El Salvador – The Less Fortunate

While we have plenty of people living in poverty here in the United States, it usually isn’t quite so visible, especially if you live in the suburbs.

Going to El Salvador was eye-opening for the boys, and it reminded Carlos and I to be thankful for what we have, too. There were two encounters we had with people that have especially stuck with me.

The first one happened on our way to a mini-carnival. During the first week of August, carnivals pop up all over El Salvador. This one wasn’t well-known or in any way special, but it was close by so we thought we would walk over and ride a few rides one day.

As I climbed the sidewalk which curved up and around into a parking lot where the carnival had been erected, a half-empty 2 liter bottle of Sprite came rolling to a stop at my feet. I picked it up, and awaited the owner, who I knew must only be seconds behind, chasing it down the hill. Sure enough, the owner of the bottle arrived. A little girl, maybe 8 years old, stood before me. Her hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in days, her face had smears of dirt on it, and her clothes were little more than rags. Next to her stood a little boy, probably her younger brother. He was in a similar condition. Both stood wide-eyed, looking at me, their arms filled with remnants of food they had dug from the trash. I situated the bottle back into the crook of her arm so she wouldn’t drop it. Before I could say anything, she whispered “gracias” and they both disappeared into the crowd.

The second encounter was on our last day. We had walked around the mall buying some last minute souvenirs and then decided to get some paletas. Our youngest son had ordered a paleta de uva and rejected it after his first bite. “This has real grapes in it!” he said, disgusted.

“You ordered grape!” Carlos said angrily.
“But I wanted just regular purple grape,” he said looking sadly at his paleta.
I touched Carlos’s arm gently. “Nene, he didn’t know better. He was expecting artificial grape flavor like American popsicles,” I said.

Carlos sighed, took the paleta for himself even though he didn’t want it, and bought our son another one.

We headed back to the hotel while we ate our paletas. By the time we reached the pasarela stairs, the boys and I had finished ours but Carlos still had a few bites left on the stick.

“Chele,” a woman said to Carlos, as we started up the stairs. She looked up at us, her face pressed between the railings.

“Regalame su paleta,” she said. [Gift me your popsicle.]

Somehow I could tell, the woman wasn’t terribly old, but a rough life had aged her prematurely. She was thin and wrinkled, her hair unwashed for a long time.

Carlos handed her the popsicle.

“Disculpe,” [Forgive me] she said, as she turned away and finished off the paleta.

Carlos and I exchanged looks. We turned back around and rushed to the first fast food counter we could find, ordering her a hot dog and a soda.

$1.70 isn't much to us, but it could mean a lot to someone else.

When we went back to the pasarela, the woman was still in the area, just down the street a little. I gave our younger son the hot dog and our older son the soda. I wanted them to be the ones to hand it to her so they would remember it.

“Hot dog para usted,” our youngest son said, giving her one of his infectious smiles. Our older son handed her the soda wordlessly.

The boys say her face lit up with a smile and she thanked them.

From the top of the pasarela we watched her for a few minutes. She opened the bag that contained the hot dog and stared into it then closed it up tight. She did this several times. The soda she hid under a nearby bush. We couldn’t really make sense of what she was doing. I told Carlos we should keep walking. Regardless of what she ended up doing with the lunch we gave her, we left feeling that we had done something good and that we had given the boys one of the most valuable souvenirs ever.


  1. Yes. This is so important for them to learn, especially in contrast to their very, very privileged life here in the US (by Salvadorean standards).

    And you know what? I think this totally goes a long way in counteracting the “$20s-falling-to-the-floor” of your last post. Karma, ya know.

  2. It’s so sad to see the poverty in our home countries! Sobre todo cuando son niños. I’ve seen it a thousand times and I still can’t get over the fact that a 6yr. old can live on the streets without a family to care for him or her. It really makes you appreciate what you have and I’m sure your kids learned something very important. After a trip to Tijuana my little sister saw hundreds of kids begging when we were waiting to cross the border. Next time she went there, she took a bag full of clothes and shoes that didn’t fit her to give them to the kids. As soon as she gave a kid some shirts, about two dozen more surrounded the car until all the stuff was gone. She kept saying: “did you look at that kid’s face?” She was 7 at the time and until this day every time we go down to Tijuana she takes bags of stuff to give away.

