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The Secret Truth of Mental Health in Colombia Colombia is home to some of the most unyielding forms of violence, such as assassinations, assaults and homicides. Significant acts of violence and conflict were first introduced during the La Violencia period. This occurred in 1948 when territorial and civil issues rose between property owners and poor farmers. Historically, violence has been a prevalent theme in Colombia and has heavily impacted many families and communities. Colombia’s low mental health rates increase in rural areas due to trauma, substance abuse and gang violence. Colombia has the largest population in the world of expatriates by an armed conflict, which can have a significant influence on the population’s mental stability. This article will discuss the silent truth about mental health in Colombia.

Trauma Causes Indefinite Effects

According to a scientific research report, the displacement process can cause “physical and psychological consequences associated with exposures to harm and loss during disasters and complex emergencies.” Crime and acts of violence predominantly occur in rural areas; however, the removal then requires significant adjustments to urban areas. Internally displaced individuals are often victims of armed conflict, so they are often removed from their own homes. These adjustments can increase the chances of mental disorders such as “depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.”

According to a study, anxiety disorders are prominent in victims who have experienced more vile acts of violence. Even so, side effects and symptoms begin to deplete after nearly five years. Individuals also experience more side effects if they have suffered trauma due to the actual act or witnessing of violence, rather than the loss of a loved one. Furthermore, pursuing or witnessing violent actions causes behavioral issues. These events induce physiological trauma, which then affects others directly or indirectly.

Substance Abuse Takes Full Control

There are many factors as to why individuals experience mental health issues. However, a pattern has developed among the type of issues between genders. According to a psychological survey inducted in Colombia, women experience a significant increase in depression, while men experience increased alcohol addiction due to violent behavior or witnessing violent acts. In terms of the drug market economy, Colombia is well known for supplying cocaine internationally. However, on average, alcohol is the most popular drug of choice, beginning at the age of 14, which leads to the vulnerability of alcohol abuse.

The continuous rise in drug addiction can lead to a lack of financial stability, which thus leads to poverty. In 2018, the poverty rate was 27.8%, a 0.09% decrease from 2016. The lack of finances can lead to more stress on individuals, which exacerbates mental health conditions and proves that the silent truth about mental health in Colombia has a continuous domino effect.

The Aftermath of Gang Violence

Violent gangs are a prominent vessel for drug transportation within Colombia and according to the United Nations, they have displaced over 800 people due to drug trafficking. After the repercussions of La Violencia in 1948, a peace treaty emerged. Nonetheless, it caused many Colombian natives to break apart into two political groups: paramilitary and guerrillas — both involved in drug trafficking. Gangs are the primary group engaging in drug trafficking and members typically acquire deadly weapons for many purposes. Moreover, weapons can cause years of psychological trauma for gang violence victims.

Street crimes such as robberies are currently the most predominant type of crimes in Colombia. However, gang members usually commit these criminal acts and increase the crime rate countrywide. Although crime rates increase for multiple reasons, including gang activity, Colombia’s government must take further action. The government must take measures to ensure that no more citizens fall victim to gang violence or the aftermath. The consequences of these experiences cause mental disorders for those involved in criminal acts and those associated with individuals involved.

Addressing the Issue

Although there has been a low rate of conflict in Columbia currently, according to a research report, 8 million people have been internally displaced since 1985. The Children of the Andes Foundation is working towards offering more basic rights and a positive environment for children suffering from exposer to violence. The organization was founded on the belief that every at-risk child should have the opportunity to better themselves.  The foundation offers a home to “62 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 18.”

Furthermore, many health institutes have developed in Colombia to combat mental health disorders in hope of decreasing acts of violence. Nevertheless, until their government develops a solution for the ongoing violence, the silent truth about mental health in Colombia will remain.

–  Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

Stopping Gang Violence Success Stories from Within HondurasHonduras is trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty that creates the perfect environment for gangs to thrive. Reports state that gangs and drug traffickers pay off members of the criminal justice system to get away with their crimes. However, despite these injustices, violent crime rates have dropped by half over the last decade as community outreach programs join humanitarian organizations’ efforts in stopping gang violence.

Poverty in Honduras

In 2018, Honduras had a poverty rate of 48.3%. Inequality in the country has led to an extremely small middle class and a large income gap. Gangs feed off of poverty and a lack of government services. Moreover, gangs become the only way young people could get an income and find a semblance of a supportive community.

