A Second ‘For My Neighborhood’ Youth Outreach Center Opens its Doors

October 23, 2008


SAN SALVADOR – Oct. 23, 2008 – The Regional Youth Alliance USAID-SICA opened its second youth Outreach Center in El Salvador, this one in Lourdes where it provides youth a chance to learn new skills away from the influences of gangs.

The Lourdes Outreach Center will offer computer training, maintenance and repair courses, tailoring and baking, among other activities. The Center will also offer workshops that raise awareness of the dangers of drug use and engage community volunteers as teachers.

“Right after cutting the ribbon, it was great to see all those kids go to the computers and, in many cases, use them for the first time,” said Salvador Stadthagen, Creative’s Director of the Regional Youth Alliance USAID- SICA program.

A pioneering program, the Regional Youth Alliance provides alternatives for at-risk youth who are vulnerable to the lure of gangs in their poor neighborhoods. The Alliance is a collaboration among the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Central American Integration System (SICA) and Creative Associates International, Inc. that launched earlier this year. This timely project is a direct response to the public security, investment and development challenges confronting Central America because of youth gangs. Gang activity has contributed to driving crime rates in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – where the Alliance is active – to among the highest in the region.

The project, known in Spanish as Alianza Joven Regional, offers a unique approach to the social challenges posed by disaffected youth in the region. Building on Creative’s successful Guatemala Youth Alliance Program, also funded by USAID, the program serves to help reconcile country-specific approaches and the lack of coherent legislation in Central America to lead to the development of regional solutions to address gang violence.

The Lourdes “For My Neighborhood” Outreach Center is the second to be opened in El Salvador after the Father Rafael Palacios Educational and Vocational Center (CFO) in Mejicanos, and brings to 10 the number of centers opened in the region; eight of the centers are in Guatemala. At least three more centers are expected to open in El Salvador within the next year; each center will serve about 300 young people, ages 9 to 21.

“We would like to think that keeping these young people away from entering gangs would be just a click away, but it is more complex than that, said Stadthagen. “But by showing them a wider world, paying them a little attention, helping the kids with homework so they stay in school, which is part of what an Outreach Center does, will certainly go a long way.”

The Lourdes Outreach Center is also supported by Iglesia del Camino Lourdes, a neighborhood church established by Pastor Jaime Guatemala, at the age of 21, 10 years ago.  Today, Pastor Guatemala’s congregation has grown to 400 members.

Pastor Guatemala has big ambitions for Lourdes, Stadthagen said. “He wants to see less violence and does not want to see Lourdes go the way Soyapango, a local community with extremely high violence, is going.”

Located just 10 miles west of San Salvador in the Municipality of Colon, Lourdes is densely populated with 2,500 people per square mile and a total population just under 200,000. It’s known to be among the most violent areas in the country with 130 communities and more than 100 active gangs.

In addition to Stadthagen and Pastor Guatemala, the inauguration was attended by USAID Democracy and Governance Officer, Jennifer Link, SICA legal counsel, Cesar Salazar, and El Salvador  government officials.

“We will dedicate all our energy, all our care, so we turn this Center into a true space of hope for the youth of Lourdes,” said Pastor Guatemala. “This brings hope to Lourdes, we can now dream of a new Lourdes.  This Center will be all what the community wants it to be, specially the volunteers who will be the ones that truly run this Center.”

To read more about the launch of the Lourdes Outreach Center in Spanish, click here.

— Alexandra Pratt

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