(SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR) “Many of these kids would already be dead if they were not here,” says Father Jose Morataya, in a Nov. 16, 2011, Catholic News Service article by Edgardo Ayala. The chilling quote comes from a Salesian priest – known locally as “Father Pepe” – who is the founder of the Don Bosco Technical Institute in San Salvador, El Salvador. The campus is located in one the most crime-ridden barrios in the capital of a country the United Nations considers one of the most violent in the world.

The article reports on how Father Pepe “has taken a different approach to tackling the widespread violence: He educates El Salvador’s youths.”

“For 24 years,” the article reads “Father Morataya has directed an institution that offers free education and job training to children and young adults from marginalized communities who are at risk of falling into the world of crime.”

“Spanish by birth,” the article continues, “the 63-year-old priest came to El Salvador in 1983, during a time when guerrillas and government forces were still fighting a civil war that left nearly 70,000 dead. It would be another nine years before a peace accord was signed.”

Since Father Morataya started the Don Bosco program, students have created small businesses in agriculture and industry, Catholic News Service reports.

The program’s goal, explains Father Pepe to reporter Edgardo Ayala, “is to give people who face serious challenges to becoming responsible, contributing members of society the opportunity to escape violence and avoid turning to crime.”

Much of the country’s crime is attributed to two specific gangs, the article reports. “The gangs, which experts believe make up an army of about 25,000 members, have caused criminal violence to escalate to the point of destabilizing the country.”

An estimated 150 of the 400 students are considered “to be at risk of joining the gangs because they have little hope of avoiding the cycle of violence.” To shield them from the outside influences and increase their chances of success, these students live inside the walls of the institute.

The program is seen as so innovative and successful that young men serving prison terms are often sent by judges, because of good behavior the article explains, to Don Bosco Technical Institute to finish their sentences. There, they are given the opportunity to learn a trade and increase their chances for rehabilitation. Five fields are offered to students at the institute: electricity, mechanics, carpentry, welding and tailoring.

Luis Ricardo, 18, is one of the young men chosen for the alternative sentencing.

A 15-year-old (identified in the Catholic News Service article only as “Antonio”) was being recruited by gang members, but his parents intervened – sending him to the Salesian institute and giving him a brighter future.

Read more about Luis Ricardo and Antonio. (link to the eNews article)

Go to the original Catholic News Service article: Salesian Institute Gives Young Salvadorans an Alternative to Violence