SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — This country’s cities and its young people too often make negative headlines focused on crime and violence. Gabriela Castellón dispelled those myths about her town in the southeastern department of La Union.
“I want to tell you a story,” she said, standing in front of an audience of 250 government officials, media, and community members during the July 20 kickoff of the #PorMásPuertas (“For More Doors”) campaign in San Salvador.
“I come from a beautiful place called Las Tunas, in Conchagua. A place full of sun, beach, seafood and music…a place where young people and children [once] had no place to learn, play and make friends,” she said.
As the coordinator of the Las Tunas Outreach Center, Castellón is changing this narrative and opening doors for young people in her community with access to a violence-free space where they can learn new skills and chart a positive course for their lives.
The For More Doors campaign, which will run until October, aims to position the Outreach Center as a successful community model for violence prevention at the national level—promoting community volunteerism, engaging institutions and companies in the Outreach Centers, and bringing in more beneficiaries.
At the #PorMásPuertas campaign launch in San Salvador, Outreach Center coordinators spoke about the importance of creating a second home and opportunities for youth in high-crime neighborhoods. Photo by Ivan Enrique Flores.
As part of the El Salvador Crime and Violence Prevention Project—funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International—Outreach Centers are a youth violence prevention tool at use in high-risk, violence-plagued communities.
These centers provide opportunities for children and youth in volunteering, job training, and tutoring, and offer them opportunities to creatively use their leisure time off the streets and away from violence. Currently, 123 project-supported Outreach Center operate in 17 municipalities.
The Outreach Centers’ “The Challenge of Dreaming My Life” methodology helps participants develop life plans and set goals in the short-, medium- and long-term, contributing to their own improvement and the renewal of their communities.
To galvanize more youth and community members to get involved in the Outreach Centers, the band Friguey has joined the campaign and will launch a campaign concert tour called Tour x + Doors.
OPENING DOORS TO A SECOND HOME FOR YOUTH
For Outreach Center coordinators, mentoring at-risk young people and helping them find a better path has become their mission.
Speaking at the campaign launch, Andres Vanegas, Coordinator of the Ilobasco Outreach Center said, “Every day we coordinators walk from our homes to do one thing—open the doors of our centers. We open the doors so that the young people of our communities can reach their second home. We open the doors to help realize dreams and to save lives. We open the doors to sow hope, friendship, and values.”
Outreach Centers in El Salvador have opened their doors to more than 22,000 young beneficiaries who daily move away from negative actions and build plans for their lives through the services Outreach Centers provide.
Volunteers, many of them youth, are critical to this, generating an average 8,243 Outreach Center volunteer hours per month and delivering their knowledge and experience to other young people to build a better community together.
This tireless dedication to improving the lives of their communities’ youth is working, said Castellón, the Coordinator of Las Tunas Outreach Center.
“Two years later, in my Outreach Center over 500 young people in Las Tunas daily enjoy their second home. Here, they laugh, play, learn and dream…and with them we build a better community, a better city, a better country,” she said.
These changes have even spread beyond the Outreach Center, affecting the community as a whole.
“Today Las Tunas is a different place,” she said. “It is still full of sun, sand, and seafood, but now also with hope and dreams for our youth. I have faith that ultimately out of these doors will walk men and women who will change El Salvador.”