Cover Story

Hope and help for the poor

"Hope and help for the poor" Continued...

Issue: "Fighting fatalism," July 12, 2014

Inside, Arlen’s mom, Jacquelyn de la Cruz Salinas, 27, who had her first child when she was 13 and now has six, said, “I would like to fix my house. I would like my husband to have a good job.” Arlen’s dad, Armado Obando, 31, used to get $80 per month as a tanner, which was insufficient since basic food for the family costs $40 per week. It’s worse now: He’s unemployed and gets a tiny amount of cash by selling wood he has gathered. He feels a failure: “As head of the household I don’t like this kind of roof. When it rains, half the house is wet.” 

A donkey cart in Nicaragua.
Photo by Tim Glenn
A donkey cart in Nicaragua.
Arlen’s goal in life is “to work and provide food for my little brother.” The Obando family is having a hard time materially, but Arlen happily showed off her most precious possession, a 9-by-12 envelope containing letters from her Compassion sponsor. She had evidently read and refolded the letters many times: Arlen said when she receives a letter, “I get very excited. I pray for her. If I had magic, I would run to love her.”

On the road again, we passed a ballpark where a Samsung-supported Little League team was practicing. The two-lane potholed blacktop took us past tall sugarcane growing and big buzzards looking up from their snack. Near the border some expensive-looking houses had tiled roofs, but farmers had rifles slung over their shoulders, and a supermercado (supermarket) sat by a billboard for China Motors. 

The border crossing into Honduras displayed a Sandinista poster with a big photo of Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo, nicknamed La Chamuca (the witch). She was unpopular until Ortega’s daughter from a previous marriage accused Ortega of molesting her after she turned 11 and raping her when she was 15. Crowds waved “Ortega Violador” (“Rapist Ortega”) signs, but judges gave legal immunity to their president and Murillo gained fans for standing by her man.

Honduras brought a series of military checkpoints as we passed by gated communities featuring houses of brick and tile with mint green and yellow walls, pink satellite dishes, red roof tiles, and corners like those of a castle. Next to them sat shacks of canvas, plastic, and corrugated metal, and down the road stood more military checkpoints. Then came stone quarries, fenced-in electric plants, a row of hills resembling a sleeping lizard’s spine, Spanglish eateries with names like Resturant Pollolandia (chicken land), and more military checkpoints. 

We crossed the border to El Salvador, a country named after Christ that features armed guards at restaurants. The city of San Miguel: a mall with a movie theater, a Volkswagen dealer, a Masonic Temple, and churches named La Luz del Mundo (the light of the world). At a pier with fish-sellers and armed guards, six sunset-silhouetted teens jumped into the Pacific off a ladder 60 feet above sea level. 

Near the Iglesia Evangelica Jesus de Nazaret (Evangelical Church of Jesus of Nazareth), which hosts a Compassion project in Comalapa, El Salvador, stands the home of Santos Alejandro Alvarado and Ana Diaz de Alvarado. They and their two small children live in a one-room cement-block house with a stone floor and a corrugated roof held up by concrete pillars and braced by wood. It’s a big step up from the Nicaraguan family whose house we visited: The Alvarados have two double beds, a plastic dresser, and a wooden wardrobe. The house has an extension with metal sides where Ana bakes tortillas over a fire, and a covered patio with a propane cookstove, a stone water trough/sink, a treadle sewing machine, and a hammock where their 2-year-old slept. It even has a working light bulb inside and one outside, with barbed wire surrounding a yard of pressed dirt. Three trees, each about 8 inches in diameter, provide shade.

Alejandro Alvarado earns $100 per month selling milk house-to-house: His employer owns the two cows next door and a Suzuki X 10-0-2 motorcycle that he uses for deliveries. Money is tight, but his wife compliments him: “If anyone asks him to do an extra job, he does it. He’s a responsible man: First the family, then his own needs.” They lived together unmarried for five years but married four years ago because, Alejandro says, “I became a Christian and wanted to follow God.” Ana adds, “Before he said, ‘It’s good to be free,’ so I didn’t believe it when he asked about marriage.” Now that both believe in Christ, she is full of hope: “We are poor, but I lack nothing.” Asked what she wants for her children, “I’d like them to have a life even better than I am living.”

Listen to the sounds of Central America through the reporting of Susan Olasky on The World and Everything in It:

Read profiles of the other finalists and runners-up in the 2014 Hope Award for Effective Compassion competition.

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