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Date [ 2014-12-31, 12:39 ]

Many marginalised youth are finding new hope with a new programme tailored for them.

Govanni tends to his pepprr plant

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) Lui Lai Keen = When young men like Giovanni discover a life off  El Salvador’s violent streets, they begin to turn their lives around. Thanks to UNDP which  supports a combination of measures, including employment, vital to fighting high rates of crime.

Giovanni’s face softens under the otherwise fearsome ink of his gang tattoos. As the 23-year-old bends over a row of pepper plants, his fingers dart carefully between them, plucking stray weeds and adjusting the fragile string that holds them up to the light filtering through the greenhouse. Three times a day he checks the plants, nurturing them as he nurtures his own life.

Not long ago, Giovanni spent his days “living off the street.” A member of one of  El Salvador’s many violent gangs, he will not speak about his past. The gangs have given the country some of the world’s highest homicide rates. Young men like Giovanni are most likely to join up—and die violently.

But through a UNDP-assisted project in El Pino, a neighbourhood in the municipality of Santa Tecla once considered too dangerous even for armed police, Giovanni and other young men find alternatives to a life of crime. They learn the basics of managing a small business: in this case, growing and marketing crops that will thrive on small urban plots and are in demand by local grocery stores. “Before, my life was a mess,” Giovanni confesses quietly. “Now I have a lot to do— there is no time to bother people.”

The El Pino project is one of many ways that UNDP is helping El Salvador get a grip on a plague of violence. The tangled roots of this complex problem encompass poverty, scarce jobs, social fragmentation and a history of brutal conflict. Solutions must operate on many levels, local and national. They need to control and prevent crimes, increase quality of life and open doors to productive development.

Municipalities are where crimes typically occur but until recently, most were severely handicapped in efforts to improve security, lacking even basics such as detailed information on victims and violence in a neighbourhood. UNDP helped develop municipal observatories to track and analyse crime statistics. Using this information to diagnose trouble spots, it encouraged local authorities and community members to work together to reduce tensions and improve public
spaces. Restoration of abandoned areas, neighbourhood policing, community mediation mechanisms and reintegration programmes for youth are among diverse actions that in some cases have cut crime by up to 45 percent.

Early success with these experiences convinced the national Government to adopt its first national policy on justice, security and a peaceful coexistence in 2010. By 2012, it had a comprehensive prevention strategy for municipalities that will scale up tactics introduced by UNDP. Gun laws have been tightened, in part due
to better municipal information on the efficiency of gun bans. El Salvador has a long journey to a peaceful society but measures like these will sustain systematic progress.

Giovanni knows this—for the first time, dignified work and a legal income have made him feel responsible for the future. He reflects, gazing across his thriving pepper plants, “I want my son to grow up the opposite of me, to get a degree, to wear a suit and tie, and to know that I am proud of him.”

abc@koreanpress.net

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