Public safety became a concern in El Salvador in the late 80's after the Civil War. While much of the war took place in the countryside, gang violence erupted in the city and never left.
Crime skyrocketed in 2002 and continued for about a decade. In 2012, with government influence, a truce was established and respected by the two most notorious gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street Gang.
Organizations such as CESTA, located in San Marcos, San Salvador, fight back by lifting kids out of the street and giving them a productive safe haven where they can hang out after school, away from the threat of gangs and crime. Through the EcoBici program offered by CESTA, kids have the chance to build social skills while learning bike mechanics in the repair shop. Being part of the strong, positive community at CESTA, at-risk youth are given alternatives to gang life and access to job opportunities.
Silvia tells us, the kids need activities to keep them occupied and away from the gangs. She sees CESTA as practically a second campus for the kids of the school. They are engaged in many of the activities CESTA has to offer, from leadership programs, gardening, and of course the bike mechanics program.
The school itself also offers a number of after school activities for the students. She stresses that more than 90% of the student body has some connection to gang life, whether it be directly or through some family member. Keeping kids engaged after school is helping to keep them safe from gang activity. CESTA is an excellent outlet for these students.