Impoverished rural Salvadorans live on what they are able to grow themselves, or on the meager wages they earn as day laborers in agriculture. Such day labor on larger farms is only seasonal, and in the off seasons there are few options for work.

El Salvador Rural Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion

Roman Catholic

The Weather

  • In rural areas, people often walk long distances to collect water from a public faucet. Others use unsafe water sources closer to home, such as rivers and springs. El Salvador Woman With Pot On Head
  • Water wells have been built at several church-based Compassion centers, giving children the opportunity to practice good hygiene such as washing their hands before a meal. El Salvador Boys Washing Hands
  • Chronic malnutrition is a serious problem among children in the rural areas. That’s why an important component of the Compassion program is regular, nutritious meals. El Salvador Boys with Plates and Cups
  • Preschool education opportunities are not provided in the rural areas. Compassion helps fill the gap with learning activities for young children. El Salvador Children Coloring Pictures
  • For schools in rural areas, computers are only a dream. This Compassion-assisted center is meeting an important need for computer literacy training that these youth can’t get at school.El Salvador Girls at Computers
  • Because most families use wood for cooking, gathering and selling wood is a common job in rural areas. El Salvador Boys Carrying Sticks

Overview: Rural El Salvador

El Salvador is the smallest Central American country and the only one without a coastline on the Caribbean Sea. Two parallel mountain ranges cross the country from east to west, with a central plateau between them. A narrow coastal belt borders the Pacific Ocean and extends about 190 miles. Known as the “Land of Volcanoes,” El Salvador experiences frequent and often destructive earthquakes and volcanic activity. Like other countries in Central America, El Salvador is also susceptible to hurricanes.

The economy in El Salvador has improved in recent years. However, this improvement has not trickled down to the general population. At least four out of every 10 persons live in conditions of poverty, which especially affects the rural sector. Much of the country’s economy depends on “remittances,” or money earned by Salvadorans living and working in other countries sent back to their families.

Nearly 40 percent of the people in El Salvador eke out a fragile living in the country’s rural areas. Among them are approximately 481,000 households with an average of four or five children each.

Impoverished rural Salvadorans live on what they are able to grow themselves, or on the meager wages they earn as agricultural day laborers. Such day labor on larger farms is only seasonal, and in the off seasons there are few options for work.

The uncertainty of rainfall from season to season makes rural life extremely tenuous. Too much rain is just as devastating to crops as not enough. In November 2009, for instance, Hurricane Ida destroyed an estimated $70 million in crops in the country’s western regions. However, crops in the eastern regions suffered from insufficient rain. The result was the same for both: serious food shortages for rural families.


Culture Corner

Culture in El Salvador


Try making these stuffed tortillas, one of El Salvador’s most popular foods.


  • 2 cups masa harina (found at most general grocery stores)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 cup filling (grated cheese, refried beans, meat or a combination)


Mix the masa harina and water. Knead well into a ball of firm dough. Cover and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 8 equal portions and roll each into a ball.

Press an indentation into each ball. Put about 1 tablespoon of filling into the hollow area and fold dough over to enclose the filling.

Roll out the ball to form a circle about ¼” thick.

Heat in an ungreased skillet until both sides are brown.

Serve with salsa.


Life in Rural El Salvador

Among El Salvador’s 6 million people, a large percent live in the rural areas. Most strive to eke out a meager living from their own small plots of land or by working as seasonal laborers on larger farms. However, the variable weather conditions make agriculture a particularly difficult livelihood. Some years, there is drought. In others, there is too much rain. Both situations can spell disaster for crops.

Sources of clean water are scarce. Education levels in rural areas are low, and few children complete primary school. Many go to work at a young age to help their families’ economic situation.

Children at Home

Typical homes in El Salvador’s rural areas are crudely constructed of mud and adobe bricks. They are reinforced by wood posts at the corners, and the roofs are usually made of straw or aluminum sheeting. Homes are small, usually no more than 400 square feet, and usually lack electricity, running water and sanitation facilities.


Community Issues and Concerns El Salvador Community

Poverty in El Salvador affects rural areas the most. As a result, many children are chronically malnourished. In addition, because one-third of rural residents have no access to clean water and about 15 percent lack adequate sanitation facilities, children often suffer from such life-threatening illnesses as bacterial diarrhea and typhoid. Dengue fever, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses are common as well.

Local Needs and Challenges

Extreme seasonal changes cause problems in rural communities. An excessively dry season can damage crops, a major difficulty as most families depend on their small plots of corn, beans and vegetables for food during the year. During rainy season, creeks and rivers overflow, making it impossible for children to cross and keeping them from attending school or church. Floods can also result in contamination of wells and rivers, where people get water for washing, cooking and even drinking. The rainy season can cause serious damage, since most homes in rural areas are made of adobe.

Education is a challenge for children here. Opportunities to attend school can be limited by long travel distances and the need for children to work on family farms or in other jobs to help meet basic needs. Lack of adequate employment for adults causes some families to live apart as parents seek work in other countries.


Schools and Education Education in El Salvador

Children in El Salvador’s rural areas have an extremely low education rate, typically completing fewer than four years of school. Poor rural schools are also overcrowded, with an average ratio of 45 students to one teacher. And in many of these areas, there simply are no secondary schools. That’s why nearly 20 percent of males and 25 percent of females age 15 and older in El Salvador can’t read or write.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

Compassion-assisted child development centers in El Salvador’s rural areas provide registered children with the learning opportunities they need to develop their full potential in Christ. In addition to attending school, they also receive tutoring, health and hygiene training, and the opportunity to learn about the love of their heavenly Father.


Working Through the Local Church

The staff of Compassion El Salvador sees their role as similar to that of a bridesmaid helping a bride prepare for her wedding. The bride is the church. The bridesmaid helping her prepare for the arrival of the Bridegroom (Christ) is Compassion.

Rodolfo Mendez, pastor of a Compassion partner church, explains: “It is the church that has received the Great Commission. It is the church that has the duty to care for the widow and the orphan.” However, resources for poor churches to fulfill this sacred duty are scarce. That’s why Compassion comes alongside Pastor Mendez’s church and 192 other churches in El Salvador, helping them to be what God has created them to be.

How Compassion Works in El Salvador Compassion in El Salvador

Compassion began working in El Salvador in 1977. Currently, more than 47,300 children participate in 193 child development centers.

Compassion partners with local churches, helping them provide Salvadoran children with a long-term program of physical, educational, socio-emotional and spiritual development. Through this partnership between Compassion and local churches, children in need have the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and fulfill their potential in Christ.

The Role of a Partnership Facilitator

As liaisons between local church partners and Compassion, Partnership Facilitators help partners be the best they can be at meeting the needs of the children they serve.

Hildo Claros, a Compassion El Salvador Partnership Facilitator, oversees 13 church-based child development centers. To visit centers in rural areas, he spends long hours traveling on public buses or catching rides with other vehicles. He is especially proud that at many rural churches, Compassion has helped build water wells, sources of abundant, safe water for their communities.

Hildo shares, “To help provide a better life for the children, to see them learn trades that will help them support their families or see them grow healthier – that is what makes this job good!”


Prayer Requests

  • Pray for the health of children in the rural areas, who are vulnerable to illness from the lack of access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
  • Pray for the rural churches suffering from a lack of economic resources because of the poverty of their congregations.
  • Pray for the parents and caregivers of Compassion-assisted children in the rural areas who face unemployment or underemployment.