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Celebrate the gift of hope this Advent

24 November 2017

El Salvador Vidal Antonio Castillo

Poverty and violence plague El Salvador. A 12 year civil war cost the lives of 75,000 people and left deep psychological, emotional and physical scars on its people.

Today, much of the population continues to live in fear as extreme gang violence has left this small Central American country with one of the highest murder rates in the world. SCIAF’s patron, Blessed Oscar Romero, was assassinated during the war for standing up for the rights of the poor.

Amidst the violence and overshadowed by the legacy of the war, the rights and aspirations of people with disabilities are largely ignored – and escaping a life of poverty is almost impossible. They are stigmatised by their communities and receive no support from their government.

We’re helping people with disabilities, including many severely injured during the war, to overcome the challenges they face, fight for their rights, lift themselves out of poverty and become champions in their communities. Our work with CESTA is focused on empowering people to be more independent, and learn how to fight for their rights. CESTA member of staff, Carlos, explains,

"There are so many problems facing disabled people in El Salvador. They are invisible, and do not have rights. We need to give people knowledge, so they have the tools to fight for themselves.

"It’s about the impression we leave with people. We want to help them to understand their inherent worth, and grow in confidence. We’ve seen many people go from hiding in houses and not doing anything, to being active in the community."

Our work with local partner, CESTA, includes bringing people with a disability together to form local associations. The associations are legally recognised groups which help members to meet others with a disability, to form a community, to help those living with disabilities to be visible in their town, and to receive training on topics such as their legal rights, self-esteem, and employment options.

Freddy, whose life has been changed by the support he received from CESTA, explains,

"CESTA has played a fundamental role in the association. They helped us in the beginning to set up properly, become organised and an official group. They have held countless trainings and workshops on our rights and self-esteem, and how to be self-employed. People are now motivated to create something for themselves and their families.

"We’re working to change community attitudes. People used to ignore us. We are working hard to put ourselves out there and make ourselves visible. We’ve had ramps installed and things are becoming accessible. We’ve held street parties for National day with our own disabled beauty queen. The whole community gets involved, not just disabled people. People’s attitudes are changing."

El Salvador Freddy Parada

CESTA has also set up a national level committee, with the aim of lobbying the government to change laws and expand the rights of people with disabilities. The committee is made up of members of each of the local disability associations, bringing them together to have a strong voice at a national level.

We’re also working to help people change their way of life. CESTA is helping people living with disabilities, and their family members, to establish organic vegetable gardens and keep livestock, so that they can feed their themselves, stay healthy and create a sustainable income. They’re also providing small loans and grants to help them set up and run their own businesses.

Josue, who has a spinal deformity after developing polio as a child, and his wife Rebecca were helped to establish a business making tortillas. They received materials to cook with and a small loan to buy a grill to cook with. Since they received our help, they’ve seen a big increase in their income. Rebecca explains,

"I used to have a barrel with firewood. It took so long to cook that sometimes people would leave. Now with the grill, people stay. It’s very quick."

El Salvador Case Studies Jose Alexander Coto and Family