New centers for youth in El Salvador

By Jillian Slutzker

November 5, 2014

With the inauguration of 72 new youth outreach centers in 13 municipalities across El Salvador, youth living in many of the most crime-affected communities will now have access to a safe space for recreation, as well as opportunities for personal and professional growth.

With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Creative Associates International opened the new centers in the last three months, bringing the total number of outreach centers in El Salvador to 113—and five more are planned to open by the end of 2014. In all of Central America, there are 201 outreach centers.

“These outreach centers will make a difference,” said Harold Sibaja, who leads Creative’s El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention Project, at the opening of the Estanzuela Outreach Center in the municipality of Quezaltepeque on September 8. “Many times, our youth are lost in the violence due to lack of opportunities, a lack of a place to be safe or a lack of direction. The outreach center is the place where you have all that and more.”

The outreach center model was pioneered by Creative in 2006 in Guatemala and has since provided youth in at-risk communities throughout El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama with safe spaces and programs that address the factors that make youth vulnerable to violence.

The 72 new outreach centers, which are expected to benefit more than 25,000 youth, are part of the USAID-funded El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention Project. The five-year project works to bolsters the ability of communities, municipalities and national institutions to address violent crime.

Organizers and local officials report a decline in crime near the outreach centers.

Epidemic levels of homicides

With a homicide rate of 41.2 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

In the first nine months of 2014, the murder rate averaged 66.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, and the total number of homicides for 2014 is expected to surpass last year’s total by more than 1,000. In May of this year, murder rates spiked to more than double rates in May of the previous year.

Young people are both victims and perpetrators of these acts of violence.

U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte, speaking at an inauguration in the municipality of Usulután on September 5, recognized the outreach centers’ vital role in the community.

“Today’s children and youth now have a safe place where they can study, have fun, learn new skills and new values,” the U.S. Ambassador said at the El Calvario Outreach Center. “Parents will no longer have to worry about where their children are, because now they will be in the outreach centers.”

To ensure their long-term sustainability, Creative’s 72 new centers have been designed and launched together with community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and municipal governments.

“I have always believed that the door to the development of municipalities is education, and today is the day we are opening that door of learning, because that is our responsibility as mayors—to open paths to youth,” said Jesus Medina, Mayor of the municipality of Conchagua, speaking at the opening of the Conchagua Outreach Center on August 28.

Reaching beyond youth, the outreach centers will bring positive opportunities and violence reduction to the community at large. Creative’s outreach center methodology places community coordinators and volunteers in leadership roles to support and sustain center activities.

“The outreach center is a gift to this community,” says Edenilson Flores, Coordinator of the Azacualpa Outreach Center in the municipality of Ilobasco. “It is a gift that we all must keep, use and care for.”

Private sector support

The private sector is also taking a lead role in developing and equipping the new centers.

In a $2.8 million alliance with the project, Microsoft Corp. has outfitted centers across El Salvador with educational software applications, including Office 365, Microsoft Mathematics 4.0 and Microsoft Worldwide Telescop for 800 computers.

The company will also provide training to more than 130 information technology coordinators on the platform and other programs accessible to beneficiaries through the Cloud.

For local companies, supporting the outreach centers is part of a larger corporate strategy to contribute to the national effort to combat violence.

The telecommunications company Claro El Salvador will be providing Internet service to all 72 new outreach centers as well as 200 jobs for youth from vulnerable communities

In the municipality of Acajutla, the warehousing company Almacenadora del Pacífico (ALMAPAC) has contributed $40,000 to purchase computers in two outreach centers, citing the importance of equipping spaces to provide an alternative to violence for children and youth. The company’s staff are serving as volunteers at the centers.

In the municipality of Soyapango, the AGRISAL group, through its World Plaza Mall, contributed $20,000 to a new outreach center in the Río Las Cañas community to purchase computer equipment and provide training materials and shirts to beneficiaries in several communities for the next two years.

With the investment of the private sector, backing of municipal leaders and engagement of local civil society groups and community members, the 72 new outreach centers are built on a solid foundation to support Salvadoran youth in at-risk communities with positive opportunities for growth and development.

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