CENTRAL AMERICA – El Salvador
Changing public perceptions
Life is challenging for people like Débora in El Salvador. With high rates of violence and lack of employment all young people are seen as troublemakers by the media. In rural Cacaopera, where Débora Mestanza lives, levels of violence are lower than in the cities but gang culture is slowly creeping in and attracting young people to that way of life. It often provides a sense of belonging and stability not found in their families. The media often gives a very negative view of the young so Débora wants to show a positive image of young people engaged with political and environmental issues.
The youth group, to which Débora belongs, has received training on how to ‘know their rights’ and stand up for them. They are insistent that they want the government to put aside a larger budget for young people. In urban areas you can get internet and better facilities but in rural areas many do not have these opportunities. When they finish school the only option is to be a housewife or hammock maker. With high unemployment, mass emigration is draining the country of its young people. The pull is very strong. Gloria, part of the same youth group, admitted she wants to go to the US as she has family there and sees a better future as a graduate. The reasons to leave are strong.
The youth group in Cacaopera has members aged from 14-25. Their meetings are made up of those that come eager to work and share ideas and have fun. The training they receive can be used on job applications as it is nationally recognised. It shows their skills and capabilities. They use a weekly radio programme to broadcast interesting items for people of their own age. They have collected supplies for those affected by recent flooding and plan parties and take events out to the community. Débora still lives with her parents, two sisters and brothers. She graduated from college recently and has gained sponsorship to work at a day nursery school centre with children aged 3-11. As part of the youth group she has learnt many new skills.
“I like the work we do on health and education. At first my mum did not like me going but I think she has realised I needed to learn more. I told her the topics we learn about have helped me emotionally. We didn’t learn about pollution or HIV in school. From my point of view I feel proud. I have been able to have contact with other young people. However, I would like to be working in a paid job.”
When asked for a message for young people in the UK she said. “They have the advantage of time, so go and do something worthwhile with it.” Débora Mestanza CREDIT: Linda Mead/cforl