This International Day of Non-Violence, we’re celebrating the work of our partner in Nicaragua for their exceptional work reforming youth gang members. Their approach is changing the lives of troubled young adults like Bayardo.
Bayardo used to be part of a notorious gang in Nicaragua, living life dangerously day-to-day selling and using drugs. But with our partner’s help, he left a life of violent crime behind. His story is remarkable.
His transformation didn’t happen overnight. It took years of patience and perseverance from our partner CEPREV to get him off the streets.
Reaching out to gangs
CEPREV’s psychologists reach out to gang members in deprived neighbourhoods in Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, by identifying key members of the community who can help them gain access to the gangs.
Far from being received with open arms, communities are often hostile, worried that they are police informants.
Bayardo recalled: ‘A neighbour said that CEPREV was looking for young people. They started looking for me but I rejected them.
‘But slowly I realised that their intentions were good and heartfelt, they treated me with affection and love’.
Eventually, after years of visits, gang members warm to CEPREV. They start attending workshops where they learn to express their feelings without using violence and to understand what led them to become violent in the first place.
Growing up around violence
A high percentage of young people seen by CEPREV have been raised as witnesses or victims of violence by their caregivers.
Bayardo, now 31, grew up feeling helpless and angry as he saw the beatings his mum endured at the hands of her husband.
‘Once I came home and saw my mum lying on the floor in a pool of blood with her tongue out. I went towards my stepfather and stabbed him, really bad.’
For many years, Bayardo used to handle large weapons. He said: ‘I had a .38 and an AK47. We used the AK to rob flats and to intimidate. I don’t think I leave any dead behind me. But I’ve injured a lot of people’.
Turning life around
Today, after many years of support and counselling sessions, Bayardo’s life has been transformed.
The former violent man helped to dismantle a gang, is now a committed husband and father-of-two, and works as a painter and decorator.
He also volunteers with CEPREV, reaching out to other young men in his neighbourhood to give up a life of drugs, alcohol and crime.
Though progress is slow, CEPREV continues to pursue young troubled men and women, listening to them and showing that they care.
Their work has significantly reduced violence in deprived neighbourhoods of Managua and offers hope to others.
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