El Espino families move into new Fuller Center community, rejuvenating their lives and spirit

El Espino families move into new Fuller Center community, rejuvenating their lives and spirit

It was nearly three years ago that 65 families of San Salvador’s El Espino community began settling into flimsy shacks thrown together with pieces of metal and plastic — homes that were not only unsafe but also unwelcome and considered eyesores by neighbors who owned nice homes and businesses nearby. They were not welcome in the new neighborhood.

Unfortunately, they were not welcome in their old community, either. And it most definitely had been their community, land upon which the families had lived for generations. But title issues are common in parts of Central America. When developers who coveted their land learned that the families could not actually prove they owned the land, they seized it and had the families evicted … onto the streets of San Salavador.

A portion of the new El Espino

Even after cobbling together their meager neighborhood of shacks, the “homes” were repeatedly torn down by the former government. Their story drew little sympathy, and officials were content to hide their problematic existence from public view.

When the new government of El Salvador President Nayib Bukele was elected in 2019, his administration — and especially new Housing Minister Michelle Sol — embraced the cause of these families. With so many families across the country living in similar conditions, they saw El Espino as an opportunity rather than a pariah. Helping these families re-establish themselves not only in simple, decent homes but also as the entire community they once knew was seen as a symbolic effort.

With only a little land available to pull off such an effort in San Salvador, they would need the perfect partners. Sol was familiar with The Fuller Center for Housing’s work in communities like Ahuachapán (146 homes) and Nuevo Cuscatlán (99 homes), built through its in-country construction partner Gente Ayudando Gente (People Helping People in the U.S.). A plan was quickly established to build 65 new residences in a new two-story complex, atypical for The Fuller Center’s work in the country. It came together over the course of 2020, and on Monday, February 22, 2021, that symbol became a reality for the first 30 families of El Espino as half of the complex was dedicated. The next 35 units will not be far behind.

Fruit and ornamental trees are being planted where the families’ shacks once stood.

“Some people saw the old shacks in this upscale part of San Salvador as an eyesore; we saw them as a tragic place for a child to grow up and in which families would inevitably struggle,” said Ryan Iafigliola, The Fuller Center’s Vice President of International Programs. “But even in this era of division we can all agree that what we have now is a million times better — decent homes in which families can thrive and of which the whole community can be proud.”

Minister Sol was among the officials from the new government and local leaders who were on hand Monday to welcome the families. She and her team also were heavily involved in not just helping the families move their belongings into their new residences but also dismantling the old shacks and immediately plantings trees and other plants to transform the former “eyesore” into beautiful new greenspace. Much of the metal and other items that could be salvaged from the dismantling were given to the homeowners to sell.

“Today the first families will move into their new homes,” Sol told the crowd at Monday’s dedication. “Tonight they will sleep peacefully. Tonight they will not fear the cold nor the rain. Today they can say, ‘We’re home!’”

Amelia and her kitten move in.

It certainly was a dream come true for people like “Mrs. Amelia,” as she is known in the community. Being evicted from her long-time home was especially stressful for elderly homeowners. She said her faith was nearly all she had when she was evicted, and she prayed that she would live to see herself in a decent home once again. She moved in Monday with the only other person in her family today — a beloved kitten.

“We know that the ownership of a safe and decent house is the basis for the development of a family,” Gente Ayudando Gente leader Lisselot Troconis told the crowd. “We are proud to have been able to lend a hand to people like you. … With your payments you we can continue to make the dreams of others come true.”

Minister Sol welcomes a resident.

Troconis’ group works in many areas to help the community, including health and education initiatives. She recognizes that decent housing is directly related to improved health and education outcomes. She has worked closely with The Fuller Center to oversee the construction of 319 Fuller Center homes in El Salvador with 201 more now in various stages of construction, including the next 35 at El Espino. Fuller Center President David Snell praised her efforts.

“Partnership is fundamental to the work of The Fuller Center for Housing,” Snell said. “The simple agreement we have with our local organizations is called the Partnership Covenant. This concept has been fundamental to the tremendous work we’ve been able to do in El Salvador. The Espino project, of which the first 30 houses were just dedicated, is a great example. The houses were built through our partnerships with New Story Charity, which provided funding, the government of El Salvador, which provided the land and infrastructure, and The People Helping People Network (Gente Ayudando Gente in El Salvador), which oversaw the construction. Miracles happen when people come together, in partnership, to do the Lord’s work.”

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