Soyapango from the Beginning
The city of Soyapango, within an hour’s drive east of the capitol city, is the second most populated area in El Salvador. Among numerous economic and other problems, the city has had a long and notorious presence of MS-13 and other gang activities, making the area particularly dangerous for anyone to live. When Homes from the Heart first came to the area in early 2003, we were taken to a Chatarrera, meaning literally a junkyard or scrap metal dealer. It was a police impound lot and most of the land was covered in piles of rusty vehicles.
On the same land were the temporary homes of 150 families, those that would eventually receive new homes built by Homes from the Heart. The families had all been displaced by the earthquake, several hurricane disasters, or due to various political reasons and lived in meager structures built by the army or in tents, propped wherever a piece of land could be claimed. Since there was basically no land in the area that wasn’t either covered in scrap metal or precarious shelters, the only way to build anything was to begin a massive shuffling game of people and metal. Throughout the process, families had to be moved to other locations or live with other families in already cramped spaces.
Check out lots of great photos from Soyapango.
Many Partners Coming Together
Homes from the Heart definitely lacked the experience for a project of this scale and Project Director Michael Bonderer says he knew he “wasn’t the right man for the job.” It took nearly a year of negotiations with local government agencies, corporations, and sponsors before Homes from the Heart was able to commence building. We entered into a Memo of Understanding with the Vice Minister of Housing, Catholic Relief Services, and Kiwanis El Salvador. One of the first steps was to start moving rusty cars out of the way. We borrowed a large crane from the government and began clearing the land, one car at a time.
Beyond the main financial sponsors that helped purchase materials, several businesses from Kansas City made much of the work possible by donating heavy construction equipment as well as engineering and architectural services to the project. In addition, a local electrical contractor helped with the initial electrical inspections training working and we obtained large quantities of gravel from the highway department.
The Community Today
Today the community and the people in it have come a long way. The Directiva, a local board of trustees, implements self governance and organizes community efforts. Many women in the community have completed a training program in sewing. The next phase is to develop micro businesses and other ways to make the community self sustaining and give people a way to help themselves.
The construction of a soccer field within the community recently got underway. A large, earth moving tractor came to the site and cleared an unused portion of land by knocking down trees and leveling the area by pushing dirt off the cliff. Soon grass will be planted and goals will be constructed from metal pipes. Students from the University of Cincinnati are organizing a donation of soccer equipment so the community can organize games.