering them jobs. Women from poor backgrounds are baited and then forced into sex slavery. Experts are weary to pinpoint gangs as the main source for trafficking, as there is evidence of government officials and other people in power who also partake in trafficking whether for sexual or labor purposes.

  4. The Human trafficking network in El Salvador involves a lot of different members from the private sector, including transportation, tourism, media, entertainment and legal industries. Bus drivers, taxi drivers and truck drivers all take part in transporting victims. The media industry is also used to recruit victims by advertising fake jobs in newspapers and on the radio. These advertising methods are usually aimed at the aforementioned demographics, as they are often the most vulnerable in communities.

  5. The public sector is also very much involved in trafficking networks. Often, immigrants, police and other civil servants aid traffickers. Public officials provide false birth certificates and other legal documents. Border enforcement patrols are easily bribed into allowing victims to be trafficked to other countries. Suspects in human trafficking cases are often protected by public officials.

  6. The average age of trafficked victims ranges from between 9 to 15 years old. Teenagers and children are often recruited at school or within their own communities. Traffickers are able to brainwash children because of their young age, making them more malleable. Children are trained to murder, sell drugs or sell their bodies. Girls, in particular, are harassed and forced into relationships with gang members. Children are physically harassed, assaulted, threatened until they have no choice but to join a gang.

  7. Florida is the top destination for trafficked victims from El Salvador. Florida has high demands for human slaves, including both sex and labor slaves. Victims from El Salvador are forced into the commercial sex industry with the demand to make a profit for their traffickers. Victims are threatened to the point that they have no other choice but to comply.

  8. The root of human trafficking is the demand for victims. People are trafficked not because of the needs of human traffickers, but because of the demand of people who will pay for human services. In El Salvador, this manifests itself through a demand for prostitution and stripping. The growth of gang networks and the tourism industry has led to sec trafficking in El Salvador to become a multinational scheme.

  9. Many organizations are working to combat sex trafficking in El Salvador. The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) started a campaign in 2013 called Tu Voz, which acmes to educate, alert, and support young people who are vulnerable to trafficking. The PADF worked with many other organizations to create the campaign, including MTV Latin America, the Inter-American Development Bank and its youth network (BID Juventud) and the Cinepolis Foundation (largest movie complex franchise in Latin America).

  10. The campaign has been incredibly successful so far, with over 150,000 people reached across 200 awareness events. Also, MTV produced and screened an anti-human trafficking documentary called “Invisible Slaves,” which had a successful impact across youth in danger of trafficking. The campaign also strengthened vulnerable youth to become activists against human trafficking. The success of the campaign demonstrates how empowering awareness and education campaigns can be, in combating some of the biggest villains in El Salvador.

Overall, minorities and women are the most vulnerable to be trafficked. There are many factors involved such as demand and poverty that contribute towards the human trafficking market. These 10 facts about human trafficking in El Salvador aimed to cover some of the reasons for the prominence of human trafficking in the region, as well as steps being taken to combat human trafficking. There has been an increase in effort from the international community, as well as the government of El Salvador to put an end to human trafficking. Education, advocacy and activism can all help to put an end to the atrocities of human trafficking in El Salvador.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr

El Salvador

The youth in El Salvador, one of the world’s most violent countries, face a lot of obstacles when it comes to getting an education. With the poverty rate at 31 percent and teen pregnancy on the rise, going to school and getting an education in El Salvador is not a simple feat. Avoiding gang violence, affording transportation and supplies, finding employment or valuable training after high school are all challenges that the youth in El Salvador face when it comes to receiving an education.

However, there are several companies and organizations aimed at improving the quality of education in El Salvador. These innovative companies develop programs and projects with the purpose of bettering the lives of the young. These programs help students with job training, English-language learning skills, sex education, brain education and education for students with disabilities.

