‘‘Karina’‘ is a 16-year-old gang member who learned to play the violin, and now she is part of a string orchestra that includes 30 girls from two rival gangs that subjected the country to violence and set its crime rates among the highest in the world.
‘‘The most difficult part was to know that we were going to be near the other gang. It was difficult to sit by their side. But once we started to learn how to play the instruments, we focused on that in order to move the orchestra forward,” the young lady confirmed to AFP, under the fictitious name of ‘‘Karina’‘.
The Female Orchestra of the Salvadoran Institute for Childhood and Adolescence (ISNA), created for young girls (between the ages of 14 and 17) that were members of the “Mara Salvatrucha” (MS-13) and “Barrio 18” gangs, was featured with the National Youth Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert that took place on the evening of September 20.
The orchestra is sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS) as part of the truce agreed between the maras (gangs).
An enterprise foundation theater, located in the west of San Salvador, was the setting where the ladies debuted as musicians, playing violins, violoncellos, and violas to interpret four pieces with the philharmonic: ‘‘Cuerdas al Aire’‘, ‘‘Canción del Folclor Francés’‘, ‘‘Brilla, Brilla Estrellita’‘, and ‘‘Cumbia’‘.
The orchestra is part of a pilot project organized by the Inter-American Commission for Drug Abuse Control (CICAD), and the OAS’ Department of Education and Culture, along with Colombia’s Batuta Foundation.
According to official figures, Salvadoran prisons hold over 10,000 gang members, while about 50,000 are free in local districts and streets.