Coronavirus in El Salvador

As the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 have swept across the world, El Salvador has been watching, and waiting. When would the virus appear? Was there any way to keep it out? How could this tiny country prepare?

El Salvador’s healthcare system is ranked 86th in the world. Even on a regular day the hospitals are full and the waits are long. A dramatic spike in patients from coronavirus could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

As cases appeared in other Central American countries – Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala – El Salvador started preparing. While still having no confirmed cases, on March 11th, El Salvador began closing schools, and entry into the country was limited to legal residents – and even those would be subject to quarantine. Next, parks and tourist sites were closed. Gatherings of more than 75 were banned. On March 17th, the airport was closed entirely: no passenger flights would be allowed in or out for at least 15 days. Further, restaurants would be limited to carry out and delivery. Each day more measures were introduced, and the government also passed legislation to assist those who would suffer financially from these preventative steps. Payments for utilities such as electricity and water, along with services like internet and telephone, and even mortgages, could be deferred for up to three months with no penalties for those directly or indirectly affected by the virus.

President Nayib Bukele address the Nation of El Salvador

And then on the evening of March 18th, President Nayib Bukele addressed the nation and announced the first official case. The virus was here. A man had entered the country illegally after having traveled to Italy. Immigration has records of him leaving El Salvador, but no records of him returning through an official port of entry. If he had entered legally, he would have been subject to quarantine. The government has deployed the military along the entire rugged border, but there are certainly blind spots.

Though small and poor, El Salvador has done a remarkable job in preparing itself for the arrival of this virus. From the start, it appears the government has viewed the virus as a serious threat and followed procedures recommended by the WHO and other experts. Gymnasiums have been converted into quarantine facilities. A large expo center has been prepared to be used as additional hospital space. As of today, they have prepared over 1300 beds to treat patients. They are working hard to increase testing capacity.

They are also taking steps to contain the existing outbreak. A sanitary cordon has been setup around the area where the first case was detected, and they are trying to track down and locate anyone this man may have been in contact with.

The Salvadoran people are resilient. Many already live hand to mouth, and are used to getting by on a simple diet of rice and beans, so in a way they are prepared for a time of limited mobility and surviving with what they have. Most people here cannot afford to stock up on 3 months of essentials (or toilet paper) so aside from a few episodes at PriceSmart (El Salvador’s version of Costco), the stores still have products on the shelf. Unless that product is hand sanitizer, of course.

El Salvador is also united behind their president. Twitter is full of Salvadorans saying some version of, “I didn’t vote for you, but I am so glad you are in charge right now.” In the midst of uncertainty there is unity.

At Love and Hope we are following all the precautions recommended by the government. Our kids might not be going to school everyday, but they are still doing school. There have been a lot of kinks to iron out, but everyone is getting into the routine of working from home and sending assignments in via email or text, or various online platforms. And since we can no longer go to the park, or music classes, or soccer practice, or anywhere, we’ve been watching lots of movies to pass the time. It’s a new, hopefully temporary, way of life.

All of our children have biological families, and we’re doing our best to look after them in this time as well. Many of them receive a bi-weekly basket of food and supplies to help them make ends meet. We’ve doubled the amount of food and supplies we are giving them and also switched to a monthly distribution schedule. This will reduce the number of trips they will have to make and help limit their exposure.

We’re also looking after our staff, many of whom ride the buses to get to and from work. With school suspended we are now using our van to provide them with transportation. They can now get to and from Love and Hope without having to ride in public buses. We’ve also asked them to limit there exposure when away from work – a practice many were already observing.

We had hoped that by being proactive El Salvador might be spared. Even though the virus is now here, we hope that acting early, and making major changes before its arrival, will help limit its spread. Today, the president ordered the closure of all shopping malls and commercial centers for the next 14 days. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential stores will remain open. We expect that additional preventative measures will soon be put in place.

Pray for our little country. It does not have the medical resources or deep supply chains of the United States. Pray too for Love and Hope. Our kids are understandably antsy, and our staff is under increased strain. It is in times like this we appreciate your support more than ever.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33

Horizon Home

Part 1: Ready or Not
Part 2: Preparation for Independence

So what are the options for the Love and Hope kids when they turn eighteen? The child welfare laws in El Salvador (LEPINA) state that after a young person turns eighteen, they are no longer an adolescent and they are no longer part of “the system.” They are legally an independent adult. Children’s Homes in El Salvador are prohibited from having anyone over the age of eighteen in a home with children and adolescents that are still part of the child welfare system.

