Invisible Hand: How EWB-UK Volunteers Are Helping REDES Fund Its Projects in El Salvador
Caroline Cage, a sixth year architecture student, and Berta Moya, a third year biochemical engineer, began work on the joint EWB-UK/REDES project at the start of July and were given the task of carrying out risk assessments in communities where REDES has worked in the past; or hopes to work in the future.
Overseen by the charity's Infrastructure Department, the EWB-UK volunteers have been handing out questionnaires and talking to local interest groups in a bid to discover how the charity can best allocate its resources.
The pair, who recently completed a survey of the living conditions around San Jose Villaneuva in the south of the country, have now begun a survey in San Sebastian to discover why some of the families in the capital are not using the wood saving cooking stoves provided for them by REDES over a year ago.
They will then spend a a couple of days in Costa Rica surveying earthquake resitant houses built by REDES before publishing the results of their surveys, along with their own suggestions, at the end of their ten week placement.
Caroline Cage, who has never volunteered with EWB-UK before, said that although REDES has made significant steps in improving the housing and sanitation in many communities in El Salvador, it is the limited time that REDES has to monitor its projects that makes their placement so important.
"Often REDES, and the local directiva, or even the NGOs providing funding for...projects do not have the time or the resources to investigate further as to where in fact those with the geatest needs are" she said, adding "This is where I feel our project is of the greatest benefit to the communities that we are working in".
Since it was established after the end of the civil war in the early 1990s, REDES has supported members of the population who are vulnerable and living in poverty through it funding of housing and sanitation projects throughout the country.
After the two devastating earthquakes in 2001, the charity played a leading role in the reconstruction process and continues to provide training, materials and skilled labourers to enable community leaders to improve housing in their area.
Situated in a region frequently hit by earthquakes and with the highest homicide rate in Central America, the numerous challenges that the population faces in El Salvador means that development funding is often in short supply.
But as Cage describes, it was essential for her to 'put things in perspective' before she was able to identify where the greatest needs lay.
"It is easy at first to think that every person in the community is in need of improved living conditions" she said.
"But after spending time surveying we started to understand the range of needs of the people liing there and where the greatest needs were."
"I think we have certainly gained a much greater understanding of the way in which people live in the community and the risks that they face living in the community"
- Find out more about EWB-UK's placements in 2008