Today marks the kick-off of the 3rd annual Viva Fund Campaign, raising funds for our Youth Program in El Salvador! This article is the first in the Viva Fund series, outlining the expansion and successes of our program. Learn about the Youth Program and give generously to support the next generation of leaders in El Salvador. Please visit our fundraising page to help kick off the campaign by donating today!
The Youth Program supported through our Viva Fund is getting ready for some major changes. With a new and dynamic team of young coordinators affiliated with our local partner organizations, La Coordinadora and the Mangrove Association, they are expanding to new areas and creating a stronger network of organized youth throughout the Lower Lempa – Bay of Jiquilisco area of El Salvador.
The Youth Program is built on the foundation of the Local Zone of Peace that we supported in the Lower Lempa after the civil war. In 2001, our predecessor organization, the FSSCA, supported successful local efforts to negotiate a local gang truce. The truce led to the launch of a wide variety of youth programs which we have supported over the years, including gang tattoo removal, arts and theater programs, and youth-led literacy campaigns. These efforts have helped contribute to making the Lower Lempa one of the safest and least violent areas in El Salvador.
Last year, we were heartened when the main gangs in El Salvador announced a national truce, leading to a significant drop in violent crimes. Unfortunately, the national truce is now on shaky footing, and our partners are concerned that it may not last. Moreover, there have been some worrying signs that the large national gangs may be infiltrating back into local communities, where their presence had not been felt for many years. In this context, we are working to urgently step up our support for local youth programs, and to expand that support to more communities.
This year, the Youth Program is working in five different areas:
For over 10 years, Mangrove Radio was a critical source of news, information, and emergency response for approximately 20 communities in the Lower Lempa. However, in 2010 its low-watt signal was overpowered by another station. After 18 months of concerted advocacy, in December the Salvadoran government finally granted Mangrove Radio its own dedicated frequency. The signal now reaches over 200 communities from the lowlands to the highlands – a tenfold increase in reach.
The station, run by volunteer youth radio announcers, is on air every day from 6am to 10pm. The volunteers create environmental and social programs, and share local and national news. Mangrove Radio is an important alternative news source for the communities, and the youth take the lead to provide exciting programming with a social message.
Youth Committees and Leadership School
This year, the Youth Program aims to organize hundreds of youth throughout the Lower Lempa into eight Youth Committees. These committees will be established by region, with each committee bringing together young people from 8 to 15 communities. Members of the Youth Committees will run their own programs locally, and also have a place to be heard within the new national youth empowerment programs emerging from INJUVE, the government’s youth institute.
Young people involved in the committees will have the chance to attend the Integrated Leadership School, designed to empower them with knowledge of their history. They will learn about environmental and social issues the communities face, and go on field trips to important historical sites throughout the country.
Reading Promotion and Literacy
In coordination with the Ministry of Culture and with support from our allied organizations, ConTextos and Izote, the Youth Program is in the process of opening two new public libraries and eight school libraries. Youth from the communities are also being trained as reading promoters. They will run mobile reading rooms in remote communities, encouraging reading for all age levels. This project is a natural extension of the youth-led adult literacy project, which will be relaunched in the area later this year with support from the Ministry of Education.
Viva Fund Scholars
This year, 15 promising youth leaders will receive support to continue their formal education in fields related to rural and coastal development. Ten are studying aquaculture (shrimp and fish farming) at a technical college with tuition support from the Ministry of Education. Four students receive scholarships for transportation to a weekend high school program. One student studies agroecology (organic farming) at the university level. The scholars receive leadership training and local internship opportunities so that they will be ready to apply their new skills locally upon graduation.
Art, Culture, and Sports
The art, culture, and sports program will provide youth with more opportunities for positive local engagement. This program includes a group of artisans who make ecological crafts using seeds, shells, and fabric dyed with mangrove leaves. These crafts are sold to locals and visitors alike. Two dance troupes perform at many different community events. Soccer tournaments and running races will be used as outreach tools to recruit more youth into the committees and leadership school.
Through all of these activities, the Youth Program is channeling the creative energy of youth to be positive forces for change, and raise the quality of life in their communities. These efforts can use your support – please donate today!