Life under quarantine in El Salvador

The President of El Salvador declared a nation-wide emergency due to the pandemic.  The population is under mandatory quarantine.  People can leave their homes for basic needs twice a week according to the last numbers of their ID.  Events, church services, meetings, and non-emergency doctor’s visits are all cancelled.  Only citizens and residents are allowed to enter the country (and they were only allowed entrance as of May 1).

Unemployment and underemployment have soared. Conditions are particularly difficult for people that relied on the informal market and daily income to provide for their families.  The central government has approved a number of economic relief efforts, such as a $300 bonus for eligible families.  One of the factors that determined eligibility was a low use of electricity.  Unfortunately, this leave out families that do not have electricity and are, arguably, some of the most in-need.

Deportations from the U.S. have continued the whole time, even when all other international entry was prohibited.  Approximately 1,500 people were deported between mid-March and mid-April alone.

The government has been criticized for the treatment of prisoners and denounced for the abuse of authority in the enforcement of public health measures.

In spite of all of the difficulties, there are beautiful examples of solidarity in this time of crisis.  Some people are organizing for the collective well-being of their communities in inspiring ways.

What does life look like for the Sister Parish communities in El Salvador? Below members from each community tell us more.

Distributing food to families in Guarjila.

Guarjila 

Carlos – We think Guarjila is complying with the public health measures about 90% for the days we have been in quarantine – what is it now? 40 days? 50 days? 90 days? Haha. We have looked for ways to support families that don’t have food.  Our movements are not so restricted right now.  We can go to Chalatenango 2 times a week.  There is a checkpoint on the road that has been set up coordinating with the municipalities and community leaders in the area.  There are no cases yet in Guarjila and we believe we are stronger than a virus.

Marleny – The community board (Directiva) has worked closely with the soldiers and police to carry out the measures currently in place.  The health clinic is also working hard. They are doing home visits, house by house in the entire community, to talk about the measures and why they are important.  It is sad to see the streets so empty when we go out.  The majority of the families here received the $300 (part of the relief package offered by the federal government), but the mayor did not give Guarjila anything (the mayor of Chalatenango did hand out food baskets in other communities). The Directiva asked the mayor to provide some aid, but the mayor said no.  The food aid we have been able to hand out to almost the whole community was made possible by families in the U.S. that came together and sent money to help Guarjila.  They told us they have more possibilities, but we actually see that they might be worse off than us. They have to pay rent and bills – we don’t pay rent or bills. They have to pay for all of their food – here many people have corn and beans from their harvest.  The first food baskets were $15/basket, later a little less at $11/basket to be able to cover more families.

Holy Week – With services canceled, people in Guarjila celebrated Holy Week by listening on the radio or watching on TV.  On Good Friday, the priest went through the town by house to offer blessings for those who wanted them.  The Faribundo radio station is broadcasting a daily mass in the afternoon.

Gurajila farmers are starting to prepare their fields for planting now that the rainy season has started.  The farmers are hoping to increase production given the projected increase in the demand for food in the region.  Guarjila is looking at whether or not they might be able to use the school as a center to store and distribute seeds, fertilizer, and other agricultural products for farmers.

Checkpoint for disinfection and health checks in Los Ranchos. Photo: Mayor’s office of San Antonio Los Ranchos.

Los Ranchos

Consuelo – Most people are following the recommendations.  People go out but just to buy food or what they most need. The police are on call. The municipality gave food baskets and masks to every family in Los Ranchos.  The municipality also already has a program that provides elders with food baskets on a regular basis. Most people are using the masks. There was a checkpoint at the entrance to the town, but since there is now one in a nearby town, they removed it. The health clinic is separating patients who come in with a fever or a cough, providing care in an area in front of the clinic.  There are no cases in Los Ranchos yet. People are very worried about their family members in the U.S.  People in Los Ranchos have family members in the U.S. that have been infected and gone to the hospital and they are not treated. They were sent home.  Thankfully, no family members have passed away at this point.  We are also worried about our family members in the U.S. now that unemployment is so high. We are worried they could be evicted and there are no policies to protect renters or support migrants financially.  The church is closed – there are no masses.  The priests are anxious.  There are only 2 pupuserías open now and they only take to-go orders. Some people have received support from others in Los Ranchos too – for instance, some people, seeing a family or an elder in need, have donated their food basket or help out other ways economically.

Holy Week – Here people celebrated Holy Week by connecting to services on the radio, the TV or Facebook Live.  The priest went through the town on Good Friday so that people could receive a blessing.

Haydee – In Los Ranchos we need to look at how to support people that didn’t receive any help from the government.  (The federal government provided $300 per family to qualifying families and many local governments in the area have given out food baskets).  I have talked to some families that received nothing.  We should figure out a way to help them.

