The impoverished of El Salvador live under the daily threat of hunger and destitution. Most survive on a daily ration of piecemeal work, luck and pure guts. Women do the housework and contribute to economic survival by washing the clothes or cooking the meals of the rich or working the land with their husbands. In rural areas men work the fields and in urban areas they work the streets for daily jobs. Impoverished families stare daily at the possibility of hunger. Most earn less than $1 a day.
"Before, people had cows and animals that helped them survive. But as this has become urbanized we are left with nothing. Now women either work in the homes of the rich or we sell. Some sell clothes or ice cream. Some take care of kids or wash or iron or cook for people in the urbanizations. I sell fruit. I go to the market every morning and buy fruit, like watermelon. Then I have a place to sell at a bus stop. I am lucky to have this place. Before, I used to sell on the street. If I need to, I also wash clothes for others to make some money."So, I have a long day. I get up early while it is dark to go to the market and I sell until my daughter takes over in the afternoon. Then I get time to come home to cook and to work on community issues." (Mendez)""I came to this community after the earthquake of '65. I was in my house when I felt the tremor. I grabbed one child under each arm and ran. none of us got hurt but the hut fell down. I had nothing. I was helped by neighbors. I really lived off charity for a while. A friend told me of this place, that this place was opening up. So I came, thought it was not a great place, living in this ravine. I live in a very humble house, but I have been fixing it up slowly. But every time something happens the house gets ruined, with the heavy rains or the earthquakes. I have seen it all here; but I have no place to go. So, I stay. I make some money sewing clothes. People know that I make dresses or whatever they need made. So I get a bit of business. But now there are so many used clothes that business is almost nonexistent. So, I have to wash or iron. Here you do what you have to do to survive. No one has a full time job, but everybody hustles." (Pastran)"I am originally from San Miguel. I am 48 years old and have been here for 13 years. I have four children aged 22 to 16. They are all still here. None of them has any steady job. They go out to find day jobs to give us some money to survive. I have been a helper in the kitchen in a restaurant, a pizzeria. That is how we manage to get by." (Osorio)"I live all alone. I am 61. my mother died not long ago. My wife died a while back. My kids are all grown up and gone. I have eight brothers and sisters. Two are in Guatemala. We are close to the border here, so they went up there to work and did not come back. One went to the United States. he is in Virginia. he sends nothing here. I have a small plot here. I do not have the strength to cultivate most of it; so I only plant what I can. Mostly I plant sweet corn and millet. It is just enough for me to survive." (Carran)"I have nine kids. The eldest is 18; the youngest is just one year and four months old. Five are boys; four are girls. I am in my mid 30s. I was born here in El Chino. This community is dependent on the sugar cane cooperative that we have here. There are 53 members of the cooperative. The coop gives members a small plot for the family plot. on it we grow sweet corn and millet. We also work on the sugar cane fields. We get paid for three two week periods during the harvest. This is paid at 415 colones ($50) for each two-week period we work. That really is our only cash income for the year." (S. Ayala)"I am 25 years old. I am a single mom living with my mother. I have two kids; the eldest is eight. I have been here for eight years. I am not a member of the cooperative. I do not have a plot of land. I work as a day laborer; sometimes I can get a job for two weeks at a stretch. Sometimes I can get hired by the cooperative, other times by others. I also fish and go to get shrimp. Fortunately, we live here near the water and can go fishing. The shrimp are there. Also, the community helps me. There is one woman particularly who has helped me. This year we went almost a month with no food. This woman helped me by giving me tortillas to survive." (Alfaro)"I am 58 years old. I came to this place when I was two. I have lived here all my life. I have been with my wife for 19 years. We have four children -- all of them are boys. The eldest is 18, the youngest 7. When Mitch struck, things were horrible. The water kept rising. The police came to warn us and get us out. I sent my family to higher ground. I stayed to make sure that my house was safe. It did not collapse but it did fall sideways. It was damaged pretty badly. The worst is that I lost my corn. This really was a disaster because that is what we use to survive."Our community runs right along the road. We live here on the edge of this large private farm. As you can see he has fences running around his farm so that no one can get in. Some of us work for him when we can. none of us owns this land. He lets some of us grow food for our families on small plots. I do not have to pay rent to him for the two manzanas I farm; but it is his land. I grow sweet corn and millet. I also grow chili peppers. These I do not eat. They are for making a poison to control pests. I also grow some onions that I use to help store the corn. I store the corn in a green plastic garbage bag, mixed with onion. This year I grew a little bit of soybeans. I use this to eat, for meat and milk. It tastes just like meat when you cook it. And we like it. Most of what I grow is for our own use. But every once in a while I get enough so that I can sell some." (Fuentes)"Let me lay it out straight. If I go to buy one brick to build the wall of our house, we don't eat that day. If I go out to buy three bricks we die of hunger." (Castro)