But at Love and Hope our mission does not stop when our “kids” turn eighteen. In fact, we’ve found that the transition years from teen to adult are some of the most important years for young people to feel supported in order to successfully reach independence. We want our kids to be certain that there is hope and a bright future on their horizon. That is why we created the Horizon Home.

We want our kids to be certain that there is hope and a bright future on their horizon.

When our kids turn eighteen they can now continue to stay in a home where they are being loved, supported, and encouraged while they finish high school and continue on through university. Of course, some things do change when they enter the Horizon House. Here they start to learn more practical skills for independence: working, cooking, shopping, paying bills (perhaps they want a cell phone), navigating public transportation, going alone to doctor’s visits, and much more. There is no one forcing them to do their homework or make it to class on time, but rather there are standards they have to meet in order to continue stay at the Horizon House.

Without the Horizon House, many of our kids would be forced to return to biological family they don’t know very well, or to live in a part of the country that lacks security and opportunity. In many ways, it would be a dead end. By providing safe housing (universities here do not have dormitories), access to transportation, and the resources necessary to study (computers, internet, etc) they can continue to invest in their education and future. It also allows them to be surrounded by people who can help them navigate the challenges of this new stage of life with Godly wisdom and love. We’ve walked by these kids most (or nearly all!) of their first 18 years, and we plan to help them reach their full potential.

Are you a person that remembers navigating the difficult transition into adulthood? If you had people in your life that played a significant role in setting you up for success, or if you wish you had people to support you at that time in your life, consider doing just that for the young people at Love and Hope!

Each month is takes an average of $3,500 to keep the Horizon House up and running. This includes rent, the salaries of the two staff members that are on alternating shifts, food, bills and even the education of the young people that are currently residing in the home! While a university education is financially out of reach for many in El Salvador, it is very affordable compared to the United States. Many of our kids are able to attend top universities in El Salvador for around $150/month.

If you’d like to support the Horizon Home, please visit our donation page to give once, or become a monthly sponsor. If you’re interested in helping sponsor a youth through university, please contact us.

In our next post, we’ll share some stories from our young adults that show how support from the Horizon Home has helped them achieve success.

Preparation for Independence

The young people at Love and Hope have all entered our home at different ages. Some were already seven years old and a few years late in starting their education; others weren’t even a month old! No matter what their background or their story, the work Love and Hope does to prepare our young people for independence starts the day they walk through our doors. How do you prepare a 5 day old, a nine-month old, a four year old, or a seven year old for independence? By providing a safe, loving environment where they can grow and develop the necessary skills for independence. Of course, there are many skills that make us more likely to succeed independently, but I want to focus on just a few.

Attachment: Isn’t that the opposite of independence? Not at all! The independent person has healthy attachment. Because of early childhood trauma, many of us experience that push and pull in relationships and are constantly trying to prove that we are unloveable in order to protect ourself from the pain of rejection and abandonment. Reactive attachment is common in kids growing up in children’s homes and the primary cause is not forming healthy, appropriate relationships (attachments) at a young age. At Love and Hope we try to let the kids choose who to form these close bonds with. To be chosen as what we refer to as a “persona referente” or a “significant person” in a child’s life is a great honor. We try to provide opportunity for those bonds to be strengthened, nourished and long-lasting. Many of our visitors, sponsors, volunteers and staff members have played this important role in the lives of our young people.

Resilience: Another skill that we strive to develop in our young people is resilience. Our trauma does not define us. Resilience is not denial. Resilience is the acceptance of our past and the power to choose who we want to be and to shape our own future. We foster resilience in our kids in many ways: personal, group and family counseling; opportunities to pursue hobbies, sports and other personal interests; and most importantly through a relationship with Jesus Christ through whom we can “endure all things (I Corinthians 13:7).” Being resilient allows us to endure the ups and downs of independence: job loss, a relationship that didn’t work out, struggling to make ends meet, etc.

