Known for world-famous waves, cloud-forest trails and active volcanoes, El Salvador is Latin America's most densely populated country. However, its natural beauty and warm culture is often overlooked because of stories of civil war and gang violence.
Between 1980 and 1992, more than 75,000 people died in a civil war between the right-wing government and a left-wing guerilla organization. Thousands more disappeared without explanation.
Although the war is over, El Salvador continues to be one of the most violence countries in the world, with one of the highest murder rates. Much of the violence is attributed to gangs. IML's official report for 2011 states that a total of 4,374 murders were committed in El Salvador the previous year, equivalent to a homicide rate of 70 per 100,000 population.
Gangs in El Salvador are made up of children and teenagers. Most
of whom have grown up on the streets with no parental supervision. They derive their power and confidence from violence and weapons.
Gang members and many children in rural areas of El Salvador are often uneducated. Although primary education is free and compulsory through elementary school, enforcement of attendance is difficult and truancy is high in rural areas. Government reports say that 80.2% of the El Salvador's total population over age 10 can read and write. But the reality is different in many poor communities, both in urban and rural areas. Local authorities admit that the actual literacy rate in their communities is as low
as 50%, and even less among women.
Remar School & Orphange Library
Remar is both a school and orphanage. The school has 320 students and 12 teachers. About 90 of those students live at Remar Orphanage, which is on the same grounds as the school. Both the school and orphanage are largely funded by donations from church groups in the United States. But Remar also generates income by selling tomatoes, eggs, and other handicrafts. The students who can afford to pay usually pay between $3-$5 a month. Teachers make about $180 a month.
Maria has been the director of Remar more than 8 years. Her assistant director, Elsa, is 28 and has been at Remar 3 years. Both women work tirelessly to provide a great living and educational environment for the kids. In addition to Maria and Elsa there are three other full time staff members. Together they wake the kids up at 4:30am and make sure they all make their beds, eat and bathe in time for class at 7am. When we asked Elsa when she fin
ds time to sleep she simply laughed. “Sometimes there's just no time for sleep,” she said smiling.
In March 2011 we visited Remar with almost 1,000 books. We spent a week cleaning and organizing the library. We read stories in the classrooms and lead kids through art projects that called on them to tell their own stories using both words and pictures.
We spent a lot of time talking to Maria and Elsa abo
ut ways to make the library more user friendly. We learned that the major problem was not only a lack of books, but also the lack of a librarian. They told us it would only cost $100 a month to hire a part-time librarian.
The Promise & Faith Houses
The Promise House is a home for 11 teen moms ranging in age from 12-22. All but one of the girls was impregnated because of rape. In most cases the girls were kicked out of their homes when their pregnancies were detected because of the social stigma against unwed mothers, even though the communities often knew who the rapists were. The Faith House is a home for 14 teen boys who were formerly homeless, in gangs or in juvenile delinquency centers. Both Houses are difficult to get into and only kids who are doing well in school and show a desire to make improvements in their life are invited to live there. The Houses are funded by Orphan Helpers, a nonprofit organization based in Virginia.
I met the kids at the Promise and Faith House for the first time March 2010. I fell in love instantly. Their stories were like anchors in my heart, but their smiles and hugs filled me with an optimism I didn't expect. Our involvement this year was simple: we donated one suitcase full of books to each House. The idea was to start a house library for each House. Although the kids' needs are well taken care of, there were no books in the Houses until we came with the suitcases. The books were gobbled up in minutes by the kids. It was incredible.