Using Theatre to Keep Kids Off the Streets in El Salvador

For Rosa Cruz volunteering in Suchitoto, a small town about 30 kilometres from San Salvador, is a lot like being home; when she was 18 years old, she worked in this same city. Being here today reminds her what the city was like long before instability and insecurity drove her from El Salvador to Canada.

Today, she can see that while much progress has been made, many challenges remain. One problem that continues to plague communities is street gangs. The gangs are well-organized and always trying to recruit youth. “I understand the situation these youth are in, and I want to help them,” Cruz said.

To help, Cruz signed up for a six-month placement as a Cuso International volunteer working with Es Artes in El Salvador. It is a theatre group providing technical training allowing youth to build self-esteem, gain a voice in their community and learn new skills. “By giving young people a safe place to go and learn new skills, it gives them hope for their future and helps keep them off the streets,” she said.

Through the involvement in the theatre, the youth have had opportunities that never before would have existed, Cruz said. They are often hired by corporations to perform sketches or plays on educational issues.

Cuso International, in partnership with the Stratford Festival, has supported Es Artes project by placing more than 40 volunteers to share their technical skills in theatre and the arts over the past five years. Cruz is not an actress, but has a passion for social justice, particularly in helping youth and children. She, and other volunteers like her, work with the group on organizational capacity building, helping to strengthen the board and staff in the areas of fundraising, financial management, marketing and communications, and governance.

“Volunteering brings a human face and solidifies relationships between North and South,” said Cruz. “To build a better world we need more solidarity and friendly relations among peoples. We need to embrace diversity and be more tolerant.”

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