El Salvador Facts - Compassion International

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 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.

Compassion began its ministry in El Salvador in 1977. Today, it serves more than 59,000 children through more than 268 church-operated child development centers.

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.

Source: The World Factbook, 2014.


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 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 help support their families. 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 higher than 50 percent. 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, the population with a university-level degree remains in the single digits. In El Salvador, a person who does not have a professional career cannot expect a good salary; even people with degrees may be hired for manual jobs that pay a minimal salary (U.S.$185 in the city and U.S. $90 in rural areas). People who have no secondary education must work for less than the established minimum.


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 in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.



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.

Visit the Compassion blog to read posts about Easter in El Salvador and Christmas celebrations in El Salvador.

Sports and Games

Salvadorans love to play soccer, which is the main sport. Basketball, baseball, tennis and swimming are other favorites.

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 4.



  • 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

Child Sponsorship Program

In El Salvador, 1st to 9th grade children go to school for 5 hours a day, either in the morning or the afternoon. High school students attend classes from 6 to 9 hours per day. Therefore, the younger children are able to come to the child development center more frequently than the older children. Children age 11 and younger meet at the child development center 3 hours a day, 3 days a week; children age 12 to 14 meet 2 hours a day, 2 days a week; and children age 15 and older meet 1 day a week for 4 hours.

Children are provided with a Bible according to their age, and we measure their development in age groups. At younger ages, children can describe biblical stories, memorize verses, and talk about God's creation, power and love. At older ages, children understand the meaning of salvation, sin and obedience to God. As a result, children can explain how the Scripture guides them in every area of their lives, and they can witness God's love in their lives.

All children receive a nutritious meal every time they attend the child development center. A typical meal consists of some type of carbohydrate, such as bread or tortillas, and protein, such as soy, meat or chicken. The meal can include sandwiches, soup, rice pudding, pupusas (tortillas filled with cheese and beans) or enchiladas (tortillas with fried beans, tomato, hard-boiled eggs and cheese).

Camps, drama, football, painting and museum visits are common extracurricular activities offered. Clean-up campaigns, reforestation activities and child care are common community service opportunities the children can participate in. Vocational activities such as computer training, tailoring, dress making, beauty, baking, poultry production, fish farming, silk screening, rabbit farming, and bean, corn and vegetable farming are available for adolescents. At some centers, adolescents are taught English.

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

El Salvador Facts and Figures
Capital San Salvador
Population 6,125,512 (2014 estimate)
Languages Spanish, Nahua (among some Amerindians)
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.)
Literacy rate
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 87.1%
Female: 82.3%
(2010 Estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources Urban: 94.2%
Rural: 81.4%
(2011 estimate)
Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities Urban: 79.4%
Rural: 52.6%
(2011 estimate)
Climate Tropical; rainy season (May to October); dry season (November to April); tropical on coast; temperate in uplands
Percentage of population urbanized 64% (2010 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 70.9 years
Female: 77.62 years
(2014 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate 16/1,000 (2012 estimate)
GDP per capita $7,500 (2013 estimate)
Monetary unit U.S. dollar (USD)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 24,900 (2012 estimate)
Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day 9% (2007-11 study)

Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014