Autonomy: One of our main goals for our young people is autonomy. It’s that sweet spot that every parent dreams of for their kids. It’s the person that does what is right when no one is looking. It’s the one who stands up for what they believe, not to please others, but because of personal conviction. I’m reminded of James 1:23-25 “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Our kids are told that their opinion matters, that their voice counts and that they can change the world. And we aren’t just trying to make them feel good, we believe it! It is hard for a person with low self esteem to acquire autonomy. Our young people are required to participate in after school activities. If there is something they are interested in, we will work to find them the opportunity to pursue it. In our home our kids have participated in soccer, skating, basketball, baseball, field hockey, gymnastics, dance, ballet, tae kwon doe, kickboxing, volleyball, painting, piano, guitar, singing, cooking, sewing and more! Coordinating activities for all our kids is not easy, but the pay back is kids that are confident in themselves, have explored their talents and have pushed themselves to new heights. These kids have the self esteem to believe that their life has a purpose and that if they set goals, they can reach them.

Ambition: Desire and determination to achieve success is the definition of Ambition. Attachment, resilience and autonomy make for an ambitious person. From the time our kids start kindergarten we start encouraging their personal ambition. They get prizes for bringing home good grades. There is always someone there watching them at practice and encouraging them not to give up. As they get older we help them create their “life plan” to explore who they want to be, what their God-given abilities are, what career they want to pursue. Our youth are provided with a tutor for math, science and English so that they can achieve their full potential.

As they enter their final year of high school we plan college visits, provide aptitude tests and walk beside them as they seek where to place their foot for this next step in life: Independence.

In our next post, we’ll explore what happens when our kids turn 18 and legally become independent adults.

Ready or Not

What would you do if your child was turning eighteen and they weren’t quite ready to be on their own? What if they were still finishing high school? What if they had some emotional difficulties or disabilities that prevented their independence at this age?

Would you wake up on the morning of their eighteenth birthday, hand them a few garbage bags, tell them to pack up their belongings, and say, “It’s time to go?”

That is exactly what happens at government orphanages in El Salvador. Let me tell you the story of a young boy that I know personally. Miguel would be turning eighteen on July 15th. He had been living at an all boys orphanage for the past two years, and no family members had ever come to visit. In June the orphanage’s one social worker realized that Miguel had no family to go to. The countdown to the dreaded day for Miguel had begun. He wasn’t concerned about whether or not he’d get the birthday present he wanted, or whether there’d be cake at his party. Instead he asked himself, what would he do if no family was found? Where would he sleep on the night of his eighteenth birthday? He was half way through ninth grade, would he get to finish the school year? Would he ever finish high school?

On July 3rd, a great aunt was found. Marta lived with her husband and her elderly mother. Miguel could stay with them, but they had nothing to offer him. No bed, no promise to stay in school, but they could provide a roof over his head: Sold! He’d take it. After all it was his only option.

The night before his birthday, Miguel was given a large garbage bag. The next morning he put his belongings inside the bag, a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of jeans. The school year was only half way through, but he packed his notebooks, hoping he’d find a school near his new home that would take him in. If not, he’d have to count the year a loss and start 9th grade again the following school year. 

The social worker and the other kids wished Miguel a happy birthday; no cake, no present, no decorations. They wished him well and Miguel walked to the gate of the orphanage to wait for these strangers to pick him up and take him home. Miguel’s heart was filled with gratitude, his birthday wish had come true: he had a place to go.

Over the next few weeks we will be introducing you to our Horizon Ministry – Love and Hope’s transitional program for young adults “leaving the system.” Please follow along and consider how you can be part of walking alongside our young people as they transition into adulthood.

Summer update Letter

If you aren’t signed up to receive our quarterly updates, you can stay connected here! Send us an email if you’d like to be added to our mailing list!

Dear friends, 

2019 is the year of graduations at Love and Hope! This year we will have SEVEN high school graduates! In June, Justin and I got to go on a little tour of the west coast to see our first two international high school grads! First, we visited Brenda who graduated in beautiful Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia and then we flew to Los Angeles to attend Michell’s graduation in Mission Viejo, California! This fall Brenda will be attending Johnson and Wales University in Miami and Michell has already begun her college career playing soccer for the women’s team at Lakeland Community College in Ohio. Both of these opportunities are thanks to amazing, generous people who believe in these girls and have decided to invest in their futures! If you are in Ohio and would like to watch Michell play, send me an email and I can give you her game schedule! In November and December we will get to see Jacobo, Esau, Jefferson, Isaac and Linda graduate in El Salvador from their respective high schools. They are all busy making plans for next year as well!