IBREA and Brain Education

IBREA is a nonprofit organization founded in 2008, aimed at spreading knowledge about the relationship between the brain and body. Ilich Lee, the founder of IBREA believes that through holistic education like meditation, artistic expression and group work, people can achieve peace within themselves and eventually within their communities. IBREA has offered educational programs, seminars and carried out several projects in countries around the world including Liberia, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone and El Salvador.

IBREA began working in El Salvador in 2011 and is currently present in one-fourth of the country’s schools. IBREA has made a notable impact on a school in the district of Distrito Italia. This district is one of many deeply affected by gang violence and poverty in El Salvador. Students, teachers and principals alike have said that since the beginning they have noticed significant improvements in their physical health, stress levels, and motivation in IBREA programs. Other improvements include better peer relations, clarity, decision-making and emotion regulation. The IBREA Foundation is continuing to make strides in El Salvador and Ilich Lee has even received the “Jose Simeon Cañas” award from the previous president of El Salvador Salvador Sánchez Cerén for the positive impact IBREA has had on schools in El Salvador.

FULSAMO and Vocational Training

FULSAMO is a nonprofit organization based in El Salvador aimed at improving the lives and creating opportunities for at-risk youth in El Salvador. Through various programs located in Community Centers throughout El Salvador, FULSAMO works to keep the youth of El Salvador away from gang violence by offering training programs that help them find employment. Currently, FULSAMO has four locations in Soyapango, a municipality in El Salvador.

FULSAMO is currently offering training sessions for work in call centers. The course is six months long, and students are offered help finding relevant employment upon its completion. Unemployment for the youth in El Salvador is nearly 12 percent, but only 7 percent for El Salvador’s general population. Since youth are more at risk for joining gangs, programs like FULSAMO are vital for the betterment of the community. Aside from training opportunities, FULSAMO also offers programs centered on arts, music and leadership.

“Comunidades Inclusivas” for Children with Disabilities

“Comunidades Inclusivas” is a project created by an Education Professor at the University of Maryland. The goal of this project is to make education in El Salvador more accessible to people with disabilities. Through small programs and networks, Comunidades Inclusivas works to have people with disabilities more socially involved in their communities so these connections can be used as a means to more access to education.

In developing nations, it is likely that children living in poverty, who can’t afford supplies such as uniforms, will drop out of school. For children with disabilities who may need more or different resources and supplies than students without disabilities, their likelihood of dropping out is increased. According to the Global Citizen, 90 percent of children living with disabilities are not in school, and 80 percent of people with disabilities, live in developing countries. The El Salvadorian government has made an effort to improve the lives of those living with disabilities and has had previous laws protecting their rights to public transportation and employment in place for decades. In 2018 the El Salvadorian government also passed an act that allowed the Basic Solidarity Pension Fund to apply to people with disabilities.

Through a partnership with International Partners, a nonprofit organization, Comunidades Inclusivas developed “Circulos de Amigos.” This is an initiative that connects people in a community who support and aid people with disabilities. Members of Circulos de Amigos support people with disabilities and their families by providing assistance during home visits, building ramps, and other specific needs. By improving the connection between people with disabilities and their community, Comunidades Inclusivas raises awareness and builds support systems for people with disabilities and their families. This ultimately makes education in El Salvador more of a possibility for people with disabilities.

Sex Education in Centro Escolar

Although teen pregnancy is prevalent in El Salvador, some educators aim to teach their students about sex education despite cultural stigmas. Females between 10 and 19 years old account for one-third of all pregnancies in El Salvador. In Panchimalco, a district south of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, educators are taking the risk of teaching sex education, but do it in a way that avoids scrutiny.

Because sex education in El Salvador is sometimes associated with contraceptives and abortion, certain teachers (whose real identities are hidden) in Panchimalco take a different approach when trying to inform students about sex education to avoid ridicule from people in the community. For example, the courses inform students about gender rights and gender equality. This is especially important since the homicide rate for females is 12 for every 100,000 people and over 60 percent of females over the age of 15 have experienced some form of abuse by a male. Sex education courses help students recognize sexual violence, report sexual violence, recognize their rights, and plan for the future.

