I think it’s about time I gave you all an update on what we have been doing in San Salvador!

We spent the first week having lots of introductory meetings and getting to know how Centro Bartolome de las Casas (CBC) works in San Salvador. They run 2 main projects here: Zona Cero and Celula Juvenil. Both projects involve working with young people from four main ‘at risk’ schools in the area to combat issues such as violence, sexual health awareness and gender inequalities. Many young people in these schools are targeted by gangs because they come from poverty and are therefore vulnerable to accepting entry into gangs simply because they have little opportunity open to them.

We visited schools and learned how they use co-operative games to engage young people and they encourage them to take on responsibility in their own schools by leading their own workshops. CBC say that this teaches leadership skills to the young people and helps them think for themselves. This is vital in helping them make the right decisions about gang membership, and is also an important life skill. In general young people are given little voice here: they don’t have the opportunity to participate in governance over their schools or their country and few care about their opinions. I guess at home few young people are engaged in those things too, but that’s through choice – you can usually join a school council or a youth parliament or even a youth group to make your voice heard in things that affect you.

School in El Salvador

Last week we spent three days painting a mural in the school Basilio Plantier. We were told that this school teaches children particularly targeted by gangs. Looking around many of the houses and blocks of shanty flats are home to whole families sharing a single room. The mural was about HIV/AIDS, gender violence and a culture of peace, and we had an artist alongside us so the painting looked professional! It was really good! I enjoyed being there because we were interacting with young people all the time and we got to know each other really well while painting. I hope the mural raises awareness of the issues we were trying to portray. Afterwards we explained the meaning behind the artwork and briefly spoke about the issues involved.

On leaving the school I was told that 3 teenage girls were murdered just outside the school the night before our last day of painting. It’s likely it was gang related which really hit home for me how big an issue this is. CBC engages young people in poor areas with positive role models; many of which go to university or volunteer so this positive interaction is really important.

This was just a quick blog to update you. We have more painting coming up, but this weekend we are having a pyjama party and climbing a mountain – exciting stuff!! :-D

Photos: top - Natasha (right) with a young colleague; middle - Natasha and other Empower volunteers with the school children.