Honduras has a Corruption Perception Index score of 26 out of 100, which is directly reflected in the fear citizens have of reporting crimes. Gang members can be killed for attempting to leave a gang and many businesses are forced to pay “war taxes” for protection. Luckily, nonprofits and community outreach programs have arisen to intervene in this cycle of violence. Here are a few anti-violence success stories from within Honduras.

The Association For a More Just Society

The Association For a More Just Society (AJS) is a nonprofit that works to create strong community bonds to dissuade violence in Honduras. In terms of working against corruption, AJS investigates and publishes reports about the health care and education sectors. Additionally, they hold youth services in small Honduran communities.

AJS has had remarkable success in terms of reporting cases of corruption by the government and wealthy elites in Honduras. In the public health sector, AJS found that the government purposely overpaid connected businesses for medical supplies and ignored cases of theft. Its reports led to the arrest of 13 officials and increased access to life-saving medication in public hospitals.

The organization also reported corruption in education as teachers who were not showing up to work were being paid and the average student only had 125 school days available to them. The Honduran government had the highest spending budget on education in the region, yet its test scores were still very low. AJS has reduced the percentage of non-working paid teachers from 26% to 1%. Additionally, many schools now hold an average of 200 days of school.

Skate Brothers

Skate Brothers is a community outreach program that was started by the Honduras local, Jessel Edgardo Recinos. He was shot at the age of 16 after being accused of stealing a cell phone from a prominent gang member. This near-death experience inspired Recinos to create a community youth program that taught kids about skateboarding instead of violence.

The group provides a place for Honduran youth to gather after school with friends while learning fun skills like skateboarding, BMX bike riding and rollerskating. Additionally, Slate Brothers provide counseling services to prevent youth from joining gangs. The group performs in parades and street fairs as well as volunteers for the community.

Recinos has convinced members of his youth group to leave gangs and join his community outreach group instead. His goal is to create a supportive community that serves as an alternative to gangs and does not mandate illegal activity. Skate Brothers is one of 64 outreach programs created by USAID’s Honduran Youth Alliance, which now serves 34,000 youth around the country.

Looking Ahead

While gangs in Honduras is still a major issue, nonprofits and community support programs like AJS and Skate Brothers have been instrumental in stopping gang violence. The cycle of violence, poverty and corruption is beginning to break because of the dedication of AJS and the Honduran Youth Alliance. Reciono’s creation of Skate Brothers shows how people in impoverished communities can inspire their peers to join them in stopping gang violence.

– Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

Homeboy Industries“Homeboys has given me hope. It’s given me a better understanding of myself. Before, I just never gave myself a chance. So it’s encouraged me to change my life.” Latisha Valenzuela is one of the thousands of Angelenos and persons worldwide that Homeboy Industries impacted. Founded by Father Greg Boyle in 1988, Homeboy Industries has become the world’s most extensive program that works at least with those involved with gangs and jailed. Recently, an international jury chose the nonprofit organization as the 2020 recipient of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest yearly humanitarian award.

Homeboy Industries is a thought leader and innovator in the area of criminal justice. Its model is fundamentally based on context: standing with the demonized and marginalized, healing them and investing in their futures; it involves a culture of compassion, tenderness and kinship.

Poverty

In its 2018 annual report are the words: “For most, a criminal record is a life sentence to poverty.” Gang violence is an outgrowth of something more profound: deprivation or trauma that an individual experiences. These cause pain and insecurity, which youth (between 12 and 25 years of age as outlined in the report) who are gang members do not or cannot properly deal with, and instead of causing themselves and others pain. Their actions as youth affect their lives as adults.

Not only are gangs and crime a product of poverty, but gangs and corruption contribute to it. It is a cycle. Gangs, crime and poverty must be dealt with together.

Whether or not the following relates to poverty, Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) Niven Rennie said concerning the rise in gang and knife crimes that the “main driver” is poverty. Although there may not be a universal definition of “gang,” it is at least possible that there are potential connections between poverty and gang membership and gang violence:

1. Gangs usually exist in areas where there is a lack of opportunities and social exclusion.

2. Marginalized persons, such as those in poverty, are specifically targeted for recruitment, violence and pressure (p 4); however, gang activities even affect ordinary persons.

