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Barrio de Paz
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Barrio de Paz
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Youth worker Nelsa Libertad Curbelo Cora describes the inspiration behind Barrio de Paz (Peace Town), a non-violent youth movement in Guayaquil, Ecuador. It brings together street gangs to provide services to the struggling community. Gang members band together out of a need for unity, structure, and love when their social fabric has been torn apart. 

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Produced by the Global Oneness Project.

Learn more about the youth rescue project Ser Paz (Being Peace).

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Segment 1

TITLE
Global Oneness Project
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Barrio de Paz
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"Everything in society tells us to distrust others. I think it's the other way around. We need to profoundly trust in those around us, in their potential and in who they are." - Nelsa Curbelo Libertad Cora.
VARIOUS YOUTHS
My name is Pier Mora. / Edison Ramiron Ovan. / My name is Mauricio Jefferson Torres Santos. / Angelo Martin Hernandez Apolinario. / My name is George Asanza. / My name is Mariela. / My name is Edison Masillas. I belong to the gang "Big Clan," the only real gang here in Guayaquil. / "Nacion de Hierro" gang. / "Latin Kings" gang. / "Nacion de Hierro."
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Guayaquil, Ecuador.
NELSA CURBELO
Let me show you the T-shirt.
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Barrio de Paz (Peace Town)
NELSA CURBELO
My name is Nelsa Curbelo. My work is to promote peace in the areas that have the most conflict such as the gangs in this city. I work with kids who have become gang members. That's my field of work. But it is beyond just work, it's my life because it's more than a job, it's a lifelong project. It keeps me busy day and night, because it's about building a better world.
NELSA CURBELO
It has to do with young people who live at the edge of society and who are the product of a very unfair and unequal society. Often society blames young people for instigating conflicts when in reality they are a mirror of society. They reflect back to us what we don't want to see, and as a society what we don't want to acknowledge. There wouldn't be gangs in societies if their environment didn't support their growth. They exist in societies with huge inequalities where individualism is too strong and where people no longer live in groups. Our society has produced a large number of people who are either extremely rich or extremely poor. It has created families with no core structure and a lack of love. So they feed each other: society from the youth and youth from society. In order to change society we need our youth to be the leaders.
NELSA CURBELO
Not all of these kids are criminals. In our city there are around 60,000 young gang members. If all 60,000 were delinquent nobody could go out to the streets anymore. So to translate "gang member" as "delinquent " is not accurate. Yet, not long ago in this country, a number of people bankrupted 14 banks and now they live abroad and nobody calls them crooks, even though they left this country in absolute poverty.
NELSA CURBELO
In society there are people who are in, and people who are excluded; they are out. Society has expelled these kids. They are not even marginalized, they are just out. Because they are outsiders they unite. They start to establish territories, their codes, signs, and colors become their language. This is their way to respond to a society that has excluded them due to its lack of knowledge, lack of understanding of how this has happened, and its failure to give them the education they need. Most kids who end up in gangs don't have what they need to keep going in life. The street is their world, the street is their school, the street is their neighborhood, and the street is their home. The streets have walls to paint on; that's why they write everything on them. It's a way to live and experience the city and the society that we, the adults, have created.
NELSA CURBELO
Young people did not invent drugs or weapons. The fact that they are involved in trafficking drugs and weapons, this is something that was invented by us adults, not the young people who enter society today. They didn't create this world, we did. This world, with its inequalities, and the lack of respect for the environment, for ecology, and for humanity, was created by us, by those who have been living on this planet for years. It's not the fault of the young people whose lives are just beginning. They encountered this situation and responded to it. And I think that there is something positive in their response: that they form groups and team up. That's good. The challenge is to transform the group into a positive opportunity for social change.

