I am an AFSC volunteer.
My name is Ana Avilés, I am a social worker and human rights activist in El Salvador. I have volunteered with different organizations, such as the Center for Exchange and Solidarity (CIS), the School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), and more recently, with AFSC.
My experience as an AFSC volunteer has meant a real opportunity to commit to the reality and social transformations that our children and youth in El Salvador demand. I have met young people with incredible life stories, who have contributed to their communities and to our country with their abilities and talents.
With a highly stigmatized and full of prejudices society, young people live constantly at risk in El Salvador. The subsequent violence is also a product of social and economic inequality, institutionalized violence, and a context where young people are exposed to harassments by the police, military forces and gangs.
This is due to the fact that our communities are divided by areas controlled by gangs and police. If a young man or woman crosses territories which are not related to the gang that controls his territory or his community, it is possible that that simple action by itself could cost his/her life. On the other hand, the police can arrest the youth because of what type of cloth they are wearing and that, according to their criteria, can determine if a man or a woman is involved in criminal activity. In consequence, our youth and communities are in a state of widespread fear that hinders the development of organizational processes and youth participation. For this reason, the methodology of Local Peace Networks and Micro Peace Networks, with which AFSC works, is a path of hope and opportunity for many young people in our communities.
As an important example, the youth of the Micro Peace Networks (Hip-Hop Youth Expression Committee and Colectivo Sol Mayor) who belong to territories controlled by different gangs in San Salvador, can meet and see each other as friends, share life experiences, learn Salvadoran history and express their feelings through urban art and rhythmic percussion, without fearing to lose their lives. This experience with young people makes me believe that someday the reality in my country can improve.
Ana Avilés, Volunteer AFSC. El Salvador