Although sex education is just in its beginning stages, if it continues, the bravery from teachers will make a difference in student’s lives.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

Community-Led Initiatives
In 2017, El Salvador, a country of 6 million people, was one of the deadliest countries to live in that was not inside a war zone —  the country saw on average 10 homicides every day.

El Salvador is pained by low levels of economic growth. From 2010 to 2016, real economic growth averaged only 2.6 percent, which makes El Salvador the nation with the lowest GDP growth in Central America. In 2016, 31 percent of the population lived in poverty, and the World Food Program estimates that 36 percent of the rural population lives in poverty.

Poverty and Environment in El Salvador

El Salvador is vulnerable to several climate risk issues. According to a USAID-supported platform called Climate Risk, El Salvador has witnessed a consistent occurrence of extreme events — storms, floods and droughts — within the last 30 years. Deforestation and land degradation have also negatively impacted agricultural lands, increasing the country’s vulnerability to climate change.

Thirty percent of the El Salvadoran population lives on the coast. El Salvador’s Pacific coastline is highly vulnerable to the combination of sea level rise and El Niño events. In fact, it is expected that 10 to 28 percent of the Pacific Coastline will be inundated permanently by the end of the century.

El Salvador’s current economic and political climate is predominantly shaped by the war on drugs, civil war and multinational corporate resource exploitation. EcoViva, a California-based community building organization, supports grassroots movements in El Salvador to alleviate the effects of these legacies in its partnered communities.

EcoViva

Thankfully, the organization EcoViva generates stability through community-led initiatives. Since its inception in 1996, EcoViva has worked with communities in the Lower Lempa River Estuary on the precipice of sea level rise. This at-risk location is in El Salvador’s northern mountain range and the Bay of Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.

EcoViva envisions works to create thriving ecosystems and communities in Central America by supporting community-led initiatives that support environmental harmony and ameliorate the effects of poverty. EcoViva serves more than 100 villages, reaching roughly 35,000 people. EcoViva and their partners are forming a green rural economy, addressing climate change, educating young people and ending gang violence in EcoViva’s partnered communities.

Shaping a Green Rural Economy

The Diversified Agriculture Program was created by the Mangrove Association, a partner of EcoViva, to reduce hunger and malnutrition experienced by communities in southeast El Salvador. The program provides free training and technical assistance to 120 farmers over a five-year period. The Mangrove Association also distributes 120,000 free organic vegetable seeds and fruit tree saplings to small-scale farmers each year.

The farmers are trained in permaculture, embracing practices that increase yields, diversify production and improve soil quality. These same practices protect the groundwater from chemical pollution and safeguard one of El Salvador’s last intact mangrove ecosystems in the nearby Bay of Jiquilisco, combatting a steady stream of chemical pollutants into the bay from industrial agriculture.

Empowerment and Education of Young People

Since 2002, EcoViva has supported youth programming in the Lower Lempa region of El Salvador, reaching a total of 500 youth. The programs reflect the needs of local youth so as to include leadership training, capacity building and educational opportunities.

Recently, youth have become entrepreneurs, putting their education and leadership training into practice by creating economic opportunities for themselves and other members of their community.

Ending Gang Violence

In 2001, EcoViva drew up three initiatives to bring about a gang truce in the partnered communities. One of the initiatives saw EcoViva help reintegrate former gang members into their communities by giving them the ability to remove their tattoos.

This initiative reduced the risk of former gang members becoming targets for gang violence and police repression; fortunately, 12 years have passed with virtually no gang-related violence in EcoViva partner communities.

EcoViva Generates Stability Through Community-Led Initiatives

EcoViva has been quite successful in its programs with partnered organizations and communities in El Salvador. In fact, 4,735 acres of mangroves are currently protected by community patrols; villagers and volunteers have build 94 composting toilets to decrease groundwater pollution and life-threatening illnesses; and 84 communities are equipped with an Early Warning System for disaster response. EcoViva generates stability through community-led initiatives, and other nations and organizations would do well to follow in its admirable footsteps.

