Santa Marta, El Salvador

History of DGH In the Community

Santa Marta is a rural community in the Department of Cabanas. It is about 20 km from the border with Honduras, tucked away between the provinces of San Miguel
and Chalatenango. It has a population of 3,000 with 550 households. Most families live from subsistence agriculture: they grow corn, beans and sorghum. A few cultivate vegetables and some raise animals to supplement their income and improve their diet. The employment opportunities are rare which means that to survive, families rely heavily on the remittance sent by those who are now working in the U.S.  The inhabitants of Santa Marta, who had to flee fierce repression during the Civil War and seek refuge across the border in Honduras, began their return in 1987 to rebuild their community from the ground up. In 2001, our first volunteer spent a total of 10 months in Santa Marta. This presence allowed us to develop direct ties to the community and to assess where our help was most needed.


Watch Las Manos y el Maiz!  This video presents the moving and inspiring story of the people of Santa Marta, a repopulated community of Cabañas, El Salvador, in their struggle to overcome the tremendous traumas and losses faced during the 12 year civil war (that forced them into exile).


Current DGH Projects

DGH’s longest standing commitment has been to the Rehabilitation Center, currently managed by two community health promoters. The Center has evolved since the 1990s to provide a wide array of services including physical therapy and other body work techniques, specifically developed to address the needs of war wounded, injured, and people suffering from chronic muskuloskeletal conditions.  Respiratory therapy for those with chronic lung problems is also offered.

DGH has also consistently provided volunteer medical students and other health care providers to work alongside Salvadoran health promoters. Many volunteers have taught classes in reproductive health and English at the local school. Others have partnered with community groups such as ADES (Asociación de Desarrollo Económico y Social) to conduct public health surveys to better identify issues and explore ways to address them. An example of one such project was a youth led study on the use of pesticides and their effects on health and environment. 

Most recently, with the support of physical therapists from Spain and early childhood psychologists from Psicologi per i Popoli in Italy (all members of DGH-Europe), work has expanded from individual therapy to groups addressing the needs of parents, their young children and the elderly.

DGH also raises funds for COCOSI (COmite COntra SIda), a youth led organization which uses theater and role playing to educate their peers and adults on the risk of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as other issues related to the HIV epidemic (gender roles, sexuality, domestic violence, etc). The range of their work continues to expand- from Santa Marta to other rural communities, from local jails to clinics and hospitals, from schools to a weekly radio show. They have gained wide recognition locally, nationally and internationally, and are partly credited for lowering the rate of teen pregnancy in Santa Marta.

Check out the magazine Abriendo Brecha for news from the community.

Opportunities to Make a Difference

  • There are many opportunities for DGH volunteers to get involved. A minimum stay of 3 months is preferred (exceptions may be made for those with expertise to work on a specific project solicited by the community), and command of the Spanish language is required.
  • Volunteers are needed to support health promotion work outside of the clinic (educational projects, work with the health promoters), to teach and assist with grant writing and project evaluation (this is incredibly important currently), to teach art, and to work with the local group COCOSI around theatre and performance. Volunteers with experience working with and educating people on gender and LGBTQ issues are also welcome.
  • Physiotherapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, and body work practitioners, as well as volunteers with experience in early childhood education and with experience working with severely disabled children are also needed.
  • The group that promotes understanding of the community’s history through tours and education would like volunteers to teach them English and computer skills.