Music, sports, and games instead of gangs for El Salvadorian youth

Ambassador Pierre Giroux and local leaders listen to youth band play Salvadorian national Anthem

Canadian Embassy staff, Teresita Chavez and Gracia López, speak to Ingrid Vasquez, a 16 year old cellist and beneficiary of this project.

Picture of outside wall of Youth Center in Chalchuapa.

Ambassador Pierre Giroux and local leaders cut the symbolic ribbon, officially opening the youth center to the public.

Up to 215 young boys and girls from Chalchuapa, El Salvador have access to computers, music classes, English lessons, sports and many other positive after school activities at the newly built outreach center for youth. This center is one of the seven projects that the Canadian Embassy in El Salvador is developing through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives to promote peace and prevent violence.

This project, worth $15,000 USD, has come to make a huge difference in the lives of young boys and girls from the United Communities of Chalchuapa, a marginal area where 276 families live in relatively poor conditions, and where gangs are part of everyday life. The project is regarded as a safe haven for at-risk youth, a place where kids between the ages of 8-18 can get together and engage in positive activities, something they can’t otherwise do because of the limited opportunities available in the community and the threat of violence in the streets.

The youth outreach center was a project presented by the City Council for Chalchuapa, as part of their comprehensive project to prevent violence in the community. This initiative began in 2011 as a response to the increasing number of homicides, mostly teens. With support from the Regional Youth Alliance, a USAID-funded initiative, Chalchuapa was able to develop a long term strategy that engaged youth.

The initiative increased opportunities to keep them off the streets and away from gangs. It offers kids with positive after-school activities in music, sports, games, dance, and language training. The youth center is made up of volunteers from the community, the local church and even the National University. They engage with kids, gives them a warm one-to-one approach, a chance for them to have positive role models and think and work towards a positive future.

“Playing the cello allows me to forget my problems and think positive thoughts,” Ingrid Vasquez said. This sixteen-year-old girl lives in the nearby village of Las Victorias, in Chalchuapa, and attends her local youth outreach center in her village. She affirms she would have never had a chance to play any musical instrument if it hadn’t been for the project. “If it wasn’t for the project I’d be locked up in my house, or even worse, who knows what could have happened,” she explains as she holds her cello and gets ready to play another song with her band. They have just finished playing ‘Oh Canada’ as part of the music repertoire.

The Canadian Ambassador to El Salvador, Pierre Giroux, attended the opening ceremony. It was the 11th youth outreach center in Chalchuapa, the first one funded by Canada. Ambassador Giroux hopes that this will be the turning point for many other kids, who like Ingrid, now live in poverty and fear of gangs, giving a chance for the kids from the United Communities to develop fun, healthy and positive after-school activities.

“Canada understands that to support young people in their efforts for a better life, through education, employment, artistic development, culture and sports, is an investment in El Salvador itself, because young people don’t only hold the future of El Salvador, but they are its present.” –Canadian Ambassador Pierre Giroux