3. Gangs exist in developed countries, such as Scotland (at least the U.K., which comprises Scotland) and the U.S., and developing countries, including those in Latin America.

Actions, Not Only Words

Not only are compassion, tenderness and kinship important, so too is providing for those involved in gangs or jailed or are susceptible to becoming involved. Homeboy Industries offers tattoo removal, education, substance abuse support, legal assistance and solar panel training. It also has its very own social enterprises, job training for homeboys and homegirls. Businesses include a bakery and electronics recycling.

Additionally, the nonprofit has a global network, which launched in 2014. Over 400 organizations have emulated or engaged with it to whatever degree. Representatives from countries such as Denmark and Scotland, Nicaragua and El Salvador are part of the network.

In an interview with Devex, a social enterprise connected to the global development community, Boyle is attributed as saying, “Everything is about something else. … The trick in any country is to find the ‘something else.’… Try to find a lack of connection and kinship.” In Scotland, Boyle worked with “the VRU” (as seen in a BBC article) in Glasgow. Braveheart Industries is a charity based on the manifestation of his work in Los Angeles; it has a social enterprise located in Glasgow that employs people with convictions.

El Salvador has seen reductions in levels of poverty and advances in human development. Nevertheless, gangs are active in the country. After he visited Homeboys Industries, Jaime Zablah founded La Factoría Ciudadana in the country. As examples, it offers therapy and tattoo removal.

Hope

International Youth Day was on August 12. Not all youth become gang members; some are “fundamental drivers and critical partners” concerning work concerning conflict-prevention and peace-building. Poverty can hinder the potential of young people: the World Programme of Action for Youth recognizes that basic needs such as education and sustainable livelihoods are crucial for youth social development.

Homeboy Industries has been there for the youth, launching the Summer Youth Program in 2018 as part of its “expansive approach to putting an end to the cycle of incarceration and poverty.” As youth need compassion, tenderness, and kinship, so does the world need youth with great aspirations, such as helping those involved in gangs or jailed.

– Kylar Cade
Photo: Flickr

El Salvador is a small country in Central America that, for several years, has been going through an economic crisis. Due to the persistent levels of gang violence and extreme levels of poverty, it has been challenging for El Salvador to overcome its economic instability. Although economic freedom is insecure, attempts have been made to aid the fight against violence and poverty.

Background

In the 1980s, El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war, and once they prevailed, they set out to become a democracy. The country was praised for its seamless transition into a neoliberal order. However, the levels of gang violence began to rise. Additionally, the government’s lack of acknowledgment was feeding into the political silence.

Gang violence in El Salvador is still a predominant problem because it has led to national security issues. El Salvador currently holds the title for the highest murder and violence rate against children under the age of 19. The NCG, or the National Crisis Group, believes that in order to effectively mitigate these issues, specific police, justice reforms and legal frameworks for rehabilitating former gang members are key for a pacification process.

Gang Violence and Poverty

The severe incline in gang violence has a direct impact on the economic crisis in El Salvador. Nearly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty as both a result of and companion to gang violence. Because of gang violence, the country’s government spends a massive amount of money to relocate individuals to communities across the United States. Moreover, gang violence started with poverty. Poverty in El Salvador was already significant before gang violence became a norm. Additionally, poverty actually fed the rate of gang violence because of the lack of a suitable education system. This led children and teens to grow up on the streets. Gangs would later come full circle and feed into the rising poverty rates.

7 Funds

Amidst all of this political and economic turmoil, David Beckham started a fund to aid those in need in El Salvador. This project is known as the “7 funds.” Beckham started this project by teaming up with UNICEF. Moreover, the focus of the project is to fight violence so that children can grow up free from fear and realize their potential in El Salvador. Furthermore, the 7 funds set up a hotline for children who are in danger or affected by violence.

This project also trains teachers to support children who may be at risk. They have set up committees that help keep schools safe. 7 funds encourage students, teachers and parents to work together and work with the authorities to make a safe place for children to play sports.

Looking Forward

El Salvador has certainly seen better days and will likely see them again. With the work done by David Beckham and UNICEF, the economy is taking a turn for the better. Poverty rates are still high and so is gang violence. However, the rates in childhood violence have gone down, delivering a promising future for prospective generations in El Salvador.

