Fighting gangs with jobs, El Salvador non-profit steers youth away from crime

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 2 April 2020 17:42 GMT

The El Salvador based organisation won the prestigious Skoll Award to keep youth away from gangs and crime

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, April 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Community cafes and after-school clubs aren't obvious tools for tackling gang violence but a non-profit picked up a prestigious award on Thursday for the creative ways it helps over a million young Latin Americans avoid crime and find jobs.

El Salvador-based Glasswing International trains thousands of community volunteers in some of the world's most dangerous neighborhoods to show jobless teenagers there is an alternative to a life of crime and gangs.

In a region where one in four young people neither studies nor works, the organization offers therapy to adolescents from the slums of Mexico to Honduras and trains them to work as bakers, electricians and technicians.

One in two who completes the program obtains a job.

Breaking cycles of violence that can last for generations won Glasswing accolades at the annual Skoll awards for social entrepreneurs who address global problems like hunger and climate change.

Often fuelled by drug and gang-violence, 17 of the 20 countries in the world with the highest murder rates are found in Latin America, according to the Igarape Institute, a Brazil-based think-tank.

In El Salvador, street gangs known as 'maras' lure teenagers who drop out of school into their ranks with promises of a better life and an escape from abusive homes.

"Violence is a consequence of exposure to violence and trauma. The best way to heal trauma is a human connection... (with) role models and mentors," said Celina de Sola, co-founder of Glasswing.

Through partnerships with hospitals and schools in cities like New York young people are assigned mentors such as university students and company employees.

Students - for whom stabbings and shootings are part of everyday life - receive psychosocial support and attend after-school clubs, improving behavior which in turn makes communities safer, according to experts.

After-school clubs "increase students' belief that they themselves can determine their fate or control their lives," said a 2017 study by Chile's Pontifical Catholic University.

Other 2020 Skoll Award winners included an organization using mobile phones to improve healthcare among pregnant women in India and a think-tank providing research on clean transport.

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(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney, Editing by Tom Finn, (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly)

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