According to Forman, another major hurdle for rehabilitating the region is curbing the influence of gangs. She says that Central America is experiencing a “youth bulge,” which is the presence of more youth and young adults in the population than older adults. The growing number of young people, mixed with “an education deficit…is a toxic brew for providing opportunities for people to go into criminal activities,” she explains.
CARSI is focusing more attention on this issue, according to Brownfield. Part of the initiative is to work with local schools and governments to help them train children, especially those at vulnerable ages nine to 15, in a six-week program that teaches them “the dangers of the gang community, and what their alternatives are,” he said.
According to Brownfield, adaptability is the key to the overall initiative, even if it means taking an approach CARSI didn’t originally set out to follow. “We should not be embarrassed or ashamed to say that what we’re doing today is very different from what we thought we were going to be doing four years ago,” he said. “Quite frankly, the bad guys, the criminal organizations, they’re adept at adjusting their strategies. If we don’t adjust ours, we’re probably going to lose.”