El Salvador’s society is in an everlasting turmoil. This past week, as part of my CDF/ConDev internship project, I spent time with community members learning about their lives and their fears about gang-related conflict, and it’s rocked my world.
I learned from these conversations that there are 14 departments, or “States,” in El Salvador, and San Salvador is one of them. Within each of these States is a leading family that was one of the original leading families from the conquering of Spain in the 1800s. Native indigenous culture also under-rides and infiltrates Salvadoran culture. As a result, only a few people are in control and have power over the communities throughout El Salvador. Some people believe this leads to corruption in all levels of government and security issues, along with the development of gangs. I learned that gangs are spread out all over El Salvador and are ruled by a few leaders in the central area of their headquarters.
This corruption and the presence of gang life in El Salvador leads to fear and worry in the lives of the people with whom I’ve spoken. SHIP El Salvador, which is located in one of the poorer communities outside of San Salvador, is combating this situation by reaching out to their neighborhood. The people in this community live in makeshift houses, using whatever they can find to cover their roofs for protection from the elements, and they have to work hard to make a living. Daily, they are impacted by gang activity and must be careful to avoid the gangs. Oftentimes, gangs place restrictions on the community members, such as curfews; the neighbors know that any contradiction of the gang is to fear for their life. Many have lost family members to gang violence, which makes gang threats very real in their lives.
At SHIP El Salvador, teams from the United States come to reconstruct some of the homes in the surrounding neighborhood and also provide for other needs. Sometimes, they tear down an old roof, which has been patched over and over to keep out the rain, and then replace it with a new tin roof. In some cases, the team tears down the entire structure and starts from scratch. Or they may add on a simple structure to help the family or build a bathroom and shower facility to be shared to give privacy. With all the stresses of life in El Salvador, which range from poverty to fearing for their safety to providing for their families, SHIP strives to help make the lives of these families better and safer.
I’ve been greatly impacted by the information shared with me this week about life in El Salvador. The neighbors surrounding SHIP El Salvador are people full of love and gratitude. I’m impacted by them on a daily basis, and it’s left me feeling so humbled to be a small part of what SHIP is doing here.