In El Salvador, kids seek refuge from the violence

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- There are almost 10 murders on the streets of El Salvador every day. Gangs have made survival a daily battle.

But amidst the violence there is an oasis - a youth center providing shelter from the brutal world outside the gates.

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Katherine Adrade
CBS News
"It exists on a string and a prayer," says Katherine Adrade who works for Catholic Relief Services, which runs the center.

"We're giving them hope and a new opportunity. Within and amidst all of the problems that are going on here ... This is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."

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A youth center is helping teenagers find jobs to get them off of the gang-ridden streets.

The hardest thing because of stories like this: an 18-year old says this is the only place he feels safe. He's lost three siblings to gang violence. His brother was murdered three weeks ago.

He told us a gang member recently showed him his gun and told him he's next.

Instead, the hope is he'll take the skills he's learning and join the thousands of others who've found a job through this organization.

A job, Andrade says, can be the ticket out of neighborhoods that haven't seen this much bloodshed since the country's 12-year civil war.

"I worked here during the war. This is much harder," says Adrade. "During the war, you kind of knew what you were dealing with. ... This is so diffused, so dispersed. It morphs and changes constantly.

Powerful gangs have merged with cartels moving drugs north. Corruption reaches into the ranks of police, government and even schools.

But El Salvador's Child Protection Agency director Zaira Navas does not believe violence is driving out all those who have fled. She says most want to reunite with family in the U.S.

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El Salvador's Child Protection Agency director Zaira Navas
CBS News
However, some might say these are excuses that are being offered up for the fact that the government hasn't done much to prevent the growth of these gangs.

"Is the solution to say the government failed?" Navas countered. "What we should say is what are we going to do to fix it. We need to attack our economic problems and invest in our communities."

An investment is desperately needed by those trying to escape these unforgiving streets.

  • Manuel Bojorquez

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