Living in the world’s murder capital and fighting back with education
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Felix is a 20 year-old young man from El Salvador. There, he studies to become a social worker. In this guest blog, Felix is calling on world leaders to put the spotlight on the violence situation happening in his country, and to work with young people to find solutions.
Studying at University is the best thing that happened to me. I’m convinced that anyone who studies can get the tools, knowledge and potential to change the world.
Living in the world’s murder capital
All over the world, there is violence coming from the fact that people lack education. Unfortunately, El Salvador is no exception. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most violent countries worldwide, with a murder rate 10 times higher than the global average.
Especially as young people, we face situations of social violence on a daily basis: Theft, assaults, massacres, murder, rape as well as drugs and trafficking are only some of them. Like most boys and girls in this country, I am afraid whenever I am walking in the streets.
The country is controlled by gangs which are usually linked to organized crime. They have a significant territorial control and force people to be confined in their community. People need to ask permission to gang members in order to get in or out of their own communities, and even pay a fee.
Living in El Salvador is a daily high risk, especially to young people. On average 24 people get murdered each day, 80% of which are young men, 5 to 6 people disappear every single day.
Access to health and education are also impacted. If a person from a territory controlled by one of the gangs gets sick and that the health centre is located in the territory controlled by another gang, that person will be denied access to medical assistance.
We cannot study freely either. The route to school, and the school itself present dangers for young people. 20% of schools in my country host gang members, leading to extortions, forced recruitments, psychological and sexual violence.
Salvadorian youth is living in fear, constantly intimidated by threats. They feel powerless, and obviously end-up having very low self-esteem.
Seeking refuge elsewhere
All of this forces children and youth to illegally migrate abroad. More than 18,000 people migrate out of the country yearly, seeking safety and life opportunities. Almost 90% of those are young people.
Travelling on the so called “migrant route” is extremely dangerous with risks of abandonment, organ trafficking and murder to forced recruitment. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable, facing a really high risk of sexual violence and abuse.
Displacements also happen internally: Complete families are forced to abandon their homes in order to save their lives, leaving everything behind to start over with nothing but hope.
One incident that really shocked me was when a 12 year old daughter of a local Baker disappeared. The words “Watch, Hear and Shut up” had been written on the Bakers Wall. The Baker later found his daughter’s body in a swamp after searching it with his neighbours. The girl had been hanged. The kidnapping and killing of the baker’s daughter had been ordered by the gang leader who heard that the Baker had reported to a policeman that he had seen two men digging holes in the nearby cemetery after a boy had previously been reported gone missing. After finding the girl’s body the Baker closed his bakery, abandoned their house and left for ever. The policeman’s body was also found in the swamp.
Fighting back with education
Sharing my knowledge with others is something I am passionate about. In my community I do so by joining the youth groups supported by Plan International and participating in workshops where I can teach other young people about their rights. They often forget they have human rights. They forget they have a right to go to school, to walk in the streets free from the fear of being killed, beaten or raped.
When working with youth groups, the gangs in the community are a constant threat. They identify the young people attending the meetings and can try to forcibly recruit them, or worse, kill them. But I have a strategy. Before starting youth meetings Plan International helps me organising pre-meetings with the community leaders for the gangs to let us in. It’s not perfect, since gangs members will still observe us and not hesitate to torture or kill anyone that says something they don’t like.
In El Salvador, the mere fact of being a young man is a crime. Just because you are a young man you are at a high risk of being killed or forcibly recruited. My friend was killed just because he went into one gang’s territory wearing the colour of another gang.
That is why I want to be a social worker. I want young people in my community to stop being scared. I want them to understand they have rights and give them the tools to fight for them. I believe that together we can stop this violence, create a barrier to the gangs and change the future of the country.
Today, I feel I have a responsibility to help the youth of my country. To represent the ones who don’t have the opportunity to stand-up for their rights. At the World Humanitarian Summit, I willshare the Salvadorian youth experiences and explain to world leaders how social violence can destroy the lives of young people, who have to give-up on their dreams and goals.
My message to world leaders
We have a situation of violence in El Salvador that needs to be visible and recognized. It’s time to turn the spotlight on this region of the world, to discuss solutions and new tools, to work together in order to help our countries make their way out of violence. I hope the “Compact for Young People and Humanitarian Action” can be a way of doing this and that governments and organisation will support it.
Every single day children and youth die, see their rights violated and are forced to leave their dreams behind.
Help us make this situation visible, help us promote education based on rights, principles and moral values in basic social groups such as family, friends and school.
We need a change of vision in addressing violence. Our population needs a break, the world needs a change.
We, young people, are the present and future of our countries. Fear and violence has forced us to stay silent, but today I am asking you to listen, and to work with us. We need opportunities, other than by joining gangs, to be safe and earn money.
I also want to call on all Salvadorians not to lose hope. If we promote an education based on a culture of peace, starting with our own families, communities and schools, together we can fight violence. Don’t be afraid of us, do not discriminate us, give us opportunities to thrive and change the future of our country.
The names and locations throughout this blog have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals.