Urban Matters: Mejicanos

Last month I finally got the chance to travel with my former Lokaalmondiaal colleague Thomas Hurkxkens again. We made a short film in Mejicanos, one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in San Salvador. This area is largely controlled by notorious street gangs like Mara Salvatrucha.

In the middle of all this, some community members came up with the idea to develop a city park that will facilitate economic activities as well as strengthen social cohesion and offer a safe and drug free recreational zone for youngsters. Dutch development organization Cordaid is helping the community to raise funds and to get the municipality and local business community involved in the project.

It’s only thanks to Cordaid’s connections with local community leaders that we were able to film in Mejicanos. Going in without permission from the local ‘authorities’ will get you into serious trouble. We spent a lot of time with the family of Gloria Lopez, one of the community leaders. And maybe it’s me, but although they really made us feel welcome and took great care of us, I felt like had to be on my guard continuously, like there was something looming underneath the surface.

It’s hard to imagine a life under these circumstances, when the only thing you lack more than money and job opportunities is safety. One of the most impressive encounters we had here was with Felicita Ramos (picture above). Felicita lost both her sons two gang-related violence and is now living with her only daughter. She’s one of the most active community members, determined to make the park reality and contribute to a safer environment for the local citizens.