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Catholic Relief Services Works To Ensure Better Lives For Central Americans

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Maryland faith and community leaders meet again next week to tackle the issue of housing in Maryland for kids from Central America. At the same time, the Baltimore based Catholic Relief Services is at work in Central America.

Political reporter Pat Warren reports efforts are underway to improve their living conditions at home.

Catholic Relief has helped one woman build a bakery with paying customers and without any fear. It is a stark contrast to how she and her family used to live. Her mother says, when they had no jobs, they were scavenging for food. But there are a lot more other stories.

"Just three weeks ago, our staff in El Salvador told me about a woman they met. She had been visited by gang members in the middle of the night and they told her that her two daughters were going to become girlfriends of gang members," said Bill O'Keefe of Catholic Relief Services.

"Terrified, she that night picked up her family and fled to the United States. She never made it and she's back in El Salvador," he continued.

Tens of thousands of Central Americans are fleeing their countries to escape escalated gang violence.

"The gangs are employing a 'join or die' strategy in many local neighborhoods. They come to young people and say we want you to become couriers. If they say no, they kill them," said O'Keefe.

Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services is targeting gang-involved and at risk young people in El Salvador. In the past two years, 6,000 young people have completed school and found jobs outside the drug culture.

In Honduras, 54,000 kids have been helped. But it's just not enough.

"The Presidents of Central American countries are meeting with President Obama today, and they need to come up with a comprehensive strategy that's going to help them all and the United States to address the situations in those countries so people are able to stay and don't face these terrible choices," said O'Keefe.

Catholic Relief Services is one of a number of organizations working to improve the circumstances in El Salvador.

They are also available in Nicaragua and Guatemala.

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