Salvadoran youth face educational challenges during pandemic - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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William, studying in the community library of Las Delicias

As El Salvador slowly begins to recover from the pandemic and the effects of the quarantine, access to education continues to be one of biggest problems facing the young people. The government has taken the precaution to suspend all in-person classes, including at universities, until January 2021. The schools are an important institution in the communities and provide structured activities for the children, which helps with gang prevention. While schools remain closed, gangs are able to gain more power over vulnerable youth who now don’t have a place to go during the day.

This situation has made learning very difficult for children and young people who do not have access to internet. A report from the U.N. showed that around 60 percent of families in El Salvador have no or insufficient access to the internet. This creates an environment where youth in marginalized communities are not able to continue their education. Many students have had to drop out of college because they are not able to attend virtual classes, while younger students are falling behind and dropping out of school.

Students using the WiFi — with their smartphones — in the library

This new reality has been very difficult for our scholarship students and all of the children in Las Delicias. Working together with the local foundation FUDESCA, our students have decided to start a project to help kids in the community continue their studies. We have been able to put Wi-Fi in our community library, and the library is being staffed by our young people. They are able to use the internet for their university and high school classes, but they also welcome and help provide the support that kids need to finish this school year.

I am so proud that all of our students are not only working hard to finish their studies but also have the desire to help other children in need reach their dreams in this difficult time. We are helping to create a safe place for the young people, as well as provide some structure so that they do not fall behind in their classes.

This project has been especially helpful for one of our students, named William. William is in his final year of high school but does not have support from his family. His mother was kidnapped and disappeared four years ago. Since then he has been living at one place or another with different family members. No one in his family had the time to register him for high school, so I enrolled him and was responsible to go to all the parent teacher meetings.

Scholarship student Mercedes getting the library ready

He has done the best he can in school, even though he has had little support. The pandemic has been very hard for him. He has fallen behind in his classes because for several months, he had no internet or a working phone. His teachers have understood his situation and are giving him time to make up the work. Now that there is internet in the library, William has been able to get back on track. He spends three days a week in the library studying all day. Our college students help tutor him and provide the structure he needs to succeed. We hope that William will be the first of his siblings to graduate high school this year, which will help provide new opportunities for his life.

Another one of our scholarship students who will graduate high school this year is named Hazel. She has not only had to deal with a lack of internet during the pandemic, but she was also pregnant. It has not been easy for her to be pregnant during the crisis, while also having to worry about finishing school. She gave birth to a baby boy in June and now continues to come to the library and finish her education. She has demonstrated a lot of courage and strength to continue working for her goal to finish high school.

I am so proud of William, Hazel and the rest of our scholarship students, who are working so hard not only to reach their dreams but also help to make their community better and provide opportunities for other young people. It is such an amazing experience to be able to accompany them on their journey to work for the kingdom of God and create more opportunities for those in need.


Larry Parr
Larry Parr joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2007 and for 15 and a half years worked in youth, educational, sports, and leadership and community development programs in Las Delicias, a community northwest of San Salvador.