Think Creative - Issue 6

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Fall 2019 Think Creative Portable parks in El Salvador USAID’s Large Business Partner of the Year Ethical art contest gets creative in Nigeria By Creative Associates International

WhyMigrants Risk It All

Inside the extensive study on what’s driving Central American migration

snap shot Turn the page to learn the story behind this photo

Photo by Janey Fugate

snap shot

Learning from the experiences of migrants

By Evelyn Rupert, Writer and Editor

Both would be detained and deported by U.S. immigration authorities. To put a human face on Creative’s research into the root drivers of migration, Creative’s Communications team spoke with nearly 20 people across the Northern Triangle who had come to the same conclusion as Ervin and Edgar. They were from urban and rural areas, men and women, and of different ages and ethnicities. Their experiences and motivations for migrating were equally as diverse. But the common thread that tied together this powerful package of stories was a shared desire to build a better life for themselves and their loved ones. Watch their stories:

We found Ervin (pictured left with his family) way out in a dense cornfield, ripping ears of corn from their dry stalks and skillfully husking them. He wasn’t going to sit idle and wait for us to arrive for the interviewwhile there was work to do. Both Ervin and Edgar (pictured on the previous page with his wife) depend on agriculture to make a living in the Petén department of Guatemala. They say that it has become increasingly difficult to make ends meet laboring on rented land as climate change decimates their chances of a successful harvest. In 2018, Ervin and Edgar each decided that finding work in the U.S. was the best way to provide for their young children. About two months apart, they said goodbye to their families, hoping for the best.

In this Issue

12 p. Why Migrants Risk It All

07 Dispatches

Updates from around our world

08 // Healthy homes and harvests in Honduras 09 // • Conflict prevention in Guatemala • Field Notes

10 // Honduran families bolster youth resilience 11 // Portable parks in Salvadoran communities 12 Cover Package Why Migrants Risk It All

Inside the extensive study on what’s driving Central American migration

ON THE COVER: Ervin Choc carries his young daughter through a cornfield. Photo by Janey Fugate for Think Creative .

Photos by Janey Fugate

4 | Think Creative | Fall 2019

Think Creative by Creative Associates International

Letter from Leland Kruvant President & CEO Creative Associates International


Founder & Board Chair Charito Kruvant President & CEO Leland Kruvant Chief Operating Officer Pablo Maldonado Executive Vice President Earl Gast Chief Financial Officer Oswaldo Holguin Senior Vice President Thomas Wheelock Senior Vice President Sharon Cooley VP, External Relations Jessica Kruvant VP, Global Operations Mario Vilela VP, Education Eileen St. George

findings and profile individuals who have attempted to migrate or plan to leave their homes. Our cover story provides you with a better understanding of why people are willing to make this very dangerous journey. The drivers of irregular migration are complicated but not beyond our ability to address. Ultimately, reducing the drivers of irregular migration are not easy and will require an alignment of interests among diverse actors and a long- term vision for the economic future of these communities. Sincerely,

It is an incredible piece of work that generated more than 100,000 data points and better informs our understanding of this unique phenomenon. Ultimately, it can lead us to develop improved localized solutions to mitigate the drivers of irregular migration from the Northern Triangle and support people to build better futures within their communities. As an implementer of community- focused projects with more than three decades of experience in the region, we felt the perspective of a development organization with up-to-date data could offer a fresh look at this regional challenge. In this issue of Think Creative , we walk you through a selection of the

From a distance, the drivers of irregular migration fromCentral America’s Northern Triangle seem intractable. They are not. This is demonstrated through one of the most in-depth analyses of local factors that drive irregular migration fromEl Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras conducted by Creative Associates International and released this summer. Based on extensive data mining, statistical analysis and a 2,400-person survey conducted in February and March, Creative can distinguish the different triggers of migration in 60 high-migration municipalities, as well as paint a general portrait of potential migrants.


Senior Director, Communications Michael J. Zamba Communications Manager Marta S. Maldonado Strategic Content Manager Jillian Slutzker Rocker Art Direction Amanda Smallwood Writers Evelyn Rupert Ashley Williams Contributing Photographers Janey Fugate Skip Brown Erick Gibson Jim Huylebroek Think Creative is published three times a year by Creative Associates International, a global development organization dedicated to supporting people around the world to realize the positive change they seek. The content is produced by Creative and does not represent the policies or positions of its clients, partners or host governments. Reproduction of any or all of Think Creative is prohibited without prior written permission. Copyright ©2019.

