I heard a loud thud as we jumped another speed bump. There were small houses lining both sides of the single, downhill road. I looked to my left, only to be met with blank stares from a few sitting outside their homes. There we were, entering Reparto las Campaneras, one of the most dangerous barrios in all of El Salvador, notoriously known for its gang violence. “Don’t be alarmed, but not too long ago five people were murdered here in this very neighborhood,” my friend said from the driver’s seat. Feeling very much unalarmed, I exited the car and after gathering my equipment, walked down a narrow alleyway towards the venue for the workshop. Finally, we had arrived. Three armed guards wielding shotguns stood on watch. “Buenos dias,” I managed to squeak out.
It’s easy to see these things and immediately feel fearful. But if I’m being honest, there’s no time for fear in a place like this. Sure, it’s a completely normal reaction, but for these families, this is commonplace… this is their reality. Yet it’s so damn tough because, as a human, it’s in our nature to try to feel hopeful in a situation like this. And yes, there are certain moments that justify that hopefulness… but no matter how hard I tried on this day, all I could feel was sadness.
As I met the kids and interacted more and more with them, I still couldn’t help but feel that sadness lingering. I mean my heart absolutely ached for them, for their situation. But ultimately, they’re all victims of their environment. They’re robbed of their youth. Robbed of that sense of security that we all grew up taking for granted, robbed of any kind of youthful innocence they might have had otherwise. Sure, they might go to school, but at the end of the day they still wind up back at home because where else can they go? If their parents have only known gang life all their lives, how much hope does that child really have?
But that’s why programs like this are so important. Whether it be sports, education, or trade, these kids are given an outlet to the lives they’ve been so unfairly born into. And with events like this, slowly but surely, progress can be made and lives can be changed. Hope will conquer all.