Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In 1997 El Salvador replaced Colombia as the most violent society in Latin America, according to World Bank figures on the number of homicides per 10,000 inhabitants. To a large degree this horrifying statistic is a legacy of twelve years of civil war, which left deep psychological scars on both the perpetrators and the victims of atrocities, and contributed to an overabundance of readily available firearms. Despite positive macroeconomic indicators in the years since the 1992 peace accords were signed, including an average five percent annual increase in Gross Domestic Product, the bulk of the population has yet to reap the benefits of post-war "stability," and crime is fueled by the desperation of young former combatants who see violence as their only "skill" and theft as their only source of income. The country is kept afloat by dollar remittances from over a million and a half Salvadorans who fled to the United States during the war. However, many of those emigrants settled in inner-city neighborhoods, where their children grew up amidst all the social ills that plague economically depressed areas-including gangs. Salvadoran youths who left their homeland at an early age, became involved with gangs, and were detained by U.S. police and immigration authorities as a result of criminal behavior, are now being deported en masse back to a homeland they barely recognize. As they step off the plane in San Salvador, with little money and often a very weak command of Spanish, the only structures waiting to receive them are extensions of the gangs they were involved with in the U.S. Given the lack of any other option, these young people very quickly move into criminal activity, ranging from theft and muggings to murder, either of rival gang members or of victims who resist their attacks.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Magdaleno Rose-Avila realizes that the fundamental flaws in existing attempts to address the explosive problem of gang violence grow out of their failure to involve gang members themselves in the design of outreach efforts and a lack of understanding about the lives of these young people and their reasons for becoming involved with gangs in the first place. At great risk to himself, he set about the task of meeting gang members, winning their trust, and learning about their experiences, fears and aspirations. These efforts enabled him to create Homeboys United, the first organization in the region set up by gang members themselves to explore their own ideas for leading better lives, rather than simply receiving services offered by other institutions. There are several truly unique dimensions to the approach of Homeboys United. Firstly, no other organization has encouraged gang members to design their own structures or propose their own solutions to the root causes of their problems. Secondly, nobody else has been able to create an environment in which members of rival gangs can work together. Thirdly, Magdaleno is the only agent creative enough to work within the existing structures of the gangs, recognizing that their bond of acceptance is a powerful lure to disillusioned and alienated young people, and that he can build on their sense of belonging while working against the violence and anti-social behavior for which the gangs are reviled. Finally, he has forged links with police and immigration officials both in El Salvador and the United States to educate them about positive contributions they can make to the resolution of the gang problem. By facilitating the development of an organization that offers help and understanding to youths who want to escape the violence of their current predicament, Magdaleno has established a structure and method for the self-rehabilitation of gang members that can now be replicated across El Salvador, and eventually throughout Central America and Mexico.