At Love and Hope we value education so much and encourage the kids to pursue their interests and dreams and to be well rounded, hardworking young people. In April, Esau and Moises each won a scholarship to take intensive English classes at an English academy in San Salvador. The boys chose to apply for the scholarship even though the classes take place during their free time. They are both excited for the opportunity to improve their English skills. Another interest that Esau has shown is in graphic design and photography. We asked him to take photos of our kids for this mailing, so the photo you are holding in your hand was taken and edited entirely by Esau! Over her summer break Erika is doing a short internship at a hair salon and she’s also had the opportunity to spend more time on one of her greatest passions, skating! Just last week she won a first place and a second place medal at her skate meet! Jocelyn, who started an internship at the Inter Continental Hotel four years ago, was offered a job at the hotel last year and because of her hard work and English speaking skills was given a promotion in June! 

Because of your support, all of our kids are able to speak English. They all attend bilingual or semi-bilingual schools and have been able to practice their English a lot at home with our volunteers and missionaries. We wanted to give each of our kids the opportunity to show you how your support has paid off. I asked each of them to write a letter in English to catch you up on their lives. These letters are purposely unedited. Some mistakes will make you laugh and others might cause you to scratch your head a bit. We hope that prompts you to either write back, send them an email or even come down and visit and ask them, “What did you mean when you said…?” One of the letters said, “One day I want to throw myself on a plane with a life preserver.” I could have edited it to say, “I want to go skydiving,” but what’s the fun in that!?

Thank you so much for continuing to support the young people at Love and Hope. We believe that as we continue to invest in each one of them, they will go on to impact and shape the future of El Salvador.

Follow us on Instagram (loveandhopechildrenshome) and Facebook (Love and Hope Children’s Home)! We hope you had a wonderful summer!

With Love and Hope,

Rachel Sanson

Summer Volunteer


Thank you so much, Callie, for dedicating three weeks of your summer to Love and Hope! Read about how Callie was impacted by her time in El Salvador!

“Love and Hope impacts not only the lives of the kids who live there, but also the lives of anyone who volunteers.”

“This past July I had the privilege of spending 3 weeks at Love and Hope Children’s Home. It was my third visit, and once again I was struck by how difficult it was to leave at the end of the trip. Love and Hope impacts not only the lives of the kids who live there, but also the lives of anyone who volunteers. Never have I been happier to rake a garden, organize school supplies, sweep and mop floors, or clean garages, and it was because of the bigger lessons I was learning as I worked. My time at Love and Hope was significant in 2 ways, and the first is that God used it to give me a passion for kids in need and for missions, something that used to terrify me. Because of those visits, I am currently studying Social Work and Spanish at Cedarville University with the goal of being involved in an organization that helps put kids in safer situations. The second thing I learned this summer is how it really looks to love someone. I was so impressed with the way the kids interacted with and took care of each other, the tias, and me, and that has been a convicting thing for me. I am so thankful for the time I have been able to spend at Love and Hope, the relationships I have been able to strengthen with the kids, and the things God has taught me through those experiences.”

Volcàn Izalco

On Thursday, June 22nd, the Love & Hope kids enjoyed a day off of school for “Teacher’s Day” here in El Salvador. Rather than stay home to lounge around, some of us decided to take on a challenge: hiking the Izalco Volcano in Parque Nacional los Volcanes (Volcanoes National Park) of El Salvador.

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Parque Nacional los Volcanes boasts two active volcanoes, Izalco and Santa Ana, separated by Cerro Verde, or “Green Hill.” From the top of the Santa Ana Volcano, one can even see a third volcano in the form of a volcanic caldera: Coatepeque Lake.

Last year, some of us hiked up to the top of the Santa Ana Volcano where we were rewarded with views of the Salvadoran landscape and the sulfurous, bubbling “lake” inside the crater of Santa Ana.

The Izalco Volcano is smaller than Santa Ana but looks drastically different and poses completely different challenges. Izalco’s nickname is “Lighthouse of the Pacific” for erupting continuously for over 150 years. Izalco’s last eruption was in the 1960’s and the steep slopes of the volcano remain covered in hardened lava rocks.

Before hiking up Izalco, we had to hike down Cerro Verde about 1,700 steps! Once we got to the bottom of the hill, the landscape changed completely from forest to lava. Scattered throughout the lava were beautiful red flowers. We took a short break before making our way up the volcano.

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Several of the kids charged ahead, seemingly unfazed by the steep climb and rocky terrain. It was a difficult climb, but the kids didn’t seem to notice. It was a cloudy day, so once at the top of Izalco there was not much of a view to enjoy. But we found something else that was quite exciting: hot steam coming out of cracks in the rock! At one point, it felt like we were standing in a sauna!

