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From crime to grime

Nicaraguan ex-gang members turn to plumbing for a new life free from crime.
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Growing up in the Nicaraguan city of Bilwi is tough – amidst frequent power cuts, overcrowded schools, gang violence and drug culture, is the extortionate costs of basic supplies – including water.
Ron, ex gang member
Being in a gang in Bilwi means you’re a thief — that no-one likes you

Ron

ex gang member

In this poor and desperate environment, it’s common for youths to fall into gangs and associated violence. But, an innovative new WaterAid training program has found a way to help young men and women find another path.

Among Bilwi’s many problems is the scarcity of drinking water. Although the area is surrounded by rivers and lagoons, just one in five people has access to the unreliable municipal water supply. Public waterways and streams are visibly polluted. Only about half of the city’s population has access to a toilet. The city needs trained plumbers, masons and engineers to keep water and sanitation services running.

WaterAid and its partner AMEC (Aerobombas de Mecate, meaning ‘Windpumps and Ropepumps’) have set up a practical program for training students to become skilled entrepreneurs in the field of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Once they are taught the masonry and plumbing skills needed to build water wells and toilets, some have established their own profitable plumbing businesses. Filling the demand not only keeps them busy, it also brings health and economic benefits to their community.

Meet Bilwi’s new generation of plumbers:

Ron, 21, is an ex-gang member who has been on one of the technical courses for ‘at risk’ young people. It has changed the direction of his life and helped him to make positive steps for his future.

“Being in a gang in Bilwi means you’re a thief — that no-one likes you,” explains Ron.

He was once part of a gang called Young S.G.  (based in the Saint Gill neighborhood), fighting with stones, machetes and sometimes firearms. The gang is made up of boys as young as 12 years old. Ron, now out of this circle, recalls what it was like to be part of a gang.

In one particular fight between Young S.G. and the neighboring Bus Stop Gang, a friend of Ron’s was cut with a machete, while he himself escaped with a blow to the head from a stone. Gang violence isn’t the only issue effecting Ron’s neighborhood. Here, diseases caused by dirty water are rife.

When he heard about the plumbing training program, Ron saw an opportunity, not only for an escape out of gang life, but also to also bring water to his community. Ron is optimistic – so much so, that he’s now thinking about setting up his own personal business. It seems like the best investment right now: “There’s no future in gangs,” he says.