Tell us about the Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation. What inspired its start?
The Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation was started in 1983 by a group of concerned Salvadorans who had left El Salvador because of a then civil war.
The group recognized the generosity of the American people and began forming alliances with large US non-profits who could donate medicines, medical supplies, medical equipment, food and educational materials for distribution in El Salvador.
These goods were then sent to our sister organization, FUSAL.
Since it was first incorporated in 1983, how would you say SAHF has changed over the years?
The core mission of the Foundation has basically remained the same. Changes over the years occurred when, in the early years of being founded, SAHF established FUSAL, who would oversee distributing the goods being shipped from the USA.
For the first ten years of existence, the only program that we executed was the acquisition of goods in the USA and then the free distribution in El Salvador. These in-kind goods are distributed to a national network of 600 hospitals, clinics, rural health posts, schools, orphanages, other NGO’s and nursing homes. To date, nearly $700 million worth of these goods have been donated locally in El Salvador.
Although the distribution program remains to this day, other programs have been created over the years.
In 2004, SAHF and FUSAL leaders wanted to create an even greater impact on those most vulnerable in our society; thus, they created Libras de Amor (Pounds of Love) Nutritional Program to lower the high indexes of malnutrition in children under the age of 5 who live in rural El Salvador.
To date, we are involved in nearly 20 communities throughout El Salvador that have elevated rates of malnutrition. The goal of this program is to have an interactive team of doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and health promoters who live in each community and who monitor the progress being made by the children. Our involvement in each community usually lasts for about 5 to 7 years and then an exit strategy is contemplated where voluntary members of the community continue to monitor the progress of the program and we ensure that they have the proper tools to do so. The impact has been immeasurable. In 2017 there were 11,000 plus children participating in this program and malnutrition rates at the first community we launched dropped from 47% to approximately 6%.
Currently, where gang-related activity is concerned, El Salvador is facing a large challenge. Many children in poorer urban areas face a dire situation where they can be recruited to join gang activities.
Because of this, SAHF created and is sponsoring an initiative which we feel will give great opportunities to 1,200 children living in a community that was built by our sister organization during two devastating earthquakes in 2001. Currently there are 1,800 homes, a school, a clinic and a sports facility at this complex known as Residencial Libertad.
The school has been transformed into a bilingual school where every child from kindergarten to 12th grade is receiving English as a second language. It is the first public school in the entire country to become bilingual.
This is a great opportunity for these children as they will have an array of opportunities that they did not have before. For instance, a person who graduates college in El Salvador can earn around $500 a month. The fact that they know English and can work, let’s say at a Call Center, can allow them to more than $900 a month. The cycle of poverty is then broken, and their lives will forever be changed.
Tell us about the biggest challenges SAHF faces. How do you overcome them?
A big challenge for the foundation, and for any foundation, is the ability to raise enough funds to support the programs that are implemented. The fact that we are a one country foundation segments us many times to a target group of donors.
By changing the narrative to talk about a problem and a way to resolve it, we have been able to expand our donor base to include people from other cultures.
There is, however, much more to do, and this issue is pressing; thus, we are always trying to find new and creative ways to disseminate our message to a larger audience.
What are your biggest goals and what steps do you intend to take to achieve them?
Currently our biggest goal is to create an ongoing program where the next generation of Salvadorans and friends of El Salvador can become engaged with our organization.
SAHF has created an internal initiative called Nxt30, where young professionals have been identified and a network of this peer group has been established.
Through a series of events (i.e. happy hours, working groups) we are beginning to engage this new generation of potential donors. It is important to cultivate them and to allow them to become a voice for the Foundation and its mission.