In 2012, we expanded to El Salvador through a field partnership with ENLACE, an organization working to equip local churches to empower communities. Our partnership has focused on housing, but that is just one of many initiatives ENLACE has been involved in for the past 25 years. We think they’re pretty great, so we want you to get to know them too.
When ENLACE got its start in 1993, El Salvador was just returning to normalcy after a 12-year civil war that left an estimated 70,000 dead. The country’s economy was hurting and much of its infrastructure was in disrepair. At an even deeper level, the fabric of local communities had been torn apart because of the violence.
From the beginning, ENLACE took a relational approach to poverty alleviation and community development. All of their projects – ranging from latrines and eco-stoves to roads and bridges – have been driven by local churches and communities. Local leaders identify project priorities in consultation and collaboration with community members. Local communities pitch in to cover half the costs of materials and labor, with the other half coming from outside sources. Finally, local churches and community organizations manage and sustain these projects, ensuring long-term impact that will outlast the involvement of any outside partners.
Image: The Aguas Vivas Church in Cara Sucia, El Salvador, meeting with community members to discuss ways to better serve their neighbors.
Housing is always one of the highest priorities identified in these communities, but because the cost of a safe, secure house feels insurmountable at the beginning, housing projects usually come later in the process, after smaller, more easily attainable initiatives. For instance, in communities where less than 25% of households have access to basic sanitation, pit latrines – basically holes in the ground with some structure around them – have a huge impact on local quality of life and are usually quite affordable to build.
But once a community has been implementing these kinds of initiatives for a period of time, housing projects naturally follow. Through our partnership with ENLACE, 58 houses have been built in communities throughout El Salvador so far, with families earning hours through initiatives like a river clean-up project, road repair, and improvements to local school buildings.
While many people associate El Salvador only with the gang violence and extreme poverty that make headlines, those who have spent time there know that picture is woefully incomplete. David McGee, ENLACE’s Director of Development and Communications, lived in El Salvador for seven years and regularly returns to the country as part of his work.
He says that first-time visitors to El Salvador always comment about how beautiful the landscape is. Twenty volcanoes in a country roughly the size of Massachusetts will definitely leave an impression. But it is the Salvadoran people who make the country truly unique.
“One of the things people don’t realize is how hardworking Salvadorans are,” McGee says. “They pride themselves on being hardworking and creative in terms of the ways they resolve problems in their own communities. It is also a very relational culture. People there want to be connected to others and to be part of a cause greater than themselves. Sometimes, for church members, the challenge is to extend those relational ties outside the walls of the church. But once they do, they are eager to work together.”
On a recent visit to a community in central El Salvador, McGee asked a local pastor’s wife what her vision was for the community. She responded by saying, “Dos palabras: transformación total.”
“What’s amazing is that when people catch this vision, they won’t stop until everything is changed,” McGee says. “To me, that’s what’s so encouraging about this approach of connecting churches and communities. When they get on board with this, they are unstoppable. It becomes their reason for being – to see a transformed community.”
Last year, 1MISSION founder Jason Schneider Law shot a video journal while visiting El Salvador with ENLACE. Check it out here!