Portable Parks in El Salvador 11 p.

25 Creative Life A mission-driven community 26 // Staff Spotlight: Dean Piedmont

Ethics Code on the Road 29 p.

Championing reintegration to build peace

27 // Staff Photo Submissions 28 // Proud Partner: Creative named USAID’s Large Business Partner of the Year 29 // Taking the Code on the Road: The Creative Way comes alive in our Nigeria-based projects 30 // Walk this Way: A day in the life of Dr. Shaheen Ashraf Shah, Director of Gender, Pakistan Reading Project

30 p. Meet Dr. Shah!

For more information about Think Creative , please email us at

5301 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 700 Washington, DC 20015 + 202.966.5804 Creative Associates International

Photos by Skip Brown (Leland Kruvant), Amina Aminu (left), TOTEM (right), Azmat Ullah (bottom) | 5

The Reintegration of Taliban Fighters into a Market-Based Economy in Afghanistan

Meet Dean on pg. 26!

By Dean Piedmont

Head to to read the paper

presented by:



hosted By:

6 | Think Creative | Fall 2019

Di spa t che s

Updates from around our world

The Vamos Ler! (Let’s Read!) project is working with the Ministry of Education to bring bilingual education to more early grade students in Mozambique.

Photo by Erick Gibson | 7


updates from around our world

ACS-PROSASUR provides technical assistance to smallholder farmers to help them grow new crops and implement more productive farming practices.

Honduras // Dry Corridor Alliance Healthy homes and harvests

The yuca plants are ready to harvest in José Belberto Varela’s small garden outside his home in the San José community in southern Honduras. It’s a simple but important milestone for Varela’s family of six and just one of many changes they’re seeing this season. Nestled in Honduras’ Dry Corridor, a region known for severe droughts and resulting food insecurity, the family has struggled to access clean water and grow crops. And like many in this region where more than 90 percent of people live below the poverty line, the Varelas’ home lacked some of the basic amenities needed to keep their four children healthy. But that was before the family started growing new crops for consumption and sale, raising chickens for eggs and meat, and benefiting from household improvements. In short, it

was before the Varelas began participating in the ACS-PROSASUR project, which works in 12 municipalities in the southern departments of Choluteca and El Paraíso to improve livelihoods and build resilience for 6,000 poor and extreme poor families. “I feel grateful because thank God I now have better conditions for my children. I never imagined that one day I would get help, that I would benefit from ACS-PROSASUR and that one day my house would change completely,” says Varela. The project has two main components: Food Production and Income Generation to boost resilience for smallholder farmers, and Nutrition Education and Household Hygiene to combat chronic malnutrition in children under 2 and in pregnant women. The Varelas are one of 1,000 families in the region

benefiting from both. ACS-PROSASUR, part of the Dry Corridor Alliance, is implemented by Creative in partnership with the Honduras Strategic Investment Office (INVEST-H) and receives funding from the World Bank through the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program. A healthy, resilient household Inside their home, the Varela family received an eco-filter for water, a clean stove, a latrine, and a cement floor to replace their dirt one. By drinking purified water, breathing cleaner air when they cook, using the updated latrine, and no longer sitting and walking on dirt, the family is far less vulnerable to stomach diseases and diarrhea, which are major causes of childhood malnutrition.

Photo by Skip Brown

8 | Think Creative | Fall 2019

Field Notes

Community-driven conflict prevention

Guatemala // Peacebuilding Project

Countering Violent Extremism


Indigenous communities in the Western Highlands of Guatemala face historic tensions and social inequity that contribute to the outbreak of conflict and distrust among communities and the government. The USAID-funded Peacebuilding Project works with local leaders, including groups led by elders, women and youth, in 130

communities to identify causes of conflict and build “community visions.” These plans focus on conflict prevention and resolution, as well as improved social cohesion. The project will address four types of conflict that are prevalent in the region while repairing the social fabric to strengthen community resilience. n

