A HEALTHY CHANGE FOR A COMMUNITY IN EL SALVADOR
by Kathleen Soucy

Nearly half of El Salvador’s rural population suffer greatly from problems related to inadequate waste disposal that contaminates the water supply and causes sickness. This leads to low school attendance, loss of work days and, in far too many cases, death. One project is making a difference.

Maria is a 49-year-old, single mother of five daughters. She and her family have struggled to make ends meet for as long as Maria can remember. Like most of her neighbours in Sirigual, a remote village located in the dramatic mountainscape of El Salvador, she has only a third grade education and lives a subsistence life. Her family lives in a small, simple home and collects water from a nearby river for drinking and bathing, which is also where they wash their clothes.

For Briselda, a 23-year-old newlywed who lives nearby, life has also been a constant struggle. She grew up very poor, and even though her husband works as a security guard – among the fortunate few to have a job – he is often absent from home, and his wages do not always cover their monthly expenses. She is now seven months pregnant and worries about the challenges their growing family will face.

For both Maria and Briselda and their families, intestinal illnesses are common. They deal with bouts of diarrhea and face the fear that their young children may not recover from the most recent infection. They worry over dehydration, even as they boil water for household cooking. They also worry about the money they spend on clinic visits and medicine when family members get sick.

The problems and complexities of poverty are often overwhelming. It’s a hard and arduous life. But the flipside is that even small changes can make a huge impact.

In Sirigual, the regular use of shallow pits and open waste disposal had contaminated the water table, making intestinal diseases rampant.

Through CBM’s new partner in El Salvador, ENLACE, the church and community leaders spearheaded a latrine project that replaced pit latrines with composting latrines, which prevent waste from contaminating water sources. Stored in a cement container, the waste in a composting latrine is removed once it breaks done. The community can then safely use it to fertilize their crops. The latrine project also provided waste disposal education, health awareness training and technical support to the community.Within months, illnesses were down and they had a renewed sense of community pride.

Benefits Beyond Health:
Income Level and Restored Relationships

While the health of residents (especially children under five) is the primary concern of this project, the benefits of proper waste disposal don’t end there.

According to Maria, since access to a clinic is difficult, not having to pay for transport and medicine immediately impacted her income. Additionally, the project also mended and strengthened relationships. “In the past, we have not been helpful to each other. We have often confined ourselves to help only ‘our people’, and we often have shown indifference to the needs of others… [Now] we are organized by teams to build all the latrines together… This opportunity has allowed me to understand that I can’t be distant or be indifferent to my neighbour, especially as a Christian. I am now motivated to collaborate in whatever way I can, in every moment, with any need that might come up in others’ lives.”

Along with feeling much more confident about the environment into which she is bringing her soon-to-be-born child, Briselda also noted the impact the project has made in her heart. “What has impacted me the most is the way people, without knowing much about me, have been very interested in helping me, and that inspires me to do the same with others.”

Restored relationships between people in poor and marginalized communities are fundamental to creating long-term solutions to poverty. Latrines, water systems, clinics, home gardens, tilapia ponds, bridges, roads, etc., are all appropriate solutions and vital elements in the transformation process. However, the process by which these projects are implemented is just as important as the projects themselves.

Together with ENLACE, we come alongside church and community leaders to help them identify viable opportunities to serve and create a process that resolves needs while building unity and strengthening relationships.

“I am proud [that the church has been involved],” says Juan Ramírez, Pastor of Casa del Alfarero. His church teamed up with local health workers and others in the community to also work on a latrine project. “God’s love can come in many ways. Here we are building latrines that turn waste into fertilizer and don’t leak into the water table. The impact is very great! We just need to build more.”