Sarah Mobarak
Photo: Flickr

Violence on Honduras Youth

Honduras, a Central American country located on the Carribean Sea, borders El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Honduras has a population of 8.3 million people, but corruption, poverty and crime continue to plague it. The city of San Pedro Sula boasts the second-highest murder rate in the world after Caracas, Venezuela. As a result, violence on Honduras‘ youth has become an issue.

Poverty in Honduras

The World Bank estimates that 5.5 million people live in poverty. That is two-thirds of the population, amounting to one in every five people. Honduras has the highest level of economic inequality in Latin America; its system “only benefits an elite minority” with close political and economic ties.

The average Honduran lives on $120 dollars per month. The country seems to be making advances in protecting its citizens, and the murder rate is down from 60 people per 100,000 in 2015 to 48 per 100,000 in 2016. However, many Hondurans say the authorities achieved this through excessive force and human rights violations.

Gangs in Honduras

This corruption and poverty lead the way for gangs to take over the streets of Honduras and rule where the government does not. With the expansive poverty and gang activity that runs rampant throughout the country, children facing violence in Honduras is commonplace. Street gangs, known as “maras,” control cities like San Pedro Sula. Drug traffickers use the Carribean coast to smuggle cocaine from South America to the United States.

Gangs often pressure children to join them, making them feel that they will be murdered if they do not. Gang members force young girls to be their girlfriends, and the girls fear rape or murder if they do not agree. Most children start elementary school but quit before they turn 12. Only one out of four go to high school, while the others quit school to support their families.

Most members are under sixteen and feel the loyalty to their friends tested by not joining or wanting to protect themselves and their families from other gangs. These children become sick of fighting the corrupt police on their own and find a way to fight back.

The pressure from these gangs and the violence that they embody drives Honduras’s youth to migrate to places like the United States, even if that means leaving without their families. These children fear for their lives, so they travel across Central America alone in an attempt to live a freer life.

Women in Honduras

Women in Honduras face the highest levels of violence, particularly young girls. In 2015, 417 women were killed because of their gender. They face a high level of domestic abuse with 89 killings in San Pedro Sula being from domestic violence. According to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, 90 percent of these killings will go unpunished.

While violence and gangs are an everyday part of life in Honduras, women and children face the brunt of this force. They often choose to migrate because they have to flee the dominant gang in their area, such as when their place of work has been shut down by impossible extortion quotas that they cannot meet. Children face pressure from a young age to join a gang.

Helping Honduras

Attempting to alleviate the impact of violence on Honduras’ youth starts with many organizations dedicated to helping its citizens lead better lives. HELP Honduras is a program aimed at spreading health, education and literacy in Honduras. It wants to educate children so that they have better economic futures and can lead productive lives. This organization builds school and desks while sponsoring children to attend them. It teaches women and mothers marketable skills so that they can work and provide for themselves and their families.

With the help of such organizations, Honduras is starting to make strides to keep its young safe. But, if no one stops the violence rampant in their cities, they will continue to migrate to other countries in an attempt to escape the seemingly perpetual discord.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

Captain Planet
Age is never a barrier in the fight for social justice. At least, Captain Planet teaches this lesson. During the animated series’ six-year span, “Captain Planet and the Planeteers” sought to educate and empower young people to take an interest in environmental issues.

Origin

Media mongrel, Ted Turner, conceived of the idea for Captain Planet. To bring this superhero to life, Turner sought the help of longtime environmentalist and film producer, Barbara Pyle. Inspired by people she met during past projects, Pyle created the Planeteers: Kwame, Gi, Linka, Wheeler and Ma-Ti. Together, the Planeteers and Captain Planet work to combat ecological and global problems.

“Captain Planet and the Planeteers” premiered worldwide in 1990 and the children’s animated series gained popular success as well as critical acclaim. Captain Planet was one of the first television shows to openly advocate for the environment. Apart from addressing environmental issues, the television show also encouraged young people to have an interest in the issues plaguing their own communities. Here are two examples of how Captain Planet challenged its audience to be advocates for nonenvironmental social justice issues.

Issue #1: HIV/AIDS Epidemic

In the early 1990s, the HIV/AIDS epidemic devastated the United States. The number of reported cases was over 100,000 and it affected everyone in sight. Ryan White was one of the first children diagnosed with the deadly virus. Doctors diagnosed White with AIDS when he was 13 years old after he received a blood transfusion. After this diagnosis, White’s school banned him and his community ostracized him, similar to other individuals. People were afraid of White due to the misperception that AIDS could transmit by air or touch.

