"These Beautiful Houses" Recognition of LWF Contribution to Reconstruction

Jan 29, 2003 02:11 PM EST

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador - Antonia Posada sieves sand under the blistering mid-day heat. She is mixing concrete to finalize work on her home bathroom at the San Lorenzo housing project in the central department of La Paz, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of San Salvador. "I feel quite happy and I always will be thankful to God and all those people who have helped us to own these beautiful houses," Posada remarks as she adjusts her hat.

On 13 January 2001, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale struck El Salvador, resulting in the death of 844 people and thousands more injured. Posada's house was among the 277,858 that were damaged or completely destroyed.

Exactly one month later on February 13, another tremor brought more destruction and mourning to Salvadorans. The second earthquake hit the country's central region claiming 322 lives and leaving thousands injured. More than 100,000 houses were destroyed.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) put the economic losses after both earthquakes at USD 1,603.8 million.

"It brings me sad memories, I have flash-backs of so many deaths and homeless people," recalls 53-year-old hard-working Antonia, whose only desire is to move into her new home and resume her baby-sitting job.

The Salvadoran Lutheran Synod, Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Action by Churches Together (ACT International)---a worldwide network of churches and related agencies meeting human need through emergency response---provided technical and financial assistance toward the San Lorenzo housing project. All the beneficiaries spent several weeks building their individual houses.

The 78-unit project is nearing completion. Beneficiaries also hope to obtain more funding to build a day-care center, school, community house and health clinic.

Pedro Rodriguez, a community leader, has already settled into his new place. "It's great what the LWF has done for all of us living here," Pedro says. Another five families have taken up residence in San Lorenzo; a name derived from the St. Lawrence Lutheran Community in Canada, which donated the land for the housing project.

San Lorenzo is one of several permanent-housing initiatives implemented by the LWF and ACT after the two violent earthquakes in El Salvador. Community residents in nine departments, including 407 families, have received assistance to construct permanent houses. The LWF is a founding member of ACT.

On 13 January 2003, during the official commemoration of the second anniversary of the first earthquake, the Government of El Salvador officially recognized the LWF and ACT contribution toward the country's reconstruction process. As the award states, each organization was recognized "for its invaluable contribution in the reconstruction of our country...that [has] brought happiness to thousands of families by providing a new and appropriate home and improved their living conditions." The document is signed by Salvadoran President Francisco Flores on behalf of all beneficiaries. Other national and international agencies also were acknowledged.

For Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, the LWF Department for World Service (DWS) representative in El Salvador and Guatemala, "The recognition is very significant for the Lutheran and global ecumenical community." He noted that it was also an acknowledgement "for the dedication and commitment of our staff during this process."

Two years after the earthquakes, President Flores claimed to have "overcome almost all reconstruction expectations" with the construction of 64,000 permanent houses. But a large number of those who lost homes continue to live under makeshift shelters in temporary communities. The earthquakes left more than one and a half million people homeless.

Perhaps that is why Ana Guadalupe Mata is grateful to have her own house at the San Lorenzo project. "I thank God for the opportunity to have a house, a house that will be for my growing children too."

By Raul Gutierrez