Waving the White Flag

A woman in San Salvador hangs a white flag on her door.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

We may all be weathering the same storm, but we are certainly not all in the same boat. I’m not sure where I first heard this sentiment over the past few months but it surely rings true in El Salvador. The unique challenge of this COVID-19 crisis is that it is a crisis unlike anything that we ever expected to face in El Salvador. I suspect that many working cross-culturally might find themselves thinking the same thing. We were tentatively prepared for an intense tropical storm, an earthquake, civil unrest, an uptick in violence, and other possible scenarios. But to experience something so devastating while the rest of the world also was thrown into chaos seemed unfathomable.

Our faithful volunteers are also in need of assistance during this difficult time.

Yet, here we are living through these extraordinary days. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into turmoil, and so many have suffered so much. In the developing world, the onslaught is almost unspeakable. Not only does the virus threaten the health of Salvadorans, but hunger gnaws away at stomachs, and any meager savings or plans that were in the bank are now long gone as the economy crumbles down.

El Salvador has been under one of the strictest lockdowns in the world for over ten weeks and while the death rate remains low, and the virus has yet to spike, the poor have just become more and more vulnerable. The urban poor especially are faced with a crisis that they never imagined. You see, when your daily meal depends on an informal job in the market you don’t eat if the market is closed. You may receive some help, perhaps some of the government subsidy but it just isn’t enough to feed your kids, your aging parents, much less yourself.

One of our clients with emergency supplies as he moves out of the shelter.

And so many Salvadorans have searched their homes for a white sheet, or a shirt, or a spare piece of paper and they have hung white flags outside their homes. These white flags signify that supplies are gone. Money is gone. Medicine is gone, and food is gone. Scrawled across the stark white banners are messages like “we are hungry,” “my children need food,” or “we need food and medicine.” The virus will get you or the hunger will, or perhaps the violence, or the coming crush of deeper poverty. It doesn’t feel like there is an easy way out for the people of El Salvador.

The situation is surely complex, and our prayers have been and will continue to be with the government of El Salvador. We do not envy their position, we do not think we have all the answers, we do not know the way out of this. All we know is that the country we so desperately care for is in pain. Our hearts are hurting for those that hurt.

Alexia, one of our case managers, giving emergency food bags to one of our clients.

We are doing what we can to relieve the suffering, to feed the hungry, to accompany those who are feeling hopeless. As our clients have transitioned out of our shelter, we continue to support them. We are also helping our other clients with emergency relief, encouraging the boys in New Dawn, working with Free The Girls to make sure the women in the program and their children stay fed until the markets open once again.

The thing that feels so overwhelming for the whole world, and certainly here in El Salvador, is that we don’t know how long this will go on. We don’t know when things will look up again. We don’t know when the economy might recover, or people might begin to plan for the future once again. But we do know that Salvadorans are resilient and strong and they don’t give up. And we also know that El Salvador is a country that bears the name “the Savior” and our Savior will not forget those who are suffering. He is close to them, He cares, and He calls us to care.

We thank you to all of you who have continued to partner with us financially, for those who have donated to our COVID-19 Emergency Response, and for all of you who are praying. We couldn’t be here without you, and we can’t walk forward without you either. Thank you for being a part of this, thank you for helping us to love and care for those in need, who want to surrender. Would you join us in praying for those who are waving white flags tonight?

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