Located in Central America, the country of El Salvador is nestled between Honduras and Guatemala, and bordered by the Pacific Ocean. The natural beauty of the country can be seen in the lush jungle mountains, forests, and exotic flowers that bloom freely everywhere. The people of El Salvador are very friendly and gracious; however, wide-spread poverty is pervasive throughout this third-world country. Its capitol city, San Salvador, is located near the middle of the country.
When Robert and Ann Horton first visited the original orphanage in El Salvador in 2004, 34 people – 28 children who had been abandoned, neglected, and/or abused and had been taken into the orphanage; the orphanage director, his wife, and their three children; and a grandmother who had nowhere to go – lived in an abandoned school with less than 1,600 square feet of living space.
This building was located on the side of a steep hill and overlooked a busy highway below. They did most of their cooking over an open flame in a 55-gallon barrel. The girls had a bedroom, and the boys had their room, each with bunk beds placed together so tightly that the only way to get in bed was by climbing in from the foot. The bathroom toilets flushed sometimes, and often water was not available for showers or cleaning or cooking for days. The building and driveway were kept as clean as possible, but the conditions were extremely substandard. The children had little to no room for playing, and there were many safety concerns with this location and building.
Although the Hortons had originally considered this a “one-time trip” to assess the suitability of a potential site for a new orphanage, they were deeply moved by the joy on the children’s faces despite their circumstances, and SHIP was founded. Wheels were set in motion, and nonprofit status was obtained later that year. Funds were raised to move them to a safer location with more adequate housing. Thanks to SHIP’s generous donors, 12 acres of property on which to build an orphanage was purchased and completely paid for in 2004.
From 2005 to 2010, mission teams went to El Salvador and cleared the property of debris. In 2008, a home was built on SHIP property down the mountainside for the caretaker SHIP inherited with the property purchase; he and his extended family had been sitting squarely in the middle of progress, where the new facility was to be built. In 2009, the buildings (one for the orphanage and a separate education/mission team building) were begun, and they were completed in 2011. At that time, SHIP thought it had completed its mission. We looked around and saw the kids in the orphanage loving their new home, with room to run and play and be kids. SHIP’s plan was to continue bringing mission teams to work with the orphanage. However, God had other plans.
During construction, we began to recognize the need in the surrounding neighborhood. Neighbor children came to “help” us with construction, and they usually came to help about lunch time. We discovered a new mission field in our neighborhood. While the orphanage had a new home and a consistent source of funding, the neighbors did not. We opened the doors of the education building and began a new era of service: home building and repair, education, and economic opportunity.
Home Building/Repair. In 2011, SHIP began a neighborhood beautification project (or urban renewal, El Salvador style). Initially, we began by helping our neighbors spruce up the neighborhood – picking up trash, painting their homes, etc. – and we saw a change in the families as they began to take pride in their neighborhood. These projects continue, and each SHIP trip mission team has its own unique project: building cinder block shower facilities, repairing or replacing roofs on homes so they can stay dry during the rainy season, building a retaining wall to keep a house from sliding down the mountain, adding a room for a growing family, completely rebuilding a home, and many other construction projects to improve their living conditions. Under the capable supervision of accomplished tradesmen, even our volunteers, who have never done any of these tasks, learn skills they never knew they were capable of doing.
Education. In El Salvador, the government provides public education, but the education usually ends when the student reaches ninth grade. At that time, parents must begin helping fund their child’s education. Most parents don’t have the money to send their children to school and feed and provide a home for them; so the free education the kids had been receiving comes to a halt. In 2012, SHIP awarded scholarships to six of the neighborhood children to attend private school. But the neighborhood around SHIP El Salvador is teeming with children, all of whom need to go to school. We currently send more than 20 children to a private, and academically challenging, Christian school on SHIP scholarships. Some are doing well; others are struggling. Without the tutors that SHIP provides for after-school help, the children would not be able to do their assignments. Sending children to school has been a leap of faith for SHIP. It has been worth it.
Economic Opportunity. In the summer of 2013, SHIP launched a program aimed at helping women earn a living to support their families. Most households in the neighborhood are headed by single mothers, and very few opportunities are available for them to earn a living while caring for their families. SHIP started a micro-business at our facility. Initially, the ladies are given 20 free t-shirts to sell for whatever price they can get. They can then come back to our facility and purchase additional clothing items to sell and earn money to support their families. More than 150 ladies are working, and they’re excited about this opportunity. They’re earning more money than ever before, and it’s helping many of them to provide for their families!
Do we work hard when we go to El Salvador? Yes! But, the precious children who live there, the grateful adults who receive your help…they are the ones who make it so worthwhile! Language barriers fade away when you hug your new best friends and see their beautiful smiles. They haven’t been dealt the best hand in life, but we have the opportunity to teach them about Jesus and His love for them. These lasting friendships, these new relationships that change our lives as they change the lives of the people we have come to serve, these are the memories we will pull out of the recesses of our hearts and enjoy them again, until we return. We invite you to pray about going with us on our next trip – it will change your life in ways you never imagined.