Why do people create gangs

Many adults leave the countries of Central America in search of work. The young people left behind in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras often slide into crime. A program with funding from KfW successfully offers alternatives.

Violence determines everyday life in Central America, especially among young people. In some large cities in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, criminal youth gangs, so-called maras, control entire districts. Gangs fight, the murder rates are among the highest in the world. Gang members extort protection money, forcing small shopkeepers to give up. This inhibits the economic development of entire regions, creates distrust of neighbors, fear of strangers and for many leads to a life of poverty and unemployment.

An additional problem: many Latin Americans emigrate to the USA and initially leave their children behind. Some minors then grow up with relatives, others are left to their own devices - and not infrequently join a criminal gang. In Honduras, one of the poorest and least developed countries in Central America, almost half of the population is under 15 years old.

With CONVIVIR, KfW Development Bank has been supporting a prevention program in Honduras since 2014 that offers young people prospects so that they do not slide into crime. Similar programs have been running in Guatemala since 2016 and in El Salvador since 2017.

The project's partner in Honduras is the FHIS social development fund, which has received ten million euros as a loan from the Federal Ministry for Development and Economic Cooperation (BMZ). The project is currently being implemented in the three municipalities of Siguatepeque, Gracias and La Lima. Parks and sports facilities, youth clubs and cultural centers are being created.

"The local population takes part in the individual construction measures and therefore identifies strongly with the program," says Kathrin Gütschow, who as a KfW employee in the regional office in Honduras is responsible for social projects and has lived in Central America for 20 years. “We want to create safe public spaces, strengthen the community and ensure that people dare to go outside the front door even in the dark,” she explains.

In addition to building public facilities, the CONVIVIR program aims to strengthen the social and professional skills of young people. Depending on local needs, a variety of courses are offered, from painting to mobile phone repairs, bread baking or haircutting to training courses in which young people learn how to teach young people to play football or basketball.

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Development cooperation in crisis areas

Poachers slaughter elephants in national parks, eat the meat and make a profit from the ivory. The population of wild animals such as rhinos, eastern lowland gorillas and okapis is also decreasing, not least due to marauding rebel groups. Time and again there are fatal attacks on park managers and rangers in the national parks. The photo shows ranger Erik Mararv, who was shot by elephant poachers. Three of his colleagues died. KfW supports the management of six nature reserves, partly in cooperation with WWF. “The projects are not just about helping to protect species, but also about more safety and better working conditions for the rangers,” says Karin Derflinger from KfW. Better training of rangers, equipment and measures to protect animals in their natural environment are promoted.


In many countries, development cooperation is associated with risks for the aid workers. In our dossier we describe where which dangers threaten.

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"In each group, self-confidence and a sense of community are strengthened, and important questions arise, for example how to deal with conflicts," adds Kathrin Gütschow. 450 young people have already taken part in professional courses alone.

Since there are hardly any jobs in Central America, the young people should be enabled to run their own small shop later. "The further training offers are well received, but the difficulty sometimes lies in keeping young people motivated over the course of three to four months." Going to school every day is something that many are not used to.


This article is a supplement to the photo series about development cooperation in CHANCEN autumn / winter 2017 "Courage".

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"It is impressive to see how young people develop when you give them the opportunity," says Kathrin Gütschow about the success of the program, which is soon to be expanded to three other communities in Honduras with a further six million euros from the BMZ.

According to the KfW employee, conflicts between divided parts of the city have already been resolved by jointly planning construction measures. "With CONVIVIR we can also ensure that young people do not join violent groups for lack of prospects," she explains.

Published on KfW Stories on: Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The presented project makes a contribution to these sustainability goals of the United Nations

Denying people access to education means denying them a basic human right - and important development opportunities for individuals and society. Education enables people to improve their political, social, cultural, societal and economic situation. Worldwide, 58 million children and 63 million young people do not yet have access to primary and secondary schools. 90 percent of all children with a disability never go to school. 781 million people are illiterate. Source: www.17ziel.de

All member states of the United Nations adopted the Agenda 2030 in 2015. Its core is a catalog with 17 goals for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our world should be transformed into a place where people can live in peace with one another in an ecologically compatible, socially just and economically efficient manner.