San Salvador

San Salvador

Among the 1 million families living in El Salvador’s urban centers, such as the capital city of San Salvador, most are desperately poor and live in slums known as zonas marginales, or marginal zones.

El Salvador Urban Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion

Roman Catholic

The Weather

  • In El Salvador’s urban slums, homes are small and crowded. Made of scrap materials, they provide little protection from the elements. El Salvador Women Carrying Pots on Head
  • Good nutrition is vital for growing bodies. Because children in urban neighborhoods rarely have sufficient food, they receive balanced, nourishing meals at their Compassion centers. El Salvador Children Eating
  • Soccer instructor Carlos Cornejo spends time training children in Compassion-assisted centers. Soccer develops physical and social skills among children. It also keeps them off the streets and away from gang influence. El Salvador Boys with Soccer Ball
  • Georgina Coto, a Compassion center worker, helps children write letters to their sponsors. El Salvador Girl Writing with Teacher
  • Water sources are scarce in the slums. But children have access to clean water at their Compassion centers, which allows them to practice good hygiene. El Salvador Girls Washing Dishes
  • Poor urban communities are relegated to undesirable locations, such as the edges of cliffs or alongside rivers prone to flooding. El Salvador Homes on Cliff

Overview: Urban 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. In November 2009, flooding and mudslides in the wake of Hurricane Ida resulted in 199 deaths. The fragile homes of 125,000 urban dwellers were damaged or destroyed, and many poor families lost all their meager belongings. For such disasters, Compassion has a well-organized, quick-response process in place to help affected families.

Of the total population, 61 percent live in the crowded urban areas. This is where many Compassion-assisted children live, in slums called zonas marginales.

About two-thirds of urban adults are unemployed or underemployed, unable to provide for even the most basic needs of their children. El Salvador’s urban children typically attend school only through the sixth grade. They are also highly susceptible to involvement in the violent gangs that are a growing problem in the cities.


Culture Corner


These Spanish phrases, commonly used in El Salvador, will help you when writing to your sponsored child.

¡Que chivo!
is the Salvadoran equivalent of How cool!

¿Que ondas?
is the most common Salvadoran greeting and can be translated How ya doin’?

is the word for puppy. You can ask if your sponsored child has a puppy by asking if he or she has a chuchito.

Life in the Urban Region

Among the 1 million families living in El Salvador’s urban centers, such as the capital city of San Salvador, most are desperately poor and live in slums known as zonas marginales, or marginal zones. Life in these slums is indeed marginal. Homes are made of such materials as plastic and cardboard. Often these fragile dwellings, along with their meager contents, are destroyed by the severe weather that batters El Salvador during hurricane season.

For children, city slum life is especially grim. Most adults are unemployed or underemployed, unable to meet their children’s basic needs. Also, gang violence is rampant, as are other dangers such as drug addiction. Urban schools are overcrowded and ill equipped. Rarely do children who complete their primary education go on secondary school.

Children at Home

Typical low-income homes in El Salvador’s cities are constructed of bricks and cement. They average 480 square feet in size and are connected by common walls in long rows of up to 50 homes. In the more destitute urban slums, where many Compassion-assisted children live, homes are makeshift dwellings constructed of scrap materials.


Community Issues and Concerns Community in El Salvador

El Salvador (meaning The Savior) is named for Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. But tragically, because of the proliferation of gangs, the country is one of the most violent in Central America. In fact, El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the region.

Recently, gangs and other criminal groups started the practice of demanding money, called rent, from families, businesses and even churches. If the demanded amount is not paid, gang members retaliate with physical and property harm.

The amount of money charged by gangs can range from $50 to thousands of dollars per week. Local newspapers regularly report murders, kidnappings and businesses burned because someone failed to pay the required rent.

Local Needs and Challenges

Children in El Salvador’s urban slums face daunting challenges. They are surrounded by gang-related crime. And in most cases, their homes don’t have such basic services as running water or garbage collection. To help children rise above these obstacles, Compassion’s curriculum for city teens focuses on such topics as avoiding drugs, sexual impurity, and association with gangs. Children also have the opportunity to take showers and wash their school uniforms at their Compassion centers – opportunities they don’t have at home.


Schools and Education Education in El Salvador

El Salvador is mired in poverty partly because of the general population’s low education level. Although poor urban children attend school an average of three more years than those in the rural areas, few have the opportunity to obtain a secondary education. That’s why nearly 20 percent of males and 25 percent of females age 15 and older can’t read or write.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

Compassion-assisted child development centers in El Salvador’s cities operated by local churches, provide registered children with the learning opportunities they need to develop their full potential in Christ. In addition to attending school, older children also learn practical job skills, such as baking, that will enable them to earn a viable income. At the centers, Compassion-assisted children also attend health classes, tutoring sessions and Bible studies.


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

Liaisons between church partners and Compassion, Partnership Facilitators help partners be the best they can be at meeting the needs of the children they serve. Gladis Mejia, Partnership Facilitator for 12 church partners in San Salvador, says, “Basically, we establish relationships with church partners and support them in their different tasks.”

She adds, “Visits to church partners vary. I visit each partner at least once each quarter. Those that have recently opened or have new staff members or have pressing needs are visited more often.”

It is hard work for sure, but Gladis is dedicated to her mission of helping Compassion’s urban church partners provide opportunities for children to avoid the many bad influences in the city and escape poverty.


Prayer Requests

  • Pray for an end to the threats of gangs, who demand money from poor families in El Salvador’s cities.
  • Pray for the pastors and staff members of Compassion’s partner churches in areas where violent gangs operate.
  • Pray for the families of Compassion-assisted children affected by unemployment and underemployment.
  • Pray for the children and families whose homes and belongings were destroyed by Hurricane Ida in November 2009.