Building Young Neighbours in El Salvador


With a population of 6.1 million, El Salvador is both the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. It is estimated that the housing deficit exceeds 944,000 units and continues to grow as the population increases, meaning that six out of 10 families are living in inadequate housing. With approximately 36.5% of the population living in relative or extreme poverty, many families don’t have access to financing for better housing. Salvadoran families and their homes also are vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and flooding. In addition, a 12­year civil war that ended in 1992 killed roughly 75,000 people and displaced many families. Decades later, complications with land legalization limit access to adequate housing, and social violence continues to drive many families from their homes.

Habitat for Humanity El Salvador advocates for adequate housing and drives transforming and sustainable community development. Through accessible credits, we use housing as a means to help families overcome poverty. When low­ income families have access to an adequate home through home construction or an improvement, it can be a catalyst that contributes to the family’s overall development, benefiting their welfare, education and health.

El Salvador continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, inequality, and crime ­ in particular, high rates of gang ­related crimes and juvenile delinquency. During the last five years, Habitat for Humanity El Salvador hosted more than 3,350 volunteers per year (1,125 international and 2,225 national). National volunteers, however, tend to come from organizations that can afford their participation. Local community groups in areas where Habitat El Salvador builds have reached out seeking to engage their local youth in productive, positive activities with Habitat but these youths and their organizations are unable to afford or fundraise their volunteer expenses. 

The Building Young Neighbours for Peace project brings together young people in three local communities in San Vicente, San Salvador and La Libertad to participate as volunteers on six different home builds. The purpose of this project is to strengthen relationships between regional Habitat offices and community groups, enhance national volunteering, and engage vulnerable youth in productive activities that keep them away from potential risks in their communities. In addition to benefiting six families with new, safe and adequate homes, this project is a model that other countries in the region could use to enhance their national volunteering efforts. 

In the process of transforming the lives of six families through improved, safe and adequate shelter, Habitat for Humanity also gives 600 vulnerable local youth an opportunity to volunteer on the six home builds. There is already an expressed interest by local organizations including youth groups, churches and schools to engage young people in productive activities that strengthen their communities. Each regional Habitat for Humanity office works with local partners to identify a total of 600 vulnerable youth to participate in local home building activities.

All of the youth selected to participate in this project show a demonstrated willingness to improve their communities. This opportunity to participate in local builds not only gives students a productive task but also teaches them invaluable leadership skills and teamwork. 

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