During the middle of the epidemic, Captain Planet addressed the issue of HIV/AIDS in its episode, “A Formula for Hate.” The episode challenged the audience to put aside ignorance and fear to reduce discrimination against people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The plot of the episode parallels White’s situation after his diagnosis with AIDS. In the episode, the townspeople learn about a student’s (Todd Andrews) HIV-positive diagnosis. The townspeople turn against Andrews and his family, going as far as burning his mother’s vegetable stand. Captain Planet and the Planeteers intervene by educating the townspeople on the virus, dispelling the misperception that HIV cannot be transmitted by casual contact. As a result, Andrews and his family were once again accepted by the townspeople and no longer discriminated against.

Issue #2: Gang Violence

Gangs and firearm violence were on the rise in the United States during the 1990s, especially among young people. In 1990, the number of fatal and nonfatal violent crimes with a firearm was at an all-time high at 18,253. In 1993, 45 cities reported that over 100,000 young people were involved in a gang. The rise in violent crimes created toxic environments among youth and places considered safe zones for young people, like parks and schools, became battlegrounds.

In 1994, Captain Planet addressed the issue of gang and gun violence in the episode, “Teers in the ‘Hood.” The episode’s plot revolved around a shootout between two rival gangs and The Planeteers became caught in the middle of the conflict. Captain Planet and the Planeteers defused the situation by talking about the peace messages of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi. The episode also debunked the myth that gangs offer positive communities for its members. After two of the Planeteers infiltrated one of the rival gangs, the gang quickly pressured them to use violence in order to gain acceptance. In short, the episode’s message was on the power of positive community and peace.

Today, Captain Planet continues providing fun, innovative opportunities to support environmental issues worldwide. To get involved or learn more, visit www.captain planet foundation.org.

– Paola Nunez
Photo: Flickr

Fleeing El Salvator

Poverty, political instability, corruption and gang violence force many to uproot their families and flee their homes in El Salvador. The number of asylum seekers fleeing their country has increased dramatically since the 1980s. Below are eight facts about why so many are fleeing El Salvador and what/who can aid in this humanitarian crisis.

8 Facts about Fleeing El Salvador

  1. El Salvador has one of the lowest economic growth rates in Central America. While rates of poverty have slowly been decreasing in recent years, the high rates of crime and violence create challenges for a growing economy. According to the World Bank, crime and violence make doing business expensive, have negative impacts on investment decisions and also hinder the creation of jobs.
  2. Coffee rust intensifies the threat of poverty. Hemileia vastatrix, also known as “coffee rust”, is a fungus that many Salvadoran coffee farmers fear. This fungus can greatly decrease the amount of mature (sellable) coffee beans in a harvest. With coffee representing 7.5 percent of El Salvador’s exports and sustaining 650,000 jobs, “coffee rust” greatly threatens income and stability of many families.
  3. The threat of climate change also aggravates the cycle of poverty. More than one-third of Salvadorans live in rural areas and depend on agriculture. However, environmental disasters such as floods, droughts and volcanoes combined with changes in climate threaten harvests and income. Within the next few decades, increasing temperatures pose the possibility of declining crop yields by up to 30 percent. Thus, this creates even more worry for Salvadorans whose lives depend on the quality of their harvests.
  4. Uprisings, wars and extreme gang violence contribute to political instability. In 1932, the Salvadoran government massacred approximately 30,000 peasants. From 1979 to 1992, the Civil War (and the Salvadoran army) left another 30,000 dead. Today, gangs contribute to high levels of extortion and hinder an already weak economy. High trends of violence and corruption contribute to reduced trust in government. Furthermore, the government does not have institutions strong enough and prepared to combat rampant gang violence.
  5. Many flee El Salvador due to direct threats of gang violence. In a country with a total population just over 6 million, it’s estimated that there are approximately 60,000 gang members in El Salvador. That’s one gang member out of every 100 people. Between 2014 and 2017 alone, violent gangs are responsible for the deaths of nearly 20,000 Salvadorans. In a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, it make sense that there have been waves of migrants fleeing El Salvador for decades.
  6. Gangs particularly render women and children vulnerable. El Salvador has one of the highest rates of violent deaths of women in the world. More than 25 percent of Salvadoran women report intimate partner violence. Additionally, criminal gangs routinely target girls and women and force them into relationships with gang members or force them into sexual slavery. Some women will try to stay in their homes with their children, not even leaving for school or work in an effort to be safe from the violence.
  7. Save the Children is active in El Salvador. This nonprofit organization supports families by providing means of income for families. In addition, the organization is improving food security and providing health education and care that can deter preventable deaths for mothers and children.
  8. For years, the US gave foreign assistance to El Salvador. Claudia Ivette Canjura de Centeno, the Salvadoran Ambassador to the US, recently said in an interview that US foreign assistance funds to El Salvador are distributed among programs promoting safety, youth empowerment and security. This is done through creating jobs and opportunities and developing spaces of recreation. However, President Trump threatens to suspend economic aid to El Salvador. This will have a huge impact on the progress El Salvador has experienced.