-Sasha Kramer

Photo: Pixabay

How to Help People in El SalvadorPoverty in El Salvador is high; in 2015 it was measured that 34.9 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Comparatively, 15.1 percent of the population of the United States lives below the poverty line.

Poverty is high in El Salvador due to the remnants of its violent civil war from 1979 to 1992. Although a truce was agreed to, tensions between the communist rebel movement and the conservative government remain, which has led to the growth of violent street gangs. El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world (excluding countries at war) due to the activities of its gangs. Violence and instability have created increased poverty within El Salvador.

People in the United States can help citizens in El Salvador. Many Salvadorans have fled to other countries – including the United States – due to the violence in their homeland. American citizens can help Salvadoran refugees by donating to The UN Refugee Agency’s Children on the Run campaign. This campaign is specifically aimed at providing shelter, education and physical and mental care for children and families fleeing the violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Donations can be made through UNHCR’s website.

Save the Children works within El Salvador to help improve the quality of living for Salvadorans. Through Save the Children, one can sponsor a child from early childhood through to early adulthood. The program supports children throughout their education by providing specialized programmings, such as early literacy programs for toddlers and life-skills programs for adolescents. Save the Children also provides families with seeds and livestock that they need for survival, and tools and temporary jobs to give them an income and teach them new skills. Donating to this cause is a great way to help the people, especially children, of El Salvador.

More hands-on approaches can be used to help people in El Salvador as well. Volunteer opportunities are abundant through a variety of organizations. One such organization is Help International. Help International works on an assortment of projects including building community centers, running outreach programs to assist at-risk youth and reforestation campaigns. One can apply to participate in Help International’s El Salvador program through their website.

Finally, simply sharing this information with friends and family and brainstorming ways you can help can go a long way in helping the people of El Salvador overcome poverty.

Mary Kate Luft

Photo: Flickr

Why Is El Salvador Poor
Why is El Salvador Poor? In a country with a highly urbanized workforce and a small wealthy elite who became rich through coffee and sugar, it is surprising that almost 40 percent of the population falls below the poverty line.

More than half a million Salvadorans live on less than $2 a day, making it very difficult to buy food with proper nutrition. Even with the land reform and property redistribution that occurred in the 1980s and helped some rural people make sustainable incomes, there is still a large divide between the wealthy and the poor in El Salvador.

 

Why is El Salvador Poor? Top 3 Reasons

 

USAID reports that El Salvador’s per capita income is the fifth-lowest in the western hemisphere. The economy is stagnating in a decade-long cycle of low growth that has restricted the creation of higher paying jobs, which translates to low productivity and higher crime, especially in terms of the “Maras,” or the violent criminal gangs that have high profiles in El Salvador and around Central America.

Many youth in rural areas live in poverty and choose to migrate rather than stay in a harsh cycle of unemployment or join a gang. This problem is in large part due to a weak education system that sees less than 50 percent of Salvadorans graduate from the sixth grade, one out of three completing the ninth grade and only one out of five completing high school.

What other factors can answer the question: why is El Salvador poor? The Salvadoran healthcare system is another public service that needs to be stronger in order to support financial gains that take people out of poverty. Medical unions and the Salvadoran government have been going back and forth for a long time, with the unions resisting privatization of healthcare and conducting medical personnel strikes frequently.

Hospital budgets primarily go toward paying salaries, leaving little extra funding for basic drugs and medical equipment. While the infant mortality rate has fallen by more than 70 percent in the last three decades, the overall death rate for children is still extremely high at 81 deaths per 1,000 children.

The Salvadoran government is working with international organizations to reduce poverty, especially in rural areas. In 2011, it launched the Plan de Agricultura Familiar (Family Farming Plan) to improve agricultural production and supplement the income of poor rural families while also increasing the competitiveness of domestic agriculture in markets. By localizing many services and improving the healthcare system while working to reduce crime, rural families can begin to utilize a public safety net that will help them out of poverty and create a middle class in Salvadoran society.

Saru Duckworth

Photo: Google