FEATURE- El Salvador's ex-gang members tell of long, hard road ahead
By Anastasia Moloney
LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador, Nov 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A fter seven years with El Salvador's notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang, Rigoberto feared for his life as a dozen gang members armed with machetes and guns surrounded him on a football pitch.
"I thought, 'This is the moment when my life ends,'" he said, recalling the night three years ago when they set upon him for violating their code.
"When I joined the gang at age 15 they told me, 'If you don't follow our rules, three things await you: jail, hospital or the morgue.' I was very lucky. They beat me up and told me to leave the neighbourhood and never come back," said Rigoberto, 23, who declined to give his full name.
He obeyed the gang's orders and turned his back on a life of violent crime.
With no school diploma and the social stigma of being an ex-gang member, along with El Salvador's high unemployment rate, Rigoberto's chances of getting a job were slim. More than half of El Salvadorans under 24 have no source of income.
But Rigoberto was given a rare second chance. He is one of 120 men and women, aged 17 to 25, chosen to take part in a jobs training programme run by Solutions, an alliance of five local non-governmental organisations and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Over the next five months, he and other ex-gang members and young people at risk of being recruited by gangs will be trained as electricians and technicians to work in garment factories in Arce City, an hour's drive from the capital San Salvador.
Keeping on the right track is hard, says another ex-gang member, Diego Rauda. Continuación...