Cameroon: Programme d’Appui à l’Initiative Communautaire Communities affected by violent extremism in the Lake Chad Basin region have developed localized terms to describe the crisis, but these terms are poorly understood by authorities and community organizations. To help unify efforts across this region to prevent and counter violent extremism, Creative partnered with researchers at the University of Maroua to develop a standardized lexicon of more than 200 of these terms. Mozambique: Vamos Ler! (Let’s Read!) Mozambique released its first nationwide bilingual education expansion strategy with support from the USAID-funded Vamos Ler! program. This major policy change will help more students learn to read in their local language before transitioning to Portuguese in later grades. Afghanistan: Afghan Children Read The USAID-funded Afghan Children Read project hosted 33 Ministry of Education officials from central and provincial levels for a workshop on the scale-up of the early grade reading program. The project collaborated with the ministry to create a workplan for a phased sustainability and scale-up. Somalia: Bringing Unity, Integrity, and Legitimacy to Democracy With double the staff and partners it had last year, Creative’s BUILD project, funded by USAID, is expanding to support the Women’s Committee and Electoral Law Committee in Somalia’s House of People and a network of professors to deliver electoral education throughout the country.

Community Visions to prevent

m Education

Youth, Family & Gender-Based Violence

Natural Resources Conflict

Governance Conflict

Land Conflict

As the Varelas begin to see the results of these changes—clean water, healthier kids, income from crops—the project is working to ensure families have access to information to live healthier lives and achieve more economic stability, even after the project ends. A new radio program called “Vivir en el Campo” (“Living in the Countryside”) is dispatched every Saturday morning with segments on nutrition, healthy habits and farming techniques. When ACS-PROSASUR comes to an end in 2021, it aims to leave families with the tools, skills and knowledge to continue to thrive. The project is working with local governments to incorporate health and economic support activities into municipal development plans and to link vulnerable families to other municipal and international programs. n

In addition to these improvements, each family participating in both project components works with project counselors to develop health, hygiene and nutrition plans for diversifying their diets and keeping family members, especially young children, disease- free and healthy. In families’ gardens and fields, the project supports smallholder farmers like Varela to establish garden plots, access seeds to grow a variety of hearty, nutritious crops, and construct water harvesting systems to weather drought. Families work with counselors to establish food security plans and agricultural business plans. “They gave me technical assistance to plant the garden, where I now have yuca and from which I harvested corn and sweet potato,” says Varela.

m Elections

Infographic by Amanda Smallwood | 9


updates from around our world

Esther (left) and her young daughter welcome Proponte Más family counselors Dinora (center) and Nadia into their home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Honduran families take the lead in building youth resilience

Honduras // Proponte Más

But today, Dinora and Nadia’s focus is on Es- ther. Parents and guardians play a crucial role in reducing risk factors and building protective factors to strengthen their kids’ resilience to gangs and violence. The family counselors therefore work to reestablish adults’ authority in the home and improve supervision. “Counseling work would not be possible with- out the willingness from parents to put into practice the recommendations we give them,” Dinora says. “If parents are organized, it will be reflected in their children, and everyone can learn from this experience.” In their previous visit, the counselors met with Esther and her husband Edilberto without the

Leaning into the doorway of her small home outside Tegucigalpa, Esther calls her four chil- dren to come take their seats on the patio. The two counselors, who are by now like part of the family themselves, have arrived. The family counselors, Dinora and Nadia, are staff from the Proponte Más secondary vio- lence prevention program, funded by USAID. Over the course of six months, the pair visit Esther’s home to strengthen their family system, with the goal of reducing the behaviors and attitudes that put her eldest child, Nandito, at risk of engaging with the gangs that claim his neighborhood as their territory.

children present. They left the parents with some homework—to schedule 30 minutes a day for the two of them to talk about family issues and their kids’ needs. Esther and Edilberto were asked to work together to establish household rules and make sure they were being followed. Esther says she is already seeing a big differ- ence in how the children behave toward one another and toward their parents. “Edilberto and I talked with the children and we put all the rules into practice. Since then, they fight less … and there is no yelling in the house,” she says. “[The counselors] have helped

Photo by José Granados

10 | Think Creative | Fall 2019

Community members celebrate the new Cuscatlánitos (parklets).

