El Salvador is one of the most densely populated countries in Central America. Salvadoran elders represent almost 12% of the population, according to the Ministry of Health. Of 1.2 million elders, only 200,000 receive a pension, prompting a situation where abandoned elders enter poverty. Moreover, the World Bank estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic will negatively affect the country’s economic growth, decreasing GDP by 8.9%. Together with existing factors, this may influence the severity of elderly poverty in El Salvador.
El Salvador’s Pensionary System
El Salvador’s pensionary system consists of a privately defined contribution scheme, constructed by the employer and the employee’s contributions. However, it does not guarantee a stable future for elders. Often, their life earnings are insufficient to fulfill their basic needs throughout their lives.
Juan Lainez, age 83, is the owner of an ambulant shop on the sidewalk of Rosales Hospital in San Salvador. For 21 years, he has woken up at 7 a.m. to sell purses and accessories to pedestrians. He used to work at a dairy company, but after retirement, he has no access to Social Security or to the pensionary system. Many third-age Salvadorians face similar situations. Individuals facing elderly poverty in El Salvador beg for money on the streets, while others live in public homes for abandoned elders.
Organizations Fighting Elderly Poverty in El Salvador
Stories such as Lainez’s have triggered Salvadorians into action. Our Lady of Peace Home for Abandoned Elders receives visitors who donate food and cleaning materials. Some initiatives come from Salvadoran enterprises and others come from particulars. Our Lady of Peace houses 40 elders and it does not receive fixed donations. Some elders pay a symbolic amount while the organization rescues others from the streets.
The nonprofit organization Touching Hearts works has the motto that “if you cannot feed 100 people, then feed [one].”
The Borgen Project spoke to Cristina Hauener, a member of the organization. Hauener explains that the project began as a family initiative and then expanded to close friends, volunteers and donors. “Three years ago, I visited the Bloom public hospital and overheard a conversation. It was a mother asking her neighbor to buy 25 cents worth of tortillas to feed her children, who were home alone without a meal. As a mother, those words shook me. I have never lacked a meal and it was so hard to see how several Salvadorians had nothing to eat,” Hauener confessed. Touching Hearts aims to provide food for people in extreme poverty.
In the beginning, the organization gave donations to the Bloom hospital and to a home for kids with cerebral palsy. As donations grew, the project focused on feeding abandoned elders. The organization members gathered every Monday to prepare the meals: “As in the human body, each member fulfills his function. Some cook the meals, some pack and others distribute and visit the elders,” she listed.
Elderly poverty in El Salvador is a growing social issue. However, small-scale initiatives are making progress with the resources in their reach.
– Paola Arriaza Avilés