|© UNICEF Peru/2010/Molina|
|Community members in Ventanilla, Peru attend a focus group discussion on violence in their neighbourhood.|
By Cristina Gallegos
NEW YORK, USA, 3 September 2010 – Young people in a pilot violence prevention programme launched by UNICEF Peru are speaking out on violence, education and health in their communities.
The pilot project, launched in a northern Peruvian district called Ventanilla, aims to give youth a voice in helping to come up with solutions to minimize the violence in their communities and help foster an environment that is more nurturing for children.
Earlier this year, UNICEF Peru hosted dozens of discussion sessions for families and community members to talk about how violence affects them and to brainstorm what can be done to address the problem. In the discussions, youth, parents and community members spoke about violence and how parents and educators can help to protect children.
UNICEF Peru hopes to use the information learned in these forums to better direct resources and programmes to meet the needs of the people they serve and better focus programmes geared toward protecting the rights of children in Peru.
Orlando Mera, 18, participated in one of the local focus group discussions held at his Ventanilla school in April. During his childhood, Orlando remembers more than 10 gangs in his neighbourhood and a large gang presence at his school. He said he recognized the impacts of gangs on his community as soon as he came to the area to start at the local secondary school.
“The gangs used to go to the school and wait outside for someone to beat whenever they had a fight,” he said.
Fear of attacks
Orlando recalls one day during middle school when he and his friends were attacked by a group of gang members just a few blocks from school. “They came with stones and robbed us,” he said. “The person who robbed us was my former classmate, who had dropped out of school.”
After the incident, some of Orlando’s classmates stopped attending school out of fear of being attacked again.
In spite of the circumstances, families in the district of Ventanilla have been trying to improve their situation and surroundings. Community members worked with local government officials to establish a central community building where locals can come to receive resources, legal advice and referrals to help address their problems. But they say they need additional support and funding to create and organize these efforts.
In addition, parents asked for training and support to strengthen parenting skills, improve communication with their children, as well as to bring about an end to domestic violence and offer psychological support for young people and families who fall victim to violence.
To address the problem of violence at Orlando’s school, community members and teachers, including the school director, asked security staff to help out during the times when students were leaving the school at the end of the day. School staff also talked with gang members themselves, many of whom had connections to the school through siblings enrolled there.
Orlando says these conversations are helping to improve the situation at his school.
Today, Orlando is completing his high school degree and hopes to one day become a police officer, protecting his community from violence. He also tries to encourage other young people to continue with their education.
Ventanilla is a rapidly growing area, now home to more than 275,000 residents, of which more than 100,000 – or about 38 per cent – are under 18 years old. UNICEF Peru hopes to expand the violence prevention programmes to other impoverished regions of Peru within the next two years.