MEXICO: Salesian Sports and Arts Programs for Vulnerable Youth Offer Alternative to Drugs, Violence
(MissionNewswire) While parts of Mexico have seen signs of economic growth and financial stability, many areas continue to struggle. According to UNICEF, the human development indexes in parts of Mexico are close to those in some of the world’s least developed countries. A little more than 46 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty. For children, the rate rises to just over 53 percent with more than 20 million youth estimated to be living in poverty and five million of those in extreme poverty.
Poverty conditions combined with an extensive drug trade has lead Ciudad Juárez to become one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It is estimated that between ten and twelve thousand people were killed there between 2007 and 2012. In 2012, the number of homicides dropped to 1,000.
Still there is much to be done. The Salesians, who have been working with poor youth in the city for the past 21 years, recently began collaborating with the Mexican government in support of a new national strategic security plan. This new plan is working to curb violence and bring peace and positive change to the community.
Creating safe havens and improving educational opportunities is essential to the deterrence of youth from life on the streets where they are susceptible to drugs and gang violence. With these goals in mind, the Salesians operate three programs in Ciudad Juárez, attended by more than a thousand youth. The programs offer classes in sports, music, dance and drama and give youth access to safe environments and adults who serve as mentors.
“In Riberas del Bravo there are no parks, no shopping centers, sports fields or public gardens,” explains Father Juan Carlos Quirarte Méndez, a Salesian Priest tasked by the Mexican government with studying the city in support of the new security plan. “There are too many dangerous areas. The people are discouraged. They fear the police because of their aggressive methods. Violence in families is rampant. There are no public spaces.”
Through the Salesian programs, youth now have places to go where they can connect with other young people while learning about teamwork, social skills and conflict management. All skills youth will use at home, in their local communities and throughout their lifetimes.
The Salesians know that to effect change they cannot go it alone. Within their programs they focus on collaboration with local organizations, the government and even the local police force, which many residents have lost faith in because of violence and corruption.
“Public institutions must not go against the people,” adds Fr. Quirarte Méndez. “It is essential that citizens recover faith in the institutions. It is necessary to work in collaboration not act aggressively against the people and then abandon them to their own very few resources. Working together we can effect change.”
UNICEF – Mexico