Individual El Salvador

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Individual El Salvador

El Salvador
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Lorena Cuerno has designed a model to engage youngsters in the fight against street crime and social violence in El Salvador, building on their own forms of social organization and expression to explore more hopeful alternatives.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

During the war in El Salvador, and in the years that followed, a fluid migration of youngsters has taken place between the United States and El Salvador. Many of them speak some English but are not able to communicate effectively in Spanish because they had to start working before finishing school in order to help their families. To complicate the situation, family breakdown and lack of employment opportunities fuel the social isolation of these adolescents, who tend to find the maras (gangs) to be the only groups that give them a sense of belonging. Crime and street gangs thus come to constitute a modus vivendi for adolescents. Other young people in less precarious economic situations are also drawn to the camaraderie and thrill of gang activity and culture, swelling the ranks or form rival groups, contributing to a veritable explosion of street violence and insecurity in cities and towns across the country. Becoming part of a group allows the youngsters to develop a limited but quite original language of their own, as well as clothing and tattoos which distinguish them from other bands. Peer pressure and economic stagnation, as well as social disdain within a Salvadoran culture that demands strict conformity, drive more young people into the embrace of the gangs. El Salvador currently has the highest homicide rate in the hemisphere, according to recent World Bank statistics. The number of Salvadoran youth in maras, or in groups which have been identified by the police as delinquents, may be as high as 200,000 -- in a country of six million inhabitants. Similar problems are already emerging in Nicaragua and Guatemala, other post-war societies in the region struggling to rebuild and find ways to integrate their young people into productive economic activity. But as in El Salvador, it is difficult to bring disaffected youth into job programs or training initiatives without first engaging them on their own terms.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Lorena Cuerno is determined to reach out to the legions of disaffected youth who are growing up in an environment of economic and social insecurity, and who increasingly turn to drugs, crime and gang involvement in the absence of supportive alternatives. She knows there are no easy or immediate solutions, but Lorena has established a means for engaging young people on their own terms, through their own media, building on positive associations to create options for work and study, instead of violence. She performs, manages, organizes and provides follow-up to rock concerts and youth encounters, directed not only to adolescents already mired in illegal and anti-social behavior, but also to a wider audience which can be sensitized to the risks and costs of violence. With determination and courage, she ventures into marginal neighborhoods and public plazas to hold concerts, youth festivals and street performances which bring together hundreds, and sometimes thousands of adolescents. Musical performances are supplemented by workshops and the formation of youth groups where adolescents learn to explore, develop and articulate constructive ways of living. In El Salvador, a country plagued by social problems related to violence in the aftermath of a civil war, many organizations have tried to work with youngsters in the promotion of non-violence. However, few have been successful, mostly because they lack the skills to deal in an integral way with the psycho-social, emotional and economic dimensions that lead youth to involve themselves with street gangs. Lorena focuses on one of the most critical aspects which can lead to the successful interaction of youngsters with society at large: verbal and written communication skills. She has realized that the best way to engage the youth is by framing her outreach in the musical genre they have embraced as their own. Lorena not only validates rock as a form of communication and expression for the recognition, acceptance and creation of new opportunities for these youngsters. She also uses it as means to reach otherwise-isolated adolescents who have lost all hope of finding alternatives to crime and unemployment.