Scouts combatting Violence in El Salvador
Many young people in El Salvador are trapped in a culture of violence. This is due to the civil war maintained for many years until the peace treaties signed in 1992, and also to the lost of society values caused by the internal migration from land to the cities and the accelerated urban development from which the formation of youth gangs originated.
Young people organize themselves into ‘gangs’. These gangs are an expression of their self-identity and self-esteem but they also instil a desire to control certains areas and situations, establishing their own territory and fighting against opposing gangs. With street fights, rape and murder on the increase, the community was particularly shocked when bombs started to be thrown into school playgrounds.
The education authorities reacted by trying to punish those involved in these incidents, but had little success in preventing these problems. Some Scout leaders felt that they could respond – using the Scout Method.
They made a comparison between the gang internal functioning and reasons why youth integrate to gangs with the internal functioning of Scouts groups; the response of young people to the Scout Movement and the reasons why they stick with us. Many similarities were found.
Students aged 15-20, from seven different schools with rival gangs, where invited to come to a holiday camp with the programme offering adventure, fun and chance to be away from home and their urban environment for a few days. Many of the young people who attended had never been out of the city. A staff team of 350 Scouts was trained to attend the students needs.
During the camp the young people all worked in small groups called ‘solidarity brigades’. They were responsible for working together, and organizing activities. The activities offered were designed to help the young people be creative, develop non-violent ways of expressing themselves, learn about each other and tolerate and value their differences. The camp programme is based on five modules: Integration, teamwork, brigade Life, Learning Useful Skills and Community Service.
The camp experience is followed up in the schools with young people then forming their own “brigades” which participate in social activities, community service projects and inter-school dialogue.
The programme was so successful that the Scout Association of El Salvador developed a partnership with the Ministry of Education. Now, there is a special office for the programme inside the Headquarters of the Ministry of Education with the aim to develop the programme all over the country.
Since 2001, the year where the programme was launched, there has been an 80% reduction in student related violence.
The Scout leaders, who have promoted the “Solidarity Brigades” in El Salvador are really “Scouts of the World”.