“These young people need more alternatives,” Zalaquet said. “We have done a lot as an organization. There are no [organized criminal] maras in Nicaragua, but there are groups of youths who form gangs as a sort of rebellion against domestic violence at home. By listening to their needs for employment and education, we assist and re-educate them. We influence the dismantling of these groups.”
At CEPREV, youths receive psychological therapy through group, family and individual sessions, in addition to participating in recreational activities and forums, where they share their experiences. Their families also are part of the therapy, which often is successful in changing patterns of violence.
“We do not want violence in Nicaragua or in Latin America,” Matamoros said. “All youths, regardless of the country, are equal. We have to work hard, but it’s important the general public understands we need opportunities to develop our skills.”
CEPREV’s success is due in large part to Matamoros and Gómez’s work as peer counsellors. They promote peace by sharing their stories with other at-risk youths, proving it’s possible to leave crime behind. Currently, both are looking for jobs.
The CEPREV model engages all sectors of society, combining the work of making peace among gangs with measures that promote community organization.
The program involves and integrates civil society, teachers, government officials, the National Police, journalists and churches in its work to influence regional and national public policies on employment and educational integration of these youths, Zalaquet said.
CEPREV also has given seminars to the National Police on the challenges faced by youths from economically vulnerable areas, sensitizing the institution and making them understand youth violence in Nicaragua, Zalaquet added.
Since 2011, the center has shared its knowledge with organizations in El Salvador such as New Life Foundation, Foundation Siglo XXIII, Comunidades de Fe y Vida, Young Christians Association, Inform-UES, Grupo Opera, Grupo Nahual, FESPAD, and Tutela Legal del Arzobispado.
CEPREV’s methodology also will be replicated in Honduras and Guatemala through training at various partner organizations such as the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH), the Association for Crime Prevention (APREDE), the Ceiba Group, Honduran Youth Advance Forward Together (JHA-JA), and Casa Alianza Honduras.