me a lot and I’m very grateful, because some- times you can’t do it by yourself.” Family-first solutions Spending time hanging out on the street can be a risk in communities with high levels of violence and gang activity. By working with the family to improve parental supervision and authority, Proponte Más family counselors empower parents to change these and other be- haviors that have been identified as risk factors for engaging with crime and violence. “Sometimes [Nandito] would go out into the street … And the other kids would follow him because he’s the oldest,” Esther says. “But I’ve learned a lot from [the counselors]. Now he doesn’t go out. He respects me.” Nadia and Dinora note that Esther and Edilber- to’s case is unique—theirs is one of just a few two-parent households working with Proponte Más. In the communities in which the program works, migration, crime and violence mean many children are being raised in blended households with a grandmother, aunt or other family member taking on the parental role. But for Proponte Más, the motto is “la familia que hay”—“the family that exists.” Regardless of the family composition, counselors work to strengthen relationships and communication to make sure vulnerable youth have the sup- port systems they need. Another Proponte Más family counselor, Nheslhy, says dedicating a portion of their time to the leaders in a household strengthens the entire family system and allows the adults in the house to keep implementing the lessons they’ve learned through counseling. “We want the authority figures in the house- hold to come to agreement and find the solutions within the family,” she says. “They have the solutions. We are just reminding them or helping them find that treasure that exists within the family and which they can sustain with their own norms, rules and authority.” Through Proponte Más, the parents, grand- parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, godparents and cousins that are raising youth are playing a vital role in building resilience. “What they told me about the family I took to heart. I had never done these things before,” says Esther. “But thanks to the counseling, everything has improved, and we will continue to apply it … They’ve taught me a lot, and I have more to learn.” n

El Salvador / / Crime and Violence Prevention Project Portable parks promote community in El Salvador

What is the size of two parking spots, can seat a group of friends and has the power to prevent crime and violence? “Parklets”—known locally as Cuscatlánitos after the newly revitalized Cuscatlán Park in San Salvador—are vibrant public spaces that provide communities a meeting point. Though they are simple, these small parks are poised to make a powerful impact on strengthening vulnerable communities in El Salvador. In their most basic form, they are slightly raised platforms with three low walls, but each one can be customized to meet the needs of the community. Some become classrooms, some are places for en- trepreneurs to sell their goods, and others become places to make art. These new public spaces are supported by the USAID-funded Crime and Violence Prevention Project, which improves the ability of communities, municipalities and national institutions to prevent violent crime. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Gang violence affects many vulnerable communities. The new parklets will live in the Tutunichapa, Atonal, La Asunción and Santa Fe/La Paz communities, which surround Cuscatlán Park in the historic center of San Salvador. The parklets are part of a larger effort to make residents feel safe in and around their communities. TOTEM, a New York-based urban development and design firm, designed the parklets as a system of interconnected spaces between Cuscatlán Park and surrounding communities by creating hyper-local and modular public spaces to foster community cohesion through entrepreneurship

and participatory “place-making.” TOTEM Principal J. Manuel Mansylla says that while some of these communities are stigmatized and alienated, they are entrepreneurial and can thrive with the right support and platform, such as these parklets. “During the dry season, when the demand to spend time outdoors increases, parklets may temporarily replace a few parking spots with neighborhood gathering places perfect for eating, reading, working, meeting a friend or taking a rest,” he says. “In San Salvador, we added a new twist by using them as platforms to promote community members’ creative talents and ideas.” TOTEM inaugurated the new public spaces with a pop-up market, called Festitlán, in the parking lot of the Cuscatlán Market. The design firm coordinated with local organizations and government to develop this urban festival, which promoted the idea of building a city of “beautiful things” and showcased ways the city could be transformed through safe, dynamic public spaces. Activities included workshops on urban gardening, dance and music shows by local artists, a participa- tory mural, a community culinary market and more. For community members, these parks provide a renewed energy and a much-needed safe space to hang out. “Thank you very much for taking us into account to be part of the Cuscatlánitos,” said 19-year-old Nubia Velasco, from La Asunción, while enjoying the new park. “We think it is a very cool way to spend time outside our homes, doing activities like these, cele- brating and having fun.” n

Photo by TOTEM | 11

12 | Think Creative | Spring 2019

Why Migrants Risk It All

Inside the extensive study on what’s driving Central American migration

By Evelyn Rupert | Photos by Janey Fugate

Photo by Lara | 13

why migrants risk it all

“Saliendo Adelante...”