Consuelo – It is sad to see our town so empty. Who knows when we will be able to visit each other again. It is sad not to be able to be with family or friends who are grieving too – like Carlos from Guarjila whose father just passed away.  It is very hard.  I am very worried.  And at least here, we can go out to find a mango on a tree, but in the U.S. our family members are in small apartments, they have to buy their food.  My little granddaughter wants to go out.  It is very hard on the kids in the U.S. We pray to God that this will pass and that we will be able to see each other and go back to some kind of normal.

Packaging food and basic supplies to be distributed to families in Las Vueltas, the municipality where San Jose la Montaña is located. Photo: Mayor’s office of Las Vueltas.

San José la Montaña

As of  April 27, there were 6 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state of Chalatenango: 2 in Chalatenango, 3 in Nueva Concepcion, and 2 in San Miguel de Mercedes.

Erlinda is taking extreme measures because of her job in health care. She goes to work in the clinic in Las Vueltas every day.

Juventina is supporting the disinfection and health control stations at different points in the municipality.   They are trying to control who comes in and out of the municipality as much as they can.  Juventina is also visiting different families in the municipality and helping to distribute food baskets and explain public health measures to each family.  They talk with each household about handwashing, disinfecting, and the steps to take when coming back to the house after running errands in Chalatenango.

People in San José la Montaña are still working in agriculture.  People are starting to promote the use of green houses and family vegetable gardens.  Some people are panicking. This is very stressful.  But the quarantine experience in rural areas is very different. Surviving is more hopeful in the rural areas. People have food and resources.

In terms of public transportation, there are just two options, one at 5:30 and the other 6:40 (but the latter is not guaranteed).  The municipal government is giving bags of food to all families in the municipality. The majority of the families have received $300 from the central government as part of the national relief package.  There are about 5 families from the community who did not receive the bonus.

The CCR is working on food security and sustainability. Policies should focus on supporting people in producing their own organic, locally grown food.  The fact that the rainy season is just starting is an advantage.

CORDES and CCR are also campaigning with the women’s movement in Chalatenango to address domestic violence and violence against women.  People are concerned about the rise in domestic violence and other types of violence under quarantine.  There have been 13 femicides in the country since the beginning of the mandatory quarantine – 1 in Chalatengango.  The organizations have a wonderful campaign to support and encourage people living with violence to report it and look for help.  The campaign is important since people may have lost their usual support networks due to the quarantine and restrictions under shelter-at-home orders.

Making masks at ACOMUJERZA. Photo: ACOMUJERZA.

ACOMUJERZA

Ana and Julieta – In Zaragoza, there is now a checkpoint at the entrance to disinfect cars and people entering the town.  The municipality has handed out food baskets ($15 of food and basic supplies) to a large portion of the people in the town center.  In San Jose Villa Nueva, where Ana now lives, they have handed out anit-bacterial gel, gloves and masks, but not many food baskets in the town center. The food baskets were handed out in the outlying areas. Everyone in El Salvador is under mandatory quarantine and there is a curfew in many municipalities. There have been no cases in Zaragoza, but there have been close by.

Ana – From what I have heard, the ACOMUJERZA members and their families are doing well.  None of the members received the government stimulus of $300.  ACOMUJERZA has been closed since March 21, but we are looking at ways to start work on the uniforms again with measures. Maybe 2-3 people will go in at a time. As a business we have to keep paying our members and our bills and our taxes, but we have had no income since we closed.  So we are looking at alternatives.  We currently have an order for masks.  And we are talking about what else we could do to diversify our sales.

Disinfecting public spaces in Nombre de Jesus, the municipality where Potrerillos is located. Photo: Mayor’s office of Nombre de Jesus.

Potrerillos

In general people in the community are doing well.  The majority of the population is following the recommended health measures and observing the quarantine.

Farmers are already preparing their land for planting now that the rainy season is starting. The municipality is registering all families that plan to plant this year.  They want to ensure that people receive fertilizer, seeds and other agricultural products needed at this stage in the growing season.

Working with the mayor’s office, the community board (directiva) is trying to promote family gardening projects. The gardens are one response to the food crisis and general economic crisis expected as a result of the pandemic.

Access to water is still a challenge in the community, but the community board (directiva) is trying to reorganize to make sure all families have enough water in their homes. Community leaders want families to be able to carry out the recommended hygiene and sanitation measures.

Medical care is provided for emergencies only. Patients with chronic illnesses and monthly medications are still able to go to the health clinic to pick up what they need. Health promoters and nurses try to do weekly home visits to all families in the municipality to check on people’s health. The home visit medical team prioritizes the patients that have more delicate health situations.

Schools are closed across the country. Some students are receiving classes online, but the internet is not accessible to all children and youth.  Some teachers also prepare printed school work that the parents can pick up at the school, so students can work on the packet during the week. Teachers have also formed groups in the phone application WhatsApp.  They can send pictures or study guides to families and parents can print some things to work on with their children.

Two people from Potrerillos who were living in the U.S. have died of COVID 19.

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