Catching them young

Anastasia Moloney –

As a boy growing up in a slum in Cali, one of the most world’s most violent cities, Andres Felipe Gonzalez knew his chances of a life without crime or becoming a victim of crime were slim.
“I remember hooded men would enter the neighbourhood. We’d switch off the lights and hide under a table,” said Gonzalez, who lives in southwest Cali’s Las Minas Comuna 18 neighbourhood.
“In the culture I grew up in, the best man is the one who has the biggest gun. The bigger the gun, the more respect you have,” said Gonzalez, known locally as Fares. But against the odds, Fares did not end up joining a gang or resorting to violence.
Fares, now 27, is part of a multi-million-dollar initiative that aims to keep young men off the streets and away from gangs in Colombia’s third largest city by offering them other options.
Since starting in 2016, the project, called “Integrated Approach to Gangs — Youth Without Borders” (TIP) and funded by Cali city hall, has worked with about 1,400 people and 73 gangs in slum areas, including young men and women at risk of being recruited by gangs.
With a murder rate of 51 per 100,000 people in 2017, Cali ranks as one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Much of the violence is drug or gang-related, and perpetrated by young men.
Across Latin America, a region where nearly one in every four of the world’s murders takes place, cities seeking to cope better with modern-day pressures are looking beyond risks from natural hazards like floods, and tackling social stresses too.
In Cali, preventing gang violence is part of the city’s five-pronged resilience strategy, drawn up under its membership of the 100 Resilient Cities network, backed by The Rockefeller Foundation. The plan also covers action on climate change, education, transport and governance.
“We understand resilience as overcoming both shocks and tensions,” said Juan Camilo Cock, deputy secretary of the Areas of Inclusion and Opportunities programme at Cali mayoral office.
Tensions are ongoing issues that affect people’s livelihoods, he noted. “When we did the diagnostic for resilience in Cali, one of the main issues that came out was violence,” he said.
— Thomson Reuters Foundation