Salvadoran businesses bring creative investments to prevent violence

By Jillian Slutzker

April 14, 2015

Inaugurating its ninth partnership with the private sector during the last two years, the El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention Project is generating new resources and energy to support youth and prevent violence in the country’s most at-risk areas.

In March, the project welcomed architecture and design company Grupo Del Faro and retail giant Grupo Unicomer to its “We Are with You” partnership initiative.

The El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention project works to strengthen crime and violence prevention at the national and municipal level, working currently in 55 municipalities. The project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is implemented by Creative Associates International in partnership with El Salvador’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

Designing safe public spaces

4-225x300 In Salvadoran neighborhoods plagued by drugs and gang-related violence, public streets and parks can be some of the most dangerous places for young people to congregate.

Architectural, construction and design firm Del Faro is taking a stand against violence to renew the use of safe, shared public space for 13 of the country’s most at-risk municipalities.

Enhancing security in public areas is a critical step toward reducing crime and restoring hope to a community’s residents, says Acting Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in El Salvador, Larry Sacks.

“We know that having adequate, accessible and attractive public spaces is crucial for the development of these communities and for the safety of its inhabitants, especially children and young people,” Sacks said at the March 25 partnership signing with Grupo Del Faro in San Salvador, which coincided with the seventh anniversary of the architecture start-up.

The Del Faro group, which is contributing $325,000 to the project, will create and develop 13 graphic and architectural design plans for public spaces, valued at $25,000 per plan. These designs will take into account crime prevention principles and map out how to improve public areas in a 500-100 square meter space.

The designs will be presented in digital format and physical models to the 13 mayors of these municipalities for consideration. Majors will be allowed to choose between a park, a sports compound or a pedestrian street.

Harold Sibaja, Director of the El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention Project, says that since the spaces will be designed with crime prevention in mind, he hopes they will be “revolutionary,” providing a snapshot to the community of their municipal infrastructure before and what it could be after Del Faro’s project.

Several mayor of these communities, who attended the partnership inauguration ceremony, have already endorsed the initiative to rejuvenate public spaces, recognizing the potential to enhance community cohesiveness in the process.

Speaking at the partnership signing ceremony, Mayor of Tecoluca, Alfredo Hernández said, “This new idea will help because it, through partnerships, will provide people with new options and new spaces for recreation, and thus set aside the issues of violence.”

According to Alejandro Estrada, Creative Director of the Del Faro group, “the social projection plan will be tailored to the needs of each locality. The idea is to reflect the municipality’s identity and deliver a project representing the area.”

Building character & passing it on

As Grupo Del Faro gets underway with its design plans, Grupo Unicomer–a top international retail company based in the country–will join the El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention Project to empower the coordinators, volunteers and mentors who keep youth prevention activities running at the project’s 75 outreach centers nationwide.

These outreach centers provide at-risk youth with a safe space away from the danger of the streets and offer programs—including sports, job training, tutoring, life skills support and volunteer opportunities.

Through the partnership with Grupo Unicomer, 180 outreach center coordinators, volunteers and mentors from 30 outreach centers will receive training on character building, which they will then impart to other at-risk youth in their communities through workshops and mentorship. The company will provide each trainee with a copy of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey.

“We want the participants to become agents of change; for their environment to have the tools and necessary knowledge to bring that change about; and for them to transmit that knowledge to young people around them, thus becoming positive role models in our society and, in this way, contribute to strengthening the principles and values of others” said Juan José Girón, General Manager of Unicomer, speaking at the March 19 partnership signing ceremony.

Instilling positive life skills and empowering youth are essential components of the outreach center methodology, which provides young people avenues to engage in positive activities and volunteerism as alternatives to the violence and crime that plagues many of El Salvador’s poverty-stricken areas where gangs have taken root.

Speaking at the partnership ceremony, Girón said that the mission of the El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention Project is particularly close to home for the company, which employs residents of some of the country’s most at-risk neighborhoods.

“Unicomer Group’s primary social responsibility objective is to improve the quality of life of employees’ families; and of the communities it serves through programs with social, economic and environmental impacts,” he said.

Engines of the economy & prevention

The private sector is an increasingly important member of the coalition to stem crime and violence among youth in the country, which just witnessed its most violent month on record in a decade, with more than 15 homicides per day largely due to gang violence.

Speaking to the business community at the Del Faro partnership ceremony, Sibaja said, “You, entrepreneurs, are the engines of the economy; are those who by joining the municipal prevention work can place the country in a new context; and contribute to give vulnerable youth in the highest risk communities a hopeful future that is less violent.”

As more and more companies like Del Faro and Unicomer step up to join the fight against crime and violence in the country, the potential to bring hope and opportunity to many more young people and their neighborhoods is expanding.

“We are confident that this partnership will bear great fruit,” said USAID El Salvador Democracy and Governance Officer, Adam Smith, at the Unicomer ceremony.

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