Amid heightened national tensions over news of a northbound caravan of Central American migrants, one Salvadoran woman traveled from San Salvador, El Salvador, to Waco for the first time to give thanks to a local nonprofit.

“Just to be here and say it in person, ‘Thank you for everything that you’re doing for us.’ It’s amazing,” said Vanessa Albanez, international donor relations coordinator for Habitat for Humanity El Salvador.

Habitat El Salvador has partnered with Waco Habitat for Humanity for decades. A portion of every Habitat for Humanity home built in Waco is donated to help fund similar projects in El Salvador. Since 1986, Habitat Waco has built 181 homes in Latin America.

“When you see a picture of what poor housing looks like in El Salvador versus Waco it puts it in perspective,” Waco Habitat Executive Director Brenda Shuttlesworth said. “At Habitat, our vision is we see a world where everyone has a place they can call home.”

In El Salvador, more than 1.3 million Salvadoran families live in inadequate housing, Albanez said. Unlike the U.S., Habitat El Salvador is the only nonprofit organization helping Salvadorans obtain an affordable home loan or help pay for necessary repairs. Each year, Habitat El Salvador aims to provide housing solutions to 4,000 families.

“I’ve seen here that there are many organizations that work together for these families, but in El Salvador the families don’t have many options,” Albanez said. “Sometimes we are the only option for them.”

Over the next 10 days, Albanez will be joined by Habitat El Salvador’s executive director and will meet with Waco Habitat volunteers, Baylor University students and multiple church and nonprofit organizations. Waco Habitat volunteer Nancy Gatlin said she hopes Albanez will be able to make more connections to help continue funding Habitat operations back home.

“With all the news about El Salvador and Central America in general in the paper these days totally being negative, it’s important to be able to get out the word that some very hopeful and good things are happening there,” Gatlin said. “This is another angle to deal with immigration. If you can help support other groups help their families and have solid viable communities and homes, that doesn’t answer all the issues, but it sure is a good first step.”

Members of Waco Habitat said they are gaining important insights from Albanez.

“One of the things I’ve already learned from Vanessa is that our countries, our people, our challenges, and our strengths are much more alike than they are different,” Shuttlesworth said.

Despite America’s involvement in El Salvador’s bloody civil war years ago and President Trump’s derogatory reference to El Salvador as a “s---hole country” earlier this year, Salvadorans don’t hold a grudge toward Americans, Albanez said.

“It’s to the contrary, we’re always thankful because we have a lot of help, a lot of support, and a lot of things that bring us together and reminds us of our similarities,” she said.

Salvadorans are hard-working people who want what most Americans want, she said.

“I would like to have a country where I can live with my children safely, so I can give them the opportunities they deserve in education, safe parks to visit, to feel safe and to feel like they have opportunities in the future,” she said.

Albanez will attend Waco Habitat’s second annual Harvest fundraiser on Nov. 15. This year, Shuttlesworth hopes to raise $50,000 to fund the construction of the organization’s next home.

Lauren Dodd has covered education for the Tribune-Herald since May 2018. A native of Beaumont, Dodd attended Rhodes College and joined the Tribune-Herald in 2018. She previously worked as a reporter at the Seguin Gazette and the Killeen Daily Herald.

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