El Salvador: LWF supports students affected by cyclone “Amanda”

ULS students wait in line to receive the LWF food kits, which contained enough or a household of 4 or five people to last about 3 weeks. Photo: LWF/ Z. Urbina

LWF food aid a life line after double disaster hits Central America

(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Program in Central America supported scholarship students of the Salvadoran Lutheran University with food and hygiene kits, to keep them in school after the COVID-19 pandemic and a tropical storm had destroyed their sources of income.

For the people LWF serves in its humanitarian and development programs, COVID-19 comes on top of other disasters, human-made or natural. In Central America, the lockdown and subsequent loss of livelihood coincided with two tropical storms, Amanda and Cristobal, which wreaked havoc in Central America in late May. The storms mainly affected El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. They left dozens dead, and thousands of families homeless.

Collaboration between LWF program and university

A large part of the students attending The Salvadoran Lutheran University (ULS) come from low-income communities. 75 percent of the student body are from rural areas, they make a living through informal commerce that helps them cover the basic expenses. “The University is aware of the situation many of its students, as well as members of their families, are experiencing,” says Mercy Palaçios, LWF Disaster Risk response and emergency officer in El Salvador. “Through the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod they asked us for help.”

ULS students wait to receive food parcels. The COVID-19 measures destroyed their livelihoods, and the hurricane destroyed many of their homes. Photos: LWF/ Z. Urbina

LWF in Central America has a long-standing relationship with the university, they have trained students in disaster preparedness and response to better deal with the storms, floods and earthquakes that affect the region. ULS students are part of the Regional Network of Young People Acting for Climate Justice, supported by LWF.

"We used to sell chicken, and that kept us going, but now, we can't sell, and we can't move because there's no public transportation," says Lisset Marisol Quinteros Sanchez, a 23-year-old student of social work. She lives with her 76-year-old grandmother, receives a scholarship from her municipality, but has had no income since the country was put under a strict lockdown due to COVID-19 in the spring.

Fragile balance

Luis Gerardo, 19, found himself in a similar situation. Like Quinteros, the student lives with his grandmother. Their income consists of what Gerardo earns through occasional jobs, mostly in agriculture, and his grandmother’s work cleaning and maintaining people’s homes. The double disaster of COVID-19 and the tropical storm destroyed the fragile balance. For both of them, the LWF food support, which covered the needs of a household for three weeks, was a lifeline.

A typical food parcel. The bag contains food which supports 4-5 people for three weeks.

Statistics from the university show what would have happened without this kind of support: Since the lockdown, 600 students – one-quarter of the ULS student body - dropped out. Some because they had no internet and could no longer follow lessons, the majority because they lost the employment, income from which they used to pay their school fees and living expenses.

“The university monitors the situation of students with low income, and follows up with those who dropped out, to see where it can support”, says Palaçios. The students have incurred debts, and often still rely on food aid handed out by a government agency.

Social impact of COVID-19 hygiene measures

“We are beginning to see the socio-economic impact of COVID-19”, says Chey Mattner, LWF World Service Head of Operations. “We see people, who already had very little, lose their livelihood, and we see young people lose their education. Our programs are adapting to support the most vulnerable in this difficult situation.”

Student Gerardo is trying to still keep a long-term perspective: “Thank God I am a scholarship holder,” he says. “God willing, I’ll finish my studies, become an architect, so that I can support my grandmother.”

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