El Salvador: geography, culture, & construction

In a little more than two months, our team will be boarding the plane to San Salvador, El Salvador.  Nervous about the challenging physical labor and third world conditions, I have to remind myself that this won’t be like Haiti…..or will it?  The people in El Salvador still carry the scars from war and natural disasters.  How will what we do help them?


Unique in geography & Location, El Salvador is bordered by Guatemala to the west, Honduras to the north and east and the Pacific Ocean to the south. For the most part, El Salvador is lush, green and surrounded by cloud-misted hills. Over 20 volcanoes dot the countryside, the largest of these being San Salvador. Ever since the civil war ended in 1992, El Salvador has been working to rebuild and redefine itself.

Home to almost 6 million people, El Salvador is also the smallest, yet most densely populated country in Central America. Still struggling with the consequences of a 12-year civil war and constantly affected by natural disasters like earthquakes and tropical storms, almost 3 million Salvadorans live in inadequate housing made of stick, mud, plastic and scraps.

 The National program, Habitat for Humanity El Salvador, began in 1992 in the Santa Ana department, where the first 29 houses were built. Since 1998, program renovation and organizational growth have also taken place. As a result, the organization has provided a more effective response to families who have lost their homes to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Mitch and the severe earthquakes.

The earthquake-resistant houses are made of concrete blocks and structural steel reinforcement. The roofs are made of fiber-cement sheeting, and the floors of cement brick. They have two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room and a latrine or toilet. Windows are shutter type, protected by steel bars in order to provide adequate lighting, ventilation and security.

Of the total cost of each house, 85 to 90 percent will cover direct costs (material, labor, transportation and legal expenses), and the rest will go toward indirect costs (office staff, rent and other administrative expenses). Financing must be repaid by the families within a 10-year period, which means that most will pay a monthly average of US$60.

For families who are unable to afford the standard model, there is another housing option called the “Progressive Model.” Depending on the family’s future resources, these houses may be expanded and improved in stages. This model is available in two sizes: a 40-square-meter construction area (US$6,000) or a 30 square meter construction area (US$5,500).



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