My name is Mercy Sosa , I'm 24 years old. I grew up in a neighborhood with high rates of violence; in fact, one of the most vulnerable areas of the city for a long time. During that time I could see how gangs dominated the neighborhood and the residents as well. Everyone was living in a state of fear. In addition to this, I could feel the pain of certain friends when they lost any of their relatives because of violence.
This neighborhood (zone 18) is a hot spot, where even basic services companies are afraid to enter the area. Discrimination is evident by the mere fact of living there. No one seems to be willing to hire someone living in “hot spots”, I’ve been able to see how youth and family members, like anyone else, looking for opportunities, are limited because of their address. I have noticed how this becomes a crucial factor for some, to integrate informal work, in the best cases, or illegal activities, in the worst.
In Guatemala, social conditions are weak and social integration mechanisms fail. The tension in this vulnerable community is exposed inside the families. Most of these families live in environments with very low tolerance, where violence is used to "discipline" their children, harming personal integrity. Unfortunately, I was part of this violent cycle. My mom and dad didn’t know any other way of raising children; even with these difficulties, the desire to live in better conditions was not extinguished and with the hard work of the family selling stuff at the market, I had the privilege to study and accomplished one of my main goals, my university studies.
My family and I moved out of zone 18 and I was able to focus more in my career. To attend the university gave me the opportunity to learn tools to analyze the problems of my country. In the last year of college, I was inspired by the work of American Friends Service Committee. AFSC is one of the organizations that integrates the Professional practices program from the State University, and I decided to apply to work and learn with the Guatemala Program. I got involved in the Urban Youth Civic Engagement Program, gaining knowledge of the LPN methodology and peace building. After a year of volunteering I was hired as a field officer.
I was excited to finally contribute effectively to build peace in similar communities to the one I grew up. I was very glad to work with an organization that works integrating efforts from youth, public sector and different social movements. I’m thankful with this organization because it understands youth as subjects of rights, as leaders capable of promoting culture of peace, not only from the personal level but also within the community.