Segment 2

NELSA CURBELO
Young people are attracted to gangs because the group offers them the family they don't have. So, in the beginning they come together because the group gives them friendship and solidarity. They get together to talk about girls, and other guys, to go out or to go dancing. That's the origin. But then, it changes into groups that need rules, where they need to go through rites of passage. They imitate the military at its best and at its worst. They carry out the same military tests in the streets, but they make it much tougher. Gangs are networks with fast communications systems with leaders whom they obey. That's why I believe that they are not rebels but rather young people who need authority. If they were truly rebels, they wouldn't accept the orders of their leaders without objection. These kids need an authority figure to make rules for them to follow. One of the most effective ways to generate violence is submission to authority. It's not simply obedience, because obedience presumes that you understand what you are being asked to do. But submission is when you are told to do something and you do it, even if you don't understand or agree with it. This works very well in a gang. So, it is the need to submit to a leader's authority, and the need for love, unity, and solidarity, that keeps the gangs together. That's what keeps them united.
VARIOUS YOUTHS
I became a gang member when I was 12. / I ran away when I lost my parents, and joined a gang. / What I miss most is my dad, who died when I was seven. / I went through all kinds of things on the streets: violence, fights, wars. / I was almost killed three times, but I survived and I'm fighting to stay alive. / I still have scars all over my face. / There was nobody to support us. / I had both bad and good experiences. / People in society think all kind of things about us, because they've never been here on the inside. / Not all gangs are like people think. / Unfortunately, people don't value us, and they always say: Gangs are worthless, all they do is to steal, smoke, and harm society. / People think that gangs are bad and it is true, in some ways. But they don't know what it's like. People should lend us a hand because they don't know how we really feel deep inside.
NELSA CURBELO
Working with gang members taught me a few things that I think we all should learn. First of all, I learned that these kids are not murderers you have to be afraid of, but rather, they are very vulnerable young people in deep need of love and affection. And from there we can start to build. That was the first thing I learned. I also learned that there is an incredible solidarity among them. This work has truly been a "school of life" for me, a school of understanding. And by far the most terrible thing I learned is that assaulting, harming, or killing others is a way to say "I am here," to show that they exist. Changing this behavior so that they feel present without committing a crime, is the real challenge. And when they discover this new way, they are much happier.
NELSA CURBELO
I believe that violence is a way of recognizing that one has no power. The opposite of violence isn't non-violence, it's power. When one has moral power, power of conviction, and the power to do good, one doesn't need violence. There is another kind of power: power over others. That's authoritarian power. Then there is the power of humanity working together, the power of teamwork. And there is another power, one that comes from inside. Gandhi had this power, Martin Luther King, Jesus, Mother Teresa, and many others. These people who have such coherence in what they say, what they want, and what they do, that they have a power which emanates from them. This power, which is not a power over other people, or an authoritarian power, is actually the power of service. That's the real non-violent power. In reality, I translate power as service. That's power; true power means to serve.

Segment 3

YOUTH
I wanted to give you the news: She gave birth yesterday.
NELSA CURBELO
What is it? ?
YOUTH
It's a boy: Raoul Francois.
NELSA CURBELO
When you lack the power to give life, it seems that the only recourse is the power to take away life. What needs to be enhanced is the power to build life. The joy that this young man feels due to his son's birth will change his life. We found out that they change when they fall in love, when they love somebody, and when they start to protect someone. That's why we try hard to promote teamwork among them and support them helping one another. They already do it, but they could do it even more. Nothing is more revolutionary than love. Love is the greatest power. Love is more powerful than violence, more powerful than the atomic bomb. Love has the power to transform lives, to change cities, and the whole world. Only love has this deep creative power. I am absolutely sure of it.
YOUTH
When you meet a person who shows you love you start to trust that person. That love motivates you to change, and allows you to see new, positive options for your life. It's something that touches your heart. I've known Nelsa for seven years now, and I'm ready to give my life for her. We really love her very much.
NELSA CURBELO
It's the kids themselves who give me hope. I think that each time we are with human beings who are able to change themselves, we are filled with joy and hope. One saved life, only one, justifies all the work we try to do. And I'm convinced of something else, too: Flowers don't grow from diamonds, they grow in the mud. And from these kids, who are considered the scum of humanity, the mud, the best things can be born. A different world is born when they are the change makers. This is what motivates me: to prove that those who live at the edge of society can sometimes lead deep changes.
VARIOUS YOUTHS
Everything can change. Like I did it, we all can do it. We can overcome and move on. / Before, my aspiration was to be violent. Sometimes you are not aware of what you do. Now my hope for the future is to be somebody important in life. / My dream for the future is to finish my studies. I want to be somebody important in life so that my family is proud of me. I want to help at home, my mother, my brothers, my sister. / That my daughter, because I have a baby girl, doesn't experience the violence I have. I want to protect her from all that. / I wish to work with gang members, because truly, there's no one better to do it than someone who has lived it. And since I have experienced it, I know how things are. / For the last seven years, my wish has been that all gangs come together and talk peacefully. That war ends and something new can begin in a positive way, that everybody can fulfill their dream and have a decent job, that everyone is respected, and that discrimination toward "the other" ends.
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Nelsa Curbelo founded the organization SER PAZ (Being Peace) in 1999 to work with youth gangs in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Its mission is to help gang members reintegrate into society by providing them with education and professional training. Members of rival gangs have come together to form print-shops, music studios, and pizzerias, which have brought alternative economic opportunities to the neighborhoods and provided the youth with outlets for creative expression.
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www.globalonenessproject.org