You can do something to make an impact. Call and email your Congressional representatives. Encourage them to oppose cuts to foreign assistance to Central America. People have been fleeing El Salvador with their families and will continue to do so until they no longer feel the threats of poverty, political instability, corruption and gang violence.

El Salvador has a deep history of violence and corruption that contribute to the present situation where many are fleeing their country. For many, the grueling process of migrating and trying to start a new life is too challenging to try. Despite the challenges of that process, it might provide safety, security and opportunities. This outweighs trying to feed one’s family under constant threats of violence and governmental instability. While organizations like Save the Children provides essential aid to Salvadoran communities, addressing deep, systemic issues is what is going to create sustainable security. Please call your representatives and urge them to oppose the suspension of foreign assistance to Central America.

– Keeley Griego
Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents El SalvadorLatin American countries tend to be represented as third-world countries compared to more prosperous ones like the United States. El Salvador is not exempt from such narratives. One such way that the media misrepresents El Salvador is by only covering the negative aspects of the news and not the positive. Some of the negative portrayals include stories about drugs, murders and gang violence.

A Better Future for Salvadorans

While there is this negativity present, there is also a garment factory that is trying to help turn the life of its workers around. This garment factory hired people “who are normally left out of society, including ex-gang members,” according to PBS News Hour. The factory combines school and works to give El Salvador a brighter future.

The factory’s general manager, Rodrigo Bolanos, said, “I saw the American dream, where lower- and middle-class kids can work and study at night in community colleges. And for me, that is a good way to resolve and to give the American dream right here in El Salvador to all these poor people.”

Carlos Arguetta, a previous gang member, wore long sleeves to his interview to try to cover up his tattoos, as described in the report. Through an interpreter, Arguetta stated that if he “didn’t have a job like this one, [he] would probably still be part of the gang and be doing killings.”

Improving Living Conditions in Slums

Another way that the media misrepresents El Salvador is in the way that its citizens live. Descriptions of wooden shacks are abundant when describing living conditions. While that might be true, there are two companies that are trying to change the places that Salvadorans live in.

Recently, a Texas-based construction technology company by the name of ICON partnered with New Story, a company that builds homes in developing countries, in order to provide better living conditions for those stuck in the El Salvador slums. ICON and New Story plan to transport a 3D-printer in order to produce 3D-printed homes for people at a highly reduced building cost.

The companies hope to give people who live in the slums an opportunity to live in a safer housing environment. As reported by Arab News, the mixture that produces the homes contains “a mix of concrete, water and other materials [that] are pumped through the 3D-printer.” The mixture hardens as it is being printed. It only takes 48 hours for a house to be built from the ground up. This is a much better alternative to makeshift shacks that citizens currently live in.

Using Art to Combat Violence

The final persistent misrepresentation of El Salvador in the media is the violence, and while the violence does occur, the nation is often presented as inescapable. However, art is one way that Salvadorans are able to escape their realities.

Marco Paíz is an artist and organizer of a festival by the name of “Sombrilla Fest,” or umbrella fest. It is a festival that is part of a bigger celebration called the World Social Circus Day, which takes place annually on April 7. This day is organized to be an international day to spread joy and is celebrated by 20 nations worldwide.

The goal of the festival is to have people “take over these spaces and these activities so that they [can] come out of the darkness of the violence that surrounds the country,” said Marco Paíz to TeleSur. It can also be an opportunity to motivate Salvadorans to learn the artistic practices so that they are able to improve their own living situation.