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As we rested at the top of the volcano we could also hear thunder. That meant we had to descend a little sooner than we would have liked. On the way down it began to rain. By the time we had re-climbed the 1,700 steps through the forest of Cerro Verde, we were soaked and exhausted.

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All-in-all it was a great outing and we are so proud of the four kids who made the climb to the top of Izalco. They didn’t even complain about being very sore the next couple days (the adults did)! We love being able to provide these kinds of opportunities for our children, to enjoy the beauty and awesomeness of God’s creation!

Summer Reading

Several of the Love & Hope kids have finished school until August. Their schools follow an American schedule, as opposed to the Salvadoran schedule, in which the school year ends in November. They are so happy to have a break and relax on their “summer” vacation!

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We decided to have the kids do a summer reading program over the next couple months. It’s easy: read a book in English for 20 minutes everyday. For every 20 minutes they read, they earn a link for their paper chain. Once they have 50 links, they win a grand prize! They can read as much as they want to earn the prize faster.

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The reading program started this past Saturday and the kids are off to a great start. Look at their paper chains so far:

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Love & Hope Children’s Home has a few “readers” who we find reading for fun often. But reading is a habit we want to form in all our kids. It’s difficult when there are so many other things vying for their attention (electronics!), but we hope that doing simple reading programs like this will help foster a lifelong love of reading.

Julio and Marisela

You’ve heard us talk about Tio Julio before. Julio has been working at Love & Hope for over six years as caregiver for the older boys. A couple years ago, he also took on the position of “Spiritual Director.” As Spiritual Director, Julio organizes devotions with the kids and the staff; he is also in charge of our annual Love & Hope family retreat/camping trip.

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On Valentine’s Day 2016, Julio got married! He met his wife, Maricela, essentially because of working at Love & Hope Children’s Home. Maricela attended the same church as the Love & Hope kids when we lived in Los Planes de Renderos. Many of the kids and staff attended the wedding to celebrate with them.

Last year, Love & Hope Children’s Home found itself in need of a new caregiver for the “little” boys (they aren’t so little anymore!). The leadership had the idea to approach Julio and Maricela about the job. Would they be willing to work together as “parents” with the boys? Julio and Maricela took the decision very seriously and considered working together at Love & Hope Children’s Home much more a mission than a job. After much prayer and contemplation, Maricela accepted the position!

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We think it is important for the Love & Hope kids to see Godly married couples around them. The cool thing is that we’ve watched Julio and Maricela get to know each other, fall in love, get married, and now, find mission and obey God together. We like to think we are giving them good practice for parenthood!

Please pray for Julio, Maricela, and the rest of our staff as they care for the Love & Hope kids.

Salvador’s Night Out

A couple of weeks ago, Salvador brought home a very special invitation. He was invited to the quinceañera of his friend from school! He was ecstatic and carried around the invitation (a little gold paper box) for a few days. When we saw that the invitation was for “Salvador and family,” we joked with him that EVERYONE was going to go with him, the entire Love and Hope family. He didn’t think that was a very good idea.

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This past Saturday, the big day finally arrived! Salvador decided to take Linda, his sister, and Kirsten along with him to the party. Esau loaned Chamba a nice shirt and Tio Roberto helped him get ready, do his hair, and put on some cologne.

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At the quinceañera, Salvador, as always, was a dance machine. He only stopped dancing to eat! It’s almost as if he literally can’t resist a good rhythm. The great thing about Salvador (also sometimes not such a great thing) is that he has no inhibitions. Dancing alone on the dance floor is no problem for him! Salvador also had a great time with his friends from school. They danced, played and talked the entire evening! Overall, the quinceañera was a great experience for Salvador!

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Salvador also has a tendency to lose or ruin things. So, in an effort to teach him a little responsibility, his caregivers helped him save his allowance to buy a new air pump that he had broken and fork he had lost. When he got back from the mall on Tuesday this week, he was very proud that he had been able to replace the items with his own money!

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We can not imagine Love & Hope Children’s Home without Salvador. He brings so much joy to the house and makes us laugh a lot. Sure, it’s not so nice when he wants to lay a refried-bean-kiss on our cheek at dinner time, but it’s the thought that counts. It is awesome to see how the other Love & Hope kids go out of their way to give him a little attention, or how they seek him out to play, knowing he will always be willing.

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