Economic Empowerment in El Salvador


In seven short months, she went from being unemployed and homeless to having enough real-life work experience selling bras that she confidently applied—and secured—a full-time job with benefits. She owns her own home and is now supporting herself and her two young children.

Ingrid is truly a Free The Girls success story!

Throughout San Salvador there are slums where people live on the edge of survival. Their homes are made of large swaths of plastic and sticks. They often live with no running water. They also live with the constant threat of violence. Street gangs claim these small pockets of humanity as their own, extort residents, recruit boys as gang members, and lure girls to be gang “girlfriends.” These girls are often forced into sexual exploitation by gang members. Sadly, law enforcement often treats these minor girls as criminals, making it even more difficult for the victims to seek the resources necessary to escape. Once out, the criminal label follows them, often blocking them from recovering from the violence and trauma that they experienced at the hands of the gang.

Ingrid was barely a teenager when she found herself mixed up with a gang that had recently gained control of the slum community where she lived. She was initially recruited as a “girlfriend” and by the age of 16, she was pregnant with her first child. After giving birth to a second child at the age of 18, she was left alone to fend for herself and her children. She struggled to find a safe and sustainable job. It seemed her only option was to return to the streets and allow herself to be exploited by the gangs.

Ingrid thankfully heard about Free The Girls from another survivor and in the fall of 2014, she came to our program partner Mission To El Salvador to learn more about how she could make money selling bras. She broke down crying as she shared the desperation of her circumstances: her children were only 4 and 10 months old, and she had no way to support them. It wasn’t long before Ingrid was selling bras and started to see the benefit of this safe economic opportunity.  With help from the in-country staff, Ingrid began setting goals and planning for the future. She applied for housing assistance through a church mission group.

In March, a team of volunteers from the church came to El Salvador and worked together with Ingrid to build her a new house. Ingrid and her children now have a dry roof overhead, a fully stocked kitchen, and real beds to sleep in.  One day after her home was built, Ingrid came to the MTES center with a huge smile on her face and a new story to tell. A local grocery store had just hired her to work full-time! Before Free The Girls, Ingrid was struggling to make ends meet because of her circumstances. In seven short months, however, she went from unemployed to having enough real-life work experience selling bras that she confidently applied—and secured—a full-time job with benefits and a steady income to support herself and her two young children.

Ingrid says that Free The Girls was a turning point in her life. She could have gone in one of two directions: back to the gangs and the cycle of exploitation, or forward into a stable and healthy life with her children. 

We're so proud to know this courageous woman and see the impact that your generosity and partnership makes for these brave survivors!