This article, by Pamela Saravia Fonseca, originally appeared in Spanish on PrensaLibre.com.

The goal is not easy: turning areas with high rates of violence into peaceful areas; transforming a conflicted environment into a place where living, growing, and developing is possible.

The Urban Youth Participation Program (Programa de Participación Juvenil Urbana) identifies and brings together young local leaders to train them and give them analysis, reflection and action tools they can use on their own in the future, to become agents of change in their neighborhoods.

This effort is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee in eight areas of Guatemala, which have been identified as having high rates of criminal activity.

The initiative became a reality in October 2011, in the areas of El Limón and Lomas de Santa Faz, zone 18, and in El Mezquital and Santa Isabel 2, Villa Nueva. During the second year, the model was reproduced in four additional areas: La Libertad, zone 3; Brisas in San Pedro Ayampuc; Bárcenas; and Ciudad Peronia, Villa Nueva.

Marleny Montenegro, Project Coordinator, states: “It has been very satisfying to see how young people are empowered, reflect about their environment and take actions to create positive change.”

Implementation

Montenegro explains: “Our main topic is always a culture of peace. Therefore, we always work to build it and to transform conflicts and, at the same time, we promote the organization of young people so that they start implementing actions to achieve change.”

Young people are organized in groups of 10 or 12—micro platforms—to work in three action lines that are part of the main concept of culture of peace and transformation of conflict.

These three variables are: training workshops, rescue of areas, and marches or walks.

Javier Reyes, who has worked with several groups of young people and children, states: “We do not have headquarters as such in the communities where we work; instead, we search for colleagues—an already established local organization—to help us with the immersion process and to reach young people, who have been very welcoming.”

A change in perception

One of Montenegro’s main incentives to keep going is realizing how young people change their perceptions of conflict, violence, their community and their environment.

She states: “It would also be interesting to see this in the general population. The fact that these areas are so violent does not mean that only crime exists here. It is important to change that perception.”

As stated by Danilo Molina, one of the young participants of El Limón, one of the things he enjoys the most is that his ideas are taken into consideration. If anyone has a different opinion, they can dialogue and reach an understanding.

Lines of work

Young people participate in a training camp, where they receive workshops on assertive communication, active listening, culture of peace, and transformation of conflicts. This is a reflection-action space. Later, leaders reproduce this in their educational establishments or with their friends.

They rescue spaces that promote social harmony among the community. Young people themselves diagnose and determine the areas to be rescued.

Also, walks or marches, in which the community participates, are carried out with the objective of promoting non-violence.