El Salvador

El Salvador: A roof that brings smiles

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Work of ACT International member Lutheran World Federation recognized by Salvadoran government
By Ra=FAl Gutiérrez
Communication Officer: LWF/WS El Salvador/Guatemala

San Salvador - It is almost noon and Antonia Posada sieves sand under a blistering sun. She is preparing a concrete mix to finish off her home's bathroom at San Lorenzo housing project in the central department of La Paz, 40 km south east of San Salvador. "I feel quite happy and I always will be thankful to God and all those people who have helped us to have this beautiful houses," she says, while she fixing her hat.

Two years ago, on January 13, 2001, El Salvador was shaken by an earthquake registering 7.9 on the Richter Scale that left 844 people dead, thousands injured and 277,858 houses destroyed or damaged. Antonia's house was heavily damaged - huge cracks in the walls made it uninhabitable.

Exactly one month later on February 13, another seismic quake brought more destruction and mourning to Salvadorans. This time the earthquake hit the central region of El Salvador, claiming 322 victims, again injuring thousands, also destroying and damaging more than 100,000 houses.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Central America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), the economic losses suffered as a result of the two earthquakes, totalled $1,603.8 million US.

"It brings me sad memories. I have flashbacks of so much deaths and homeless people," relates Antonia, the 53-year-old hard-working woman, whose only desire is to move into her new home and go back to her baby-sitting job.

The Salvadoran Lutheran Synod (SLS), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and other members of the global alliance, Action, technically and financially assisted the housing project at San Lorenzo by Churches Together (ACT) International. Beneficiaries laboured for many weeks building their own houses.

The 78-unit housing project will be ready as soon as community residents finish the bathroom facilities, which are now being built with new funding. Beneficiaries also hope to obtain more funds to build a day care centre, a school, a community house and a health clinic.

But Pedro Rodríguez, a community leader has already settled in his new place in San Lorenzo. "It is great what LWF has done for all of us living here," says Pedro, whose hands and clothes are covered in a layer of cement dust. Five other families have also taken up residence at San Lorenzo that got its name from the St. Lawrence Lutheran Community of Canada, which donated the land for the housing project.

San Lorenzo is one of several permanent housing initiatives implemented by LWF/ACT after the two devastating quakes in El Salvador. LWF/ACT assisted community residents in nine departments, providing permanent houses to 407 families.

LWF/ACT's participation in the reconstruction process was recently recognised (January 13) by the government of El Salvador during the official commemoration of the second anniversary of the first earthquake. The award reads: "For its invaluable contribution in the reconstruction of our country... that have brought happiness to thousands of families by providing a new and appropriate home... and improved their living conditions." President Francisco Flores signed the document on behalf of all the beneficiaries. Other national and international agencies were also acknowledged.

For Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, the LWF representative for Central America, "the recognition is very significant for the Lutheran and Ecumenical World Community... this acknowledgement is for the dedication and commitment of our staff during this process," he said. The award also recognises the LWF/ACT contribution as having the same relevance as that of the assistance channelled by the governments of the United States, Italy, Germany and Spain.

After two years since the two earthquakes struck, President Flores claimed to have "overcome almost all reconstruction expectations" with the construction of 64,000 permanent houses. Despite that announcement, a large number of evacuees continue to live in temporary shelters in improvised communities. The quakes left more than one and a half million people homeless.

Perhaps, that's why Ana Guadalupe Mata feels grateful to have her own house which is part of the San Lorenzo project, saying "I thank God for the opportunity to have a house, a house that will be for my growing children too."