A mini international youth forum on violence took place on Sunday in Comunidad Segundo Montes. Over 50 young people aged 13-34 came from Segundo Montes and Cacaopera in Northern Morazán, from the Lower Lempa region in Usulután and a dual language school School in Northern California. Though first time in Morazán, the kids from California were on their second Voices delegation to El Salvador.
The objective of the exchange was to facilitate a meeting and reflection among youth groups in three different contexts, in order to generate knowledge and awareness of the situation of youth violence in El Salvador and possible alternatives.
Violence seems to be one of El Salvador’s biggest threat to the flourishing of its’ future generations. In a country the size of Massachusetts with the population of 6.34 million, this March it reported 481 murders averaging about 16 a day. The reality of life in many parts of the country means living daily under the anarchic control of rival gangs. Gang membership in El Salvador is reported to be around 25,000. Young boys and girls are recruited every day, usually as an alternative to them or their family members being killed. Up until recently, Morazán youth have been able to escape that reality while communities in the Lower Lempa region experience an ongoing cycle of senseless violence due to gangs and drugs.
The daylong event opened with introductions, an energetic icebreaker and developing guidelines with the large group. Afterwards, Balmoris, a leader of Segundo Motes youth group Organizacaion Social Casa Abierta(OSCA), gave a detailed presentation on the history of violence in El Salvador. He started in 1932, the year when tens of thousands of indigenous people were massacred for fighting to stop the exploitation and pillage of their lands over coffee. He continued with the civil war up until today’s alarming problem with gang violence. Youth then participated in an activity aimed at building diversity awareness where they were able to visualize intersections of diversity and briefly discuss the social and personal impacts of privilege and power. The final workshop was analyzing insecurity in a local context; small groups dissected a specific form of violence in their community, developed a creative diagram to explain it, and ultimately brainstormed ways that youth can be catalysts for combating that reality. Donatilla, also from OSCA ended the day by presenting the work of INJUVE, the National Youth Institute formed to protect and advocate for young people’s rights in El Salvador.
Sharing each other’s realities opened up a lot of dialogue between the youth from the Lower Lempa region and Segundo Montes. While they practically share the same history they have since experienced a much different problem with violence. In the end, many of the participants expressed a feeling of gratitude and willingness to continue the discussion at a second forum in the Lower Lempa.