Despite the ways in which the media misrepresents El Salvador, there are numerous positive developments happening across this Central American nation.

– Valeria Flores

Photo: Flickr

El Salvador Poverty Rate
El Salvador, a tiny county in Central America, has struggled with corruption and poverty for centuries. The El Salvador poverty rate is one of the highest in the world.

In fact, the most recent official statistics reported that the poverty rate in El Salvador is above a third of the entire population. In 2015, the CIA established that almost 35 percent of El Salvador’s population lived below the poverty line. Other recent data has shown it could be above 40 percent.

One standardized way of measuring poverty thresholds is contrasting a household’s income with the price of a basic family basket of food sufficient to feed the whole household.

A study into the El Salvador poverty rate defines living in poverty as any household whose income does not reach two times the price of a basic family basket of food.

Most data places the price of a basic family basket of food at somewhere between $130 and $184, depending on the rurality of the area. Therefore, if a basket were to be priced at $170 nationwide, then the number of households with a monthly income below $340 would make up the poverty rate.

The El Salvador poverty rate logically goes hand-in-hand with the issue of violent gangs, who have plagued the country since the end of the civil war. A report out of El Salvador has attributed 84 percent of forced displacement to gang violence and crime.

The World Bank and others have pointed to a declining poverty rate in El Salvador, citing a possible seven percent fall since 2000. However, this data has been contradicted.

With a fluctuating GDP, it is difficult to observe any real patterns of economic growth in the nation. This is predominantly because of large-scale corruption.

In fact, just last year former President of El Salvador, Antonio Saca, was arrested on corruption charges. He has been accused of misusing public funds and money laundering. These accusations have come in light of him acquiring five to six million dollars while in office.

The United Nations announced the establishment of a program that will tackle corruption in El Salvador. By working with existing institutions, the anti-corruption program will investigate existing cases while attempting to uncover more.

Most analysts share the belief that before the El Salvador poverty rate can be effectively addressed and significantly shifted, the country must rid itself of the levels of corruption evident today.

Cornell Holland

Photo: Flickr

gang violence

In March, El Salvador, a country that has been struggling to reinvent itself since its bitter 12-year civil war between Marxist rebels and the government ended in 1993, experienced the highest levels of gang-related deaths in over a decade.

According to the BBC, March was the deadliest month in El Salvadorian history since the end of the civil war — with over 11 percent of the population engaged in some form of gang-related activity. Much of this violence was, and continues to be, perpetrated by gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street Gang, both of which have origins in Los Angeles, where they were founded by Central American immigrants. Following forced expulsion out of the United States and back to their home countries, these migrants then settled back into life in El Salvador — carving neighborhoods into various gang-controlled territories in the process.

In 2012, El Salvador’s main gangs signed a truce in an effort to end gang-sponsored violence, which initially saw a drop in gang-related death by 40 percent. Since then, however, gang activity has picked up again at an increasingly violent pace. Currently, El Salvador is on the path to becoming one of the deadliest peacetime countries in the world, with roughly 15 homicides occurring every day in the country of six million, according to PBS.

However, since March, there has been a slight decrease in the number of violent incidences. This is thanks to the efforts of private companies, which have begun to recruit former gang members as employees in an effort to help stall the surge of violence currently overtaking the country.

League Central America, for instance, is a private company that works stitching logos onto American University clothing, such as sweaters bound for Harvard and Brown. One out of ten employees at League Central America are former gang members, who mainly hail from the country’s most notorious gangs; the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha.

According to one employee, who went by the name Jorge, “There are lots of former gang members who want to change their lives but [don’t] have a way out…because of the lack of work, the poverty.”

Company boss Rodrigo Bolanos, however, stated that companies can help improve the situation, saying, “In the process of suffocating the economy and the country the private companies need to take a position to look for a dignified way out.”

In light of this, private companies like League Central America are making important strides in starting to help the country battle against increasing rates of homicide, by helping former gang members find a way out of poverty by offering them entrance jobs with the chance of upwards mobility.

Jorge has stated that he is eternally grateful to the company for offering him a way out of the gangs and gang violence — and a new chance at life.

Jorge, who only recently started working at the company, is now the chief pattern cutter.

Ana Powell

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, PBS
Photo: Flickr