Cover Story

Hope and help for the poor

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

Issue: "Fighting fatalism," July 12, 2014

HARD LIFE: Homemade tortillas by Glenda.
Photo by Tim Glenn
HARD LIFE: Homemade tortillas by Glenda.
Many Salvadorans will have a better life only if they corral violent gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13, which began in Los Angeles and spread through El Salvador as the United States deported members. A faded sign across the street from San Salvador’s major cathedral glorifies an older gang by using the word HEROES alongside drawings of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro. On the morning we strolled by the city’s central park, men with pushcarts full of bananas were giving way to other men wearing red shirts in preparation for a Marxist rally scheduled for the afternoon: One wore a white baseball jersey with RED SOX in big red letters. 

From the El Salvador-Guatemala border a four-lane highway to Los Lirios brought us to the home of Glenda Lorena Santos, who had terrible prospects after her father abandoned her when she was one week old. Now, though, her living conditions are a further step up from the Alvarados’: green cement floor and metal roof held up by wooden posts; bed, dresser, table, and cookstove; a small television showing the Disney Channel as she made perfectly thin and round tortillas. (That takes talent: My tortilla attempts resembled English muffins.) Her husband drives a tractor for sugarcane harvesting, and they will own the house within two years by paying $80 each month.

Inside the Santos’ home.
Photo by Tim Glenn
Inside the Santos’ home.
Their household also contains a deep sadness. Near the television hangs a picture of a little girl, Estrellita, with the inscription “Para mi familia. Te Amo Papi. Te Amo Mami y Hermanos.” (For my family. I love you, Daddy. I love you, Mommy and brothers/sisters.) Estrellita died of cancer, and Compassion International helped with the medical bills, which surprised the Santos family and bonded the parents with the church. Glenda Santos now fears for her other children—“When they get sick, I get really worried. I think God is testing me”—and wants to protect them in every way: “Some girls are drinking and having parties. My girls are responsible and they respect me.” 

And one further step up: Ana Maria de Secan and her children welcomed us to their home with its wooden rather than plastic chairs, and its china dishes alongside plastic ones. They also have a refrigerator, two bedrooms (each with a king-sized mattress), and two small televisions (one is connected to a DVD player won as a prize for memorizing Bible verses). Outside were seven chickens and a dozen trees, a chain link rather than barbed wire fence, and four bicycles, including two child-sized ones. Everything was tidy, except for one corner of the ample yard that contained the remains of a canvas and corrugated metal house like those lived in by the poor: It sheltered Secan and her husband as “poco a poco” (little by little) they saved and worked to construct their second house. 

The de Secan’s home.
Photo by Tim Glenn
The de Secan’s home.
The road hasn’t been easy. Ana, fatherless and the oldest of eight brothers and sisters, walked six miles daily to get an education, and now earns $120 per month purifying water at the nearby church that hosts a Compassion project. Her husband worked for 11 years in sugarcane, then nabbed a job as a long-haul truck driver two years ago, and with that experience is now getting $180 per month to haul steel for short distances—and he can be in his own home at night. With their faith in Christ growing, the Secans aren’t stopping: Ana is taking courses to get a bachelor’s degree in computers, and her husband is getting his high-school diploma.

Part Two: Untwisting the tree—Our International Region winner  

Throughout much of Central America unemployment is high, pay is low, and health problems include malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria, dengue, and parasites. Compassion International faces many obstacles in its mission to improve children’s lives, but here’s one example from each of the countries in which we visited sites: 

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES: Dayana signing.
Photo by Tim Glenn
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES: Dayana signing.
At the Seventh Christian Mission Church in Managua, we met Dayana, a deaf 14-year-old. Her mom told us that when Dayana was 7 they started coming to the Compassion project, where a tutor went way beyond her job description by patiently learning sign language—and then teaching it to the whole after-school class so children could communicate with Dayana. Without that extra effort, Dayana would be “isolated,” the mom said—and angry. 

Now Dayana wins Special Olympics medals while running like a lanky colt, and her classmates applaud by raising both hands and wiggling their fingers. Dayana and her mom live in a sheet-metal shed in the back of a yard, but Dayana signs, “Mom, I’m not going to be as poor as you.” Asked what the best thing about knowing sign language is, Dayana signed that she now can follow worship and “feel the Holy Spirit in my head.”

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.

Comments

You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading

    Advertisement