Population: 6.3 million
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 77 years (women)
GNI per capita: $3,560
El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America with 6.4 million inhabitants. It is roughly the size of Massachusetts. The country’s recent history includes political and economic instability, characterized by a succession of authoritarian rulers, which culminated in the Salvadoran Civil War from 1979 till 1992. The conflict, fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups, ended with the creation of a multiparty constitutional republic. The government has been controlled by two parties since ’92 with the latest president, Mr. Sánchez Cerén, taking office in June 2014.
Tired of the corruption of the two parties and their lack of progress, the people elected a young politician, Nayib Bukele, at the beginning of 2019 and he leads a small conservative independent party. Bukele promised to fight corruption and pave a way for new governance after the previous political parties paid gangs for votes and accepted bribes. Bukele has said that he will not crackdown on gangs with an iron first but rather will work towards a truce and cooperation while limiting government corruption.
Gangs of El Salvador:
Gangs emerged at the end of the El Salvadoran Civil war in the early 1990s and have been a significant problem since. The two biggest gangs are 18th street and MS-13, both of which were formed in Los Angeles and migrated back to El Salvador as gang members were deported. The gangs are estimated to be active in 94% of municipalities throughout the country leaving few areas untouched by their crime.
These gangs lack the wealth, international influence and narco power of the gangs in Mexico but have proven to be a huge disruption in the small country of El Salvador. Between 2014 and 2017 alone, nearly 20,000 Salvadorans were killed in gang-related incidents.
Back in the 1990s, the housing deficit was roughly 500,000 homes and slow but steady progress was being made. Unfortunately, natural disasters were on their way and in 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated the country, leaving 200 dead and over 30,000 homeless. Then, in January and February 2001, major earthquakes struck El Salvador, damaging about 20% of the nation’s housing. An even worse disaster befell the country in the summer when a severe drought destroyed 80% of the country’s crops, causing famine in the countryside.
After all these setbacks and the rise in gang activity, today El Salvador’s housing deficit appears to be around 1 million homes in a country of 6 million people. Of those living in homes, a high percentage have earthen floors and the average size of a home is 480 square feet which is tough for a family to comfortably live in.
Our Friend Michelle Sol
Despite its difficulties, El Salvador is making progress and recently elected their first-ever Minister of Housing, Michelle Sol, who happens to be a partner and friend of New Story’s! Michelle Sol was previously the mayor of the town of Nuevo Cuscatlán and has worked with New Story to build a few communities in the area. She is a rockstar and excited to work with New Story on as many communities as possible during her 4-year term. We have government support… so let the building begin!
Our Local Partner: Gente Ayudando Gente!
In each country, we work with a local home building organization. They know the people best, have government connections and most important, they know the ins and outs of housing in El Salvador in a way we never will.
Our partner in El Salvador is Gente Ayudando Gente which translates to “People helping people.” Gente was founded in 2009 in San Salvador and is a fairly small organization that has had a large impact. Their goal is to create and execute projects that improve the quality of life of Salvadorans living in vulnerable situations. Gente does this by working on projects in sustainable housing, health, and social care.
We work with Gente because they have great relationships with communities living in poverty and understand the landscape of poverty in El Salvador better than most. Gente is amazing at creating well-rounded communities by bringing in an assortment of partners across various causes to provide, food, nutrition, healthcare, gang prevention and more. New Story’s goal is to build communities where people can thrive, not just individual homes and Gente is the perfect partner for us to do this in El Salvador!