The former slum area of Bosa in Bogotá, Colombia, is a tough place to grow up. High levels of crime, violence and sexual exploitation make gang culture attractive to young people with nowhere else to turn. For some, like Edison, this is their only option.
Edison was born in a rural area far from Bosa. He remembers a peaceful life with less crime, where he felt safe and secure; somewhere where there was always enough to eat. This all changed when he moved to the capital at the age of six:
“Most young people here are affected by a lack of interest and opportunities. You watch your days passing without doing anything for yourself.”
The move caused problems for Edison and his family; the increased responsibilities that fell on him as the eldest child left him angry and resentful. At the age of 14, feeling neglected and forgotten, he left home and joined a gang. Edison became addicted to drugs and involved in crime, but when he saw some of his friends die he turned to his local YMCA.
“I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know where to go. The YMCA gained my confidence because they showed real interest in me and respected my story without any judgement.
The YMCA offered really cool activities to get involved in and they helped me get rid of my shyness and feel confident. I never knew I could dance and rap, and I have been told I have great talent.”
Edison has now trained as a Youth Community Leader as part of Y Care International’s peer-to-peer counselling training. As a positive role model for other young people like him, he can reach out in a way they understand and respect. What’s more Edison has gone back to college and secured a permanent job at a supermarket.
Edison’s future is now looking brighter, but youth unemployment is high in Colombia – one in five young people are out of work. There are so many more vulnerable young people who are struggling alone, hidden in plain sight, vulnerable to the lure of gang culture. Will you help young people like Edison be seen and get the support they need this Christmas? Please give what you can.