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Strengthening the Getsemaní Community is a three-year project that aims to improve the living conditions of 138 families in a low-income community through a holistic development project.  In collaboration with community leaders and other partners, Habitat will build 90 houses and develop programs in community leadership, values education, community health, cultural exchange and microentrepreneurship.


Poverty in Ahuachapán

One of 14 departments in El Salvador, Ahuachapán lies 62 miles from the capital of San Salvador and borders Guatemala.  Despite the fact that this department contains some of the richest coffee-growing areas of the country, the population continues to be one of the poorest.  Several of the department’s 12 municipalities are categorized as being of extreme poverty—including the municipality of Ahuachapán, where a fifth of the families survive on a monthly income of less than the cost of the family food basket[1].

The situation has gotten worse as the international prices of coffee have decreased.  Men and women generally work in the informal sector earning around $100 monthly, though some are able to secure employment in factories or in the private security sector and thus can earn up to $200.  Those who cannot make a living near home seek job opportunities in the capital city and return home several times a month on weekends to visit their families.

The economy of El Salvador therefore does not give families the opportunity to develop long-term solutions to their biggest problems.  Families must spend most of their income on food; needs such as education, clothing, health and housing are lower priorities.  For example, 14% of children in the municipality of Ahuachapán between the ages of seven and fifteen do not attend school.  With regard to housing (in the same municipality), almost 50% of houses have dirt floors and more than 40% of homes are overcrowded with at least three people per bedroom[2].

Habitat El Salvador’s Work in Ahuachapán

The frequency of seismic activity in the area has also affected the quality of life for families in Ahuachapán.  In December 2006, a series of strong tremors damaged more than 3,000 houses in five different municipalities, including Ahuachapán.  Habitat El Salvador responded by building 200 permanent, seismic-resistant houses for affected families, subsidizing the loans of the poorest families in collaboration with various foundations.

Recently, these municipalities were affected by a new wave of tremors that have damaged other homes.  Habitat El Salvador continues to build houses throughout Ahuachapán and—to date—has provided more than 300 housing solutions in the department.


Getsemaní is a peri-urban community of more than 130 families that is located near the entrance of the city of Ahuachapán (in the municipality and department of the same name).  It was founded in the early 1990s when individual families began to buy empty lots, build makeshift homes and move there.  There was no basic infrastructure at the time.

In order to improve their living conditions, community residents established an ADESCO (Community Development Association), which is a legally registered entity that serves much like a homeowners association.  Through sheer determination, the ADESCO board of directors has since completed major projects like electrification, land legalization for the majority of families and household potable water.

However, Getsemaní still has a long road to travel and many dreams to fulfill, as the community is still very poor.  The majority of families have monthly incomes between $100 and $250.  Many adults work as housekeepers, security guards and vendors in the market.  The ADESCO board of directors has defined decent housing as the next priority, as the community has a housing deficit of more than 50%.  Many families live in metal shacks or bamboo-mud structures.  They have also identified other basic needs like education, health and income generation.



With Lent Build: 30 Houses with Romero, Habitat El Salvador is launching a three-year holistic project with the Getsemaní community, in partnership with Myers Park Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, North Carolina.  In addition to providing 30 housing solutions per year, this project includes the development and implementation of sustainable programs in community leadership, values education, community health, cultural exchange and microentrepreneurship.  This project is a response to the poverty and the large housing deficit in the department of Ahuachapán as well as a result of Habitat El Salvador expanding its strategies to serve families through more holistic, participatory, community-focused projects.


From the beginning of the project, Habitat El Salvador is working directly with the community’s ADESCO board of directors, as the participation of the community leaders in this process is key to ensuring the sustainability of the results and is also an additional way to train them in project management.

Habitat El Salvador has hired a full-time project manager with experience in community development to design and implement the project.  Her first responsibility is to create a baseline of data in the community—in coordination with the ADESCO board of directors—in order to determine and measure the precise needs, as related to each project component.

The next step is for the project manager to collaborate with the ADESCO board of directors to design and subsequently implement each program, based on the baseline data.  Together they will identify and invite other local organizations to contribute to the project.  Furthermore, Habitat El Salvador will promote the participation of national and international volunteers in all components.

Project Components

  • Community Leadership

The goal of this component is to strengthen the project management capacity of the community’s board of directors and potential new community leaders.  During the first year, community leaders will attend workshops on the role of the board of directors and will conduct a self-evaluation of the board.  They will then participate in a series of classes on the different phases of project management and, as a capstone experience, will work together to plan and carry out a new community project.

  • Values Education

The goal of this component is to promote values, through a Christian education program for youth, in order to improve family and community relationships.  Under the leadership of the nearby Presbyterian Church of Ahuachapán and other local churches, 100 community youth will have the opportunity to participate in a year-long values education and Bible study program, including a summer camp.

  • Community Health

The goal of this component is to improve the conditions of reproductive health, nutrition and basic sanitation for 138 families in the community and surrounding communities.  The focus is on preventative rather than curative health measures, given that this method is safer and healthier for the families in the long-term as well as more cost-effective.  During the first year of the project, youth leaders will participate in a year-long course on reproductive health.  Families will have the opportunity to participate in workshops on nutrition, take classes on healthy food preparation and even organize a gastronomical festival.  With regard to basic sanitation, the project manager will work with families to ensure proper reuse of grey water and also vector control.  Furthermore, local and international medical teams will be invited to the community to see patients.

  • Cultural Exchange

The goal of this component is to promote cultural exchange among the community, the local church, international churches and Habitat El Salvador.  More than a community development project, this project seeks to facilitate the development of fraternal relationships among all partners.  To that end, international partners will be encouraged to visit the community on an annual basis to participate in spiritual retreats, social events and community service activities alongside community members and local church partners.

  • Microentrepreneurship

The goal of this component is to promote microentrepreneurial initiatives, in order to help families improve their income.  In collaboration with other institutions with experience in income-generating projects, the project manager will work with the ADESCO board of directors to establish a community solidarity fund that can help finance community members’ microentrepreneurial initiatives.  This program will be designed such that it will create a domino effect of added value to the community.  Community leaders will be highly trained in fund administration.

  • Housing Solutions

The goal of this component is to provide a total of 90 housing solutions—30 per year for three years—for families in Getsemaní and surrounding communities who currently live in substandard housing.  The standard house design measures 34 square meters and includes two bedrooms, a living/kitchen/dining room and a bathroom.  All houses will be wired for electricity and will be built according to the structural safety codes of El Salvador.

Considering the level of poverty of the partner families, the house loans will be subsidized by Habitat El Salvador between 40% and 60%, the percentage of which will be determined by a socioeconomic study of each family.  As with all Habitat projects, the homeowners are required to contribute sweat equity.  The first phase of construction will be launched during the 2010 Lent Build.

[1] Briones, C. R., Castro, J. M., & López, O. A. (2005). Mapa de pobreza: Tomo II. Indicadores para el manejo social del riesgo a nivel municipal. San Salvador, El Salvador: FISDL.

[2] Briones, C. R., Castro, J. M., & López, O. A. (2005). Mapa de pobreza: Tomo II. Indicadores para el manejo social del riesgo a nivel municipal. San Salvador, El Salvador: FISDL.

One Response to Getsemaní

  1. […] the air. My mission team brother in Christ Tim and I have just been given a new task. We are in the Gitsemane community of Los Buenos, El Salvador helping three families build new homes through Thrivent Financial for […]

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