El Salvador Facts

Compassion has been making a difference in the lives of children in need in El Salvador since 1977. Through our work there, we gather El Salvador facts about children in need and the community of El Salvador. These El Salvador facts and statistics provide a good overview of the reality of poverty and how Compassion is releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

Poverty is a common problem in the country of El Salvador but Compassion is working to change this. The El Salvador facts tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. With your involvement, our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time.

Don't let the hopelessness of El Salvador facts overwhelm you. You can make a difference to a child in El Salvador today!

El Salvador

Compassion began working in El Salvador in 1977. Currently, more than 47,300 children participate in more than 193 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Salvadoran children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

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Featured Stories from El Salvador
  • The Aftermath of Hurricane Ida

    Oct 22, 2010

    Ana and her family had little because of a life of poverty but the little they had was destroyed by hurricane Ida. Recovery and a new beginning seemed impossible.

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El Salvador Map


Learn About El Salvador

In 1821, El Salvador and the other Central American provinces declared their independence from Spain. When these provinces were joined with Mexico in early 1822, El Salvador resisted, insisting on autonomy for the Central American countries. In 1823, the United Provinces of Central America was formed of the five Central American states under Gen. Manuel Jose Arce. El Salvador became an independent republic when this federation was dissolved in 1838.

El Salvador's early history as an independent state was marked by frequent revolutions. Following a deterioration in the country's democratic institutions in the 1970s, a period of civil war followed from 1980-1992. More than 75,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict. In January 1992, after prolonged negotiations, the opposing sides signed peace accords that ended the war, brought the military under civilian control and allowed the former guerrillas to form a legitimate political party and participate in elections.

During the 12-year civil war, human rights violations by both the government security forces and left-wing guerrillas were rampant. The accords established a Truth Commission under United Nations auspices to investigate the most serious cases. The commission reported its findings in 1993. It recommended that those identified as human rights violators be removed from all government and military posts and recommended judicial reforms. Thereafter, the Legislative Assembly granted amnesty for political crimes committed during the war. Among those freed were the Salvadoran Armed Forces (ESAF) officers convicted in the November 1989 Jesuit murders and the FMLN ex-combatants held for the 1991 murders of two U.S. servicemen.

More than 35,000 eligible beneficiaries from among the former guerrillas and soldiers who fought the war received land under the peace accord-mandated land transfer program, which ended in January 1997. The majority of them also have received agricultural credits. The international community, the Salvadoran government, the former rebels and the various financial institutions involved in the process continue to work closely together to deal with follow-up issues resulting from the program.

Elections in March 2004 were won by former broadcaster Tony Saca.


The typical school year runs from January through November. Education is compulsory from ages 7 through 12. Schools in rural areas are inadequate in number, size and qualified staff.

El Salvador has already initiated major reforms of the secondary education system, which are designed to both substantially increase access and improve the quality of education offered while ensuring its relevance to a changing, technologically driven economy. However, a large number of children cannot attend secondary school because they need to work to support their families. According to the United Nations, more than 35 percent of Salvadoran children have to work. Their jobs include working on sugar and coffee plantations, in domestic services and as street vendors.

This reality is even more critical in the rural areas where the poverty level can be as high as 62 percent. Many of these families live on less than U.S. $1 a day and cannot afford daily food. In these areas, it is common to see children begin to work at 6 or 7 years old.

The education situation past secondary school is even less promising. According to El Salvador's government statistics, only 5 percent of the population has a university-level degree. In El Salvador, a person who does not have a professional career cannot expect a good salary; even people with degrees are hired only for manual jobs that pay a minimum salary (U.S. $152 in the city and U.S.$80 in the rural areas). People who have no secondary education must work for less than the minimum salary.


The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states that all persons are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on nationality, race, sex or religion.

The constitution explicitly recognizes the Roman Catholic Church and grants it legal status.

