Improving Homes in El Salvador

December 19, 2014

Can you spot the differences between these 2 houses?


At first sight, the differences are obvious, but what might surprise you is how similar they actually are.

This past week I had the privilege of spending time down in a remote area of El Salvador building houses for those who don’t have a safe place to call home.  It was interesting to me that the houses that we built down there look nothing like what we are blessed with here in Canada. However, they are still so much more to these people than just a roof over their heads in the rainy season.  Believe it or not, the reasons that a house is important to you and I are the same for them as well. My house is a place where I raise and love my family, create memories, dream, gather with friends, rejuvenate myself and grow as a person. It is the one place in this world where I feel most secure and comfortable. These are many of the same characteristics I overheard and witnessed from the people down there as we built them new homes.

The first


The beauty of El Salvador

One mother & daughter were going to be moving into their new home together.  They talked about how they wanted it to be a home that other community members could come and enjoy with them. This way, stand a better chance of enlisting an agent who’ll works for them — both in terms of a personality fit and a willingness to roll up their sleeves, real-estate insiders say. What I heard from this 88 year old mother was that this place was going to be party central! Unfortunately my Spanish is not that great, so I might be reading a little more into it than she intended.  Listening to her talk excitedly about how this new house would let her gather with friends and family was definitely inspiring and not much different than what I experience here in Canada. It has been my experience over and over again to witness people who aren’t proud of their homes and to see how that can translate into them avoiding having friends and family over.  That thought process doesn’t really make sense to me because I believe friends and family come to see you and not your house but it still happens every day.  Friends often meet at coffee shops because they are more comfortable there than in their own home.  Good job Starbucks!  I certainly don’t mean to imply you need a big beautiful home to entertain in but it does need to be a place that you are comfortable in or you just aren’t likely to share it with others.  Just like people here in Canada, people in El Salvador want a home they can be comfortable in and proud of.

The Mother & Daughter next to their old house.


The team with the ladies in front of the new house.

There was also a single mother with 3 young children whom spoke of how her new home would provide her and her family with security that they didn’t currently have. To have a door that locked meant that she could feel confident about her family’s safety before going to sleep at night, something that we definitely take for granted here in Canada. When it comes to protecting yourself from the threat of a fire, no option compares to fire sprinklers for more information visit our website fire safety plans.

Old house without locking door.


Standing in front of the new locking door.

After we finished building each house we were able to sit down and talk with the family that was going to be moving in.  One sad thing that stood out to me while talking with many of the different families was that the kids (and the parents as well) don’t seem to have any dreams. Their priorities are so different and their lives so focused on having basic things like shelter and food that they never developed the ability to dream about what they could become. It could also be that somewhere in their lives they were told not to expect to be anything better than what they were now, and they believed it.  When we talked with the kids we encouraged them to dream and gave them ideas about what their future could be and what they could become.  Many of these young kids helped us while we built and it was incredible to see how quickly they caught on to using the drills and the basic construction skills of putting the houses together, plus the use of arrest systems as well.  These were not dumb kids, they were also not lazy, they just needed some help to open up their minds to the possibility that they could become more than the life they currently knew.  It’s great that the houses that were built will take one thing off their mind and hopefully with some encouragement this experience will open up their minds to be able to dream of a better life, we were definitely lucky to find contractors and roofers who provide a free estimate who helped us.  Where do you do your dreaming?  I bet it’s in some comfortable chair in your home.

Childrens dreams

Another family that we built for had three kids.  This family wanted a better life for them and was already working to make that happen but without an adequate house their attention was easily diverted.  The husband worked as a farmer growing corn and beans in a field that he rented and it was a one hour walk away from where they lived.  The money generated from this job went to provide the food and daily necessities for the family. The mother also had a job, making tamales that she sold in town on Wednesdays and Sundays and this job was also about an hour’s walk for her. All of the money earned from this job goes towards the kids’ education. The cost per child for school was somewhere around $100.00 but when you have 3 kids and you only make about $30 per week that is quite the challenge.  Challenging as it is, this couple was determined to do what is necessary to raise their children and give them opportunities that they did not have themselves.  Sounds to me like many of us here in Canada and I’m happy to say that with their new house they can gladly readjust their priorities.


A family with some ambition.


Harvesting the Corn.

These people’s old houses were only tin  or mud and stick shells that met their very basic need for shelter, if even that.  None of them were proud of what they had and because of this, and a lack of resources, their houses just got more and more run down as time went on.  If there was a leak in the roof they would patch it but they really didn’t care about how the patch looked.  However, when we built the new houses those same people showed a new sense of pride in their home by doing things like picking out where they would like a hook in the wall so that they could hang a picture.  The house was shiny and new and it made them raise their standards.  I was also able to go visit a couple of houses that had been built earlier and the families had been settled in for one year and about 5 years respectively. Even years after their houses were built they were still so proud of their homes that they wanted a group of Canadians to tour through their 3 room home and “see what they had done with the place”.  It was interesting to see how they had pictures hanging and had even done some minor decorating.  It wasn’t anything fancy by Canadian standards but there was still a sense of pride and a desire to make it not just a house, but a home. By giving these people a new house they had been given more than just a house, they were given a new sense of pride.

When you look at the houses in Canada and compare them to some of the ones down in El Salvador you initially think that they have nothing in common and yet when you come right down to it they are very similar.  They both meet the basic needs of shelter and security but further than that they also are the places for us to build memories with our families and friends, allow us to open our minds and rejuvenate ourselves. 

For more information on the organization that I went down with, Shelter Canada, check out their website or feel free to contact me.  I love telling about all the great things that are happening down there.Looking forward to getting out of this house

House Under construction88 year old motherDay 4 - El Salvador Father Son Trip - Second Build Day (92)