  3. Ay amiga, this is sad every single time, no? En México you see this very often, sadly. Your kiddos are lucky to have parents that teach them to value what they do have. Un abrazototote!

  4. I love the fact that you had the experience and recognized its value. It reminded me of the time I was on the bus some years ago and a kid asked me for a drink of water from my water bag.

    I can’t phantom how people can turn such a blind eye towards the poor, specially in places like El Salvador.

    I was fortunate to have been born in a family that was always relatively economically stable, but even more fortunate to have been born in one with generations of people that taught me that our economic fortunes didn’t make us better than anyone else and that helping others is the right thing to do.

    I always remember the story of one of my uncles. He won the lottery many years ago and used a large portion of the winnings to buy toys and other things for the poor kids in town. That was one of many things he did over his life. Today, the street he lives on carries his name and people still remember him, although he’s been dead for many years now.

  5. Thanks for sharing. It’s something your boys will never forget (although they may need reminders in weaker moments). Moments like these are always good at bring life some perspective, no?

  6. Sabes que pienso (y eso que no soy fanática religiosa)? Que Dios nos pone esta gente para que podamos ayudar. La bondad/caridad es algo que podemos poner en práctica todos los días de nuestas vidas.
    Yo, y le doy infinitas gracias a Dios, tuve un ejemplo en mis abuelos y mami de inmensa bondad. De niña jugaba con los peones de las fincas y los hijitos de los empleados y fue asi como creci dándome cuenta de todo lo que yo tenía (economicamente) y lo que ellos no. Pero como todo niño, eran felices y asi fue que aprendí que la riqueza material no es la felicidad.
    Me encanta ayudar y quiero pasarle eso a mi hijo. Pronto te contaré un plan que tenemos mi prima y yo para que los peques se involucren ayudando a los más necesitados!
    Dios los bendiga por sus nobles acciones!

  7. What a wonderful thing you did for that woman…made me wonder if she was saving it for her babies or something. About 6 years ago I went to El Salvador. On one of those nights my hubs and I escaped the rest of the fam and went out to eat alone on the way back (around 11pm) we stopped at a red light and a little girl knocked on the window. El esposo no queria abrir (he felt someone could’ve been using her to rob ppl)…eventually he did era una niña a esa hora solita pidiendo limosnas I emptied out my change and a few dollars and handed it to her…su carita blanquita negra with dirt, su cabellito all over the place but what still haunts me to this day were her bright blue eyes when she received that change. I haven’t been able to forget her I told my husband I wanted to just grab her and bring her home with me!

  8. Mi Tracy, sometimes I wish you would write todo el dia. No me aburro de tus posts.

    Fijate que tu paseo al El Savador me ha dado grandes ganas de regresar a mi pais. Ya son 20 anos que no regreso. No se si son los rumores de lo peligroso que es o si nada mas es falta de mi parte por ser tan dejada y nunca renovar mi pasaporte… Lo bueno es que en Noviembre me voy!!

    Thank you Tracy!

    • This comment made my whole week!!! … Thanks for your very kind compliment and for sharing this great news.

      Don’t be afraid – I went to some of the most dangerous areas and it isn’t as bad as you may fear – just use common sense… For example, I went to Soyapango and even walked around the neighborhood – but be aware of your surroundings and try to avoid areas like that at night. Remember that the news on TV has a tendency to only report the bad. There is so much more in El Salvador that is good and beautiful and perfectly safe. Please keep me updated on your trip!


    • Cuentame como te fue en El Salvador? En Abril mi hermano que tiene 52 (ciudadano americano desde 2011) se va a vivir a El Salvador. Aca en US tiene un trabajo estable pero se le ha metido que quiere regresarse a El Salvador, y tiene fe que va encontrar trabajo a su edad.???

      • Encontrar buen trabajo en El Salvador es difícil – especialmente para las personas mayores, pero si uno es bilingüe tiene muchas más oportunidades.

  9. I’ve seen such poverty in Latin America and in Asia and it’s hard to forget. It exists here too, even though we probably have better structures to take care of people, or at least try to.

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