Public education is secular. Private religious schools operate freely in the country. All private schools, whether religious or secular, must meet the same standards to be approved by the Ministry of Education.

Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, November 8, 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51638.htm.



The village of La Palma has become famous for a school of art started by Fernando Llort. His childlike images of mountain villages, rural life and Christ are painted in bright colors on objects ranging from seeds to church walls.

The town of Ilobasco is known for its ceramics, while San Sebastián is recognized for its textile arts.

Poetry is popular, and well-known writers include Manlio Argueta and Francisco Rodriguez.


Salvadorans enjoy the rhythms of the Caribbean. Guitars, marimbas and drums are used in church services. Most of the music on Salvadoran radio is standard pop fare from the United States, Mexico or other parts of Latin America, but there's a small underground movement of canción (folk music) that draws its inspiration from current events in El Salvador.

Holidays and Festivals

Holy Week, March or April: Celebrated before Easter. Salvadorans hold processions during this week. On Easter weekend, most people celebrate by going to church and to the beach.
San Salvador Feast (Feast of the Holy Savior), Aug. 3-6: Celebrated with a carnival, fireworks, dancing and parades.
Independence Day, Sept. 15
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Dec. 24, 25: Homes are decorated with elaborate nativity scenes that can fill a whole room, Christmas trees are decorated and children receive presents on Christmas Eve.

Sports and Games

Salvadorans love to play soccer, which is the main sport. Basketball, baseball, tennis and swimming are other favorites. An Olympic training center for swimming is located in El Salvador.

Typical Foods

Corn and black beans are the daily diet of most families. Families also like to snack on pupusas (corn cakes filled with chopped meats, beans and spices).

Sautéed Plantains

  • 2 very ripe plantains
  • 1 jalapeno chili seeded and sliced in thin rings
  • 2 Tb. butter, more if needed
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

Peel plantains and cut into quarters. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise. Sauté plantains and chilies in butter over medium heat, turning frequently. Remove when browned. Drizzle sour cream over plantains. Serves four.



  • Hola (Hello)
  • ¿Cómo está? (How are you?)
  • Bien (Fine)
  • ¿Que ondas? (How is it going?)
  • Tranquilo (fine)
  • Salu (Goodbye)
  • ¡Puchica! (Gee! Good! Yeah!)
Compassion in El Salvador

Compassion began working in El Salvador in 1977. Currently, more than 47,300 children participate in more than 193 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Salvadoran children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

El Salvador Facts & Figures

Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in El Salvador.

El Salvador United States
Capital San Salvador Washington, D.C.
Population 7,066,403 (July 2008 estimate) 307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)
Languages Spanish, Nahua (among some Amerindians) English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
Religions Roman Catholic 57.1%, Protestant 21.2%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.9%, Mormon 0.7%, other religions 2.3%, none 16.8% (2003 est.) Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Literacy rate
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 82.8%
Female: 77.7%
(2003 Estimate)
Male: 99%
Female: 99%
(2003 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources Urban: 94%
Rural: 70%
(2004 estimate)
Urban: 100%
Rural: 94%
(2006 estimate)
Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities Urban: 77%
Rural: 39%
(2004 estimate)
Urban: 100%
Rural: 99%
(2006 estimate)
Climate Tropical; rainy season (May to October); dry season (November to April); tropical on coast; temperate in uplands Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by Chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Percentage of population urbanized 60% (2006 estimate) 82% (2008 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 68.45 years
Female: 75.84 years
(2008 estimate)
Male: 75.65 years
Female: 80.69 years
(2010 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 25/1,000 (2006 estimate) 8/1,000 (2008 estimate)
GDP per capita $6,000 (2009 estimate) $46,000 (2009 estimate)
Monetary unit U.S. Dollar (USD) U.S. dollar (USD)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 29,000 (2003 estimate) 1.2 million (2007 estimate)
Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day 19% (1995-2005 study) Data not available

Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2008; The State of the World's Children, 2008