CFCA stories

Family's hard work grinds away at poverty

November 29, 2010

Santiago dreamed that a group of people visited his house in El Salvador, and his life changed. He had been bedridden for 20 days with a leg injury and delirious from fever.

At that time, Santiago and his family were living in a cardboard and plastic house without electricity or water. He earned only $3 a day and could not afford to send his five children to school.

Santiago, from El Salvador
Santiago serves up a cone as a street vendor. With
CFCA's help, Santiago and his family enjoy improved
housing, educational opportunities and a higher quality
of life.

Today, all five of Santiago’s children are in school. His oldest son studies with the help of a CFCA scholarship. Santiago’s wife is president of the local CFCA mothers group and works as a seamstress. And the family has a new sheet metal home with electricity.

Santiago believes the people he dreamed of were from CFCA.

One step forward, two steps back

Santiago and his wife, Estela, are from a rural area and received little schooling. The couple married young and immediately had children. In 1993, Santiago left his job as a coffee picker to work as a street vendor.

Santiago moved his family to the city and for six years enjoyed a good business selling popsicles to tourists.

After a 2001 earthquake destroyed the tourist business and Santiago’s livelihood, he moved to La Realidad, near Santa Ana.

To earn a living, Santiago had to leave home every day at 5 a.m. and travel 15 miles with his cart and ingredients to his selling location, returning late at night. A manual grinder made his "snow."

Santiago's snow grinder
Santiago's ice grinder. He
was able to purchase a faster
grinder after CFCA sponsorship
helped provide his family's
basic needs.

“Selling snow cones, ice cream and popsicles on the streets of a city are some of the many self-employment activities the poor carry out to survive,” Henry Flores, director of the CFCA communications center in El Salvador, said. “Vendors are exposed to many dangers, such as traffic, thieves and gangs.”

One morning in 2003 began like any other. Santiago purchased his block of ice from the depot and walked to the transit stop to wait for the bus.

“With ice in my arms and the bottles of flavors, disposable cups, spoons, etc., on my back, I fell,” Santiago said. “Not wanting to break the ice, I fell directly on my knees.”

Santiago worked all day in spite of the shooting pain in his legs because he wanted to take his family for lunch and a boat ride around the lake.

He returned that evening with a high fever, barely able to walk, and spent the next 20 days in bed with a swollen knee the size of a soccer ball. He had surgery and eventually recovered.

Three months later, CFCA staff members visited La Realidad and Santiago’s house, assessing the need for sponsorship in the community. As a result, three of his children were sponsored.

Determined to succeed

Flores, the CFCA project coordinator at the time, was among those who visited the community and Santiago.

Most of the families picked garbage from the city dump, exposing family members to worms, fungi and respiratory diseases. Santiago was one of the few who did not work picking garbage.

“In Santiago, we knew we had found a good leader who could help us gain the trust of the community,” Flores said.

Since that day, Santiago became the main contact person for CFCA in the community. He is a spiritual man, a man who gives without expecting anything in return.

“I may not see God, but I can feel him and see him in my neighbor,” Santiago said.

Hope for a Family sponsorship provided Santiago’s family with nutritional assistance, medical help and home repairs. The children were enrolled in school.

Santiago was able to purchase a faster ice grinder. He recruited his sons to help his business when they weren’t in school.

Estela, from El Salvador
Santiago's wife, Estela, now earns money
as a seamstress.

Santiago’s wife, Estela, joined the newly formed CFCA mothers group in 2008. To her surprise, she was elected president.

“I couldn’t believe it," Estela said. "But I decided to try it.”

The adjustment was painful because Estela could not write well. She improved quickly. The group opened a bank account and the mothers started contributing toward the group savings.

They learned to sew bedsheets and mosquito nets that the project purchased and distributed to sponsored members.

Santiago credits the mothers group for giving Estela new confidence, a trade and the ability to provide for her family.

“I really feel that from three years ago to now, my wife has changed 180 degrees,” Santiago said. “When I saw this great potential in my wife, I told myself I have a great woman by my side.”

Challenges continue

When gang activity in their community threatened their safety, Santiago and 12 other families moved to a new neighborhood with access to amenities they did not have in La Realidad.

Santiago and his family could not escape the crime even in this new neighborhood. They were robbed of possessions. They missed the close connections they had formed in La Realidad and decided to return.

Santiago and his family
Santiago and his family

Santiago wants to improve his home. He wants to see his children accomplish what he could not.

“I want my children to finish high school,” he said. “I want this family to try hard to be an example for others.”

Sponsorship has not ended the difficulties for Santiago and his family, but it has given them a support network of local CFCA staff, the children’s sponsors and other families in the CFCA program.

“I think the best gift that I could have received from God is to have a group of people who support me,” he said.

“My family received what many receive: recreation, academic assistance, soccer camp. I believe that sooner or later, this will bear fruit.”

It already is.

Santiago’s industriousness has rubbed off on his oldest son. Read more here.

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