The Spanish term, while used in many ways, carries a connotation of moving forward or striving to progress in life. It’s a phrase used often across Central America, as thousands of people seek their own personal and family advancement through migration to the United States. Saliendo Adelante therefore became an apt name for a six-month, in-depth study commissioned by Creative into the factors that drive people from Central America’s Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—to undertake the often-dangerous journey north. Uniquely, the study identified the 60 municipalities in the three countries that, combined, account for more than half of all the region’s irregular migration. In these mostly urban municipalities, Creative conducted 2,400 in-person individual surveys in February and March to gather data on intentions to

migrate, family, household economic situation and exposure to crime, among other points. Combining the results of these 2,400 surveys with existing municipal data and thorough analysis, Creative is able to better understand the complex tapestry of factors that contribute to migration from the Northern Triangle to the United States. The study reveals the nuances of migration, even among municipalities and regions in the same country. For example, the confluence of factors that drives people to migrate differ in El Salvador’s Soyapango and La Libertad, which have a similar rate of emigration. Universal is the fact that migrants often risk their safety to make the journey. With this study, Creative aimed to better understand—on a local and individ- ual level—why they believe it’s worth the risk.

Where are people migrating from? Creative’s survey focused on the 60 municipalities that, combined, account for more than half of all irregular migration from the Northern Triangle to the United States. The percentages below indicate the municipality’s share of all migration from each country. For example, 16 percent of Guatemalan migrants come from Guatemala City.



La Ceiba 5 %

El Salvador

Mixco 4 %

San Pedro Sula 20 %

Guatemala City 16 %

Villa Nueva 2 %

Central District (Tegucigalpa & Comayagüela) 27 %

La Libertad 5 %

San Miguel 5 %

San Salvador 18 %

14 | Think Creative | Fall 2018 2 9

Marisol (center) walks with her family through the street of their neighborhood in the Rivera Hernandez sector of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Desperate to provide for her children and for her eldest to be able to go to school, Marisol attempted to migrate to the U.S. with a caravan.

Percentage of survey respondents who intend to migrate

El Salvador 24 %

Guatemala 18 %

Honduras 33 %

The economics behind migration It’s a Monday morning, but Marisol’s 8-year- old son is at home, playing with his younger sister in their small side yard. Marisol, who never learned to read herself, had to pull him from school because she and her husband, both unemployed, couldn’t afford the cost. “He needs to go to school, but I can’t give it to him because I don’t have money, I don’t have work,” she says. “I’ve been looking for two years, and I haven’t been able to find a job.”

give themwhat they deserve,” she says. “My children are barefoot, because I haven’t been able to buy them sandals, even though they only cost 20 lempiras (81 cents).” Marisol made it to Tijuana, Mexico and began selling small goods, sending the money back to her family in Honduras. Finally generating some income, Marisol planned to continue working for a time inMexico before applying for asylum in the United States. But a call from her husband changed those plans. Her son was

Marisol, 24, lives in the Rivera Hernandez area of San Pedro Sula, the municipality with the second-highest rate of irregular migration in Honduras. Desperate to provide food, clothing and an education to her two children, Marisol left her home for the United States in Septem- ber 2018, joining a caravan of migrants with a friend from the neighborhood. “My dreamwas to get there and be able to give my kids a better future. That was my motiva- tion for leaving my country … because we can’t | 15

varies among high-migration municipalities in light of their unique economies and the other challenges residents face. In Creative’s survey of individuals in San Pedro Sula, 30 percent of respondents said they make less than $400 a month and are unable to make ends meet. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they had worried about having enough food for everyone in their household in the previous month. For Marisol, a lifetime of economic hardships led her to conclude that migration is her best option. She and her husband have decided that someday soon they will travel as a family north to seek asylum in the U.S. Pastor Arnold Linares has knownMarisol since she was a young girl, when her community was devastated by flash flooding and his church responded with aid. Linares says unemploy- ment is a crisis throughout Rivera Hernandez, and many people depend on selling food, small

Edgar, 28, has struggled to make a living from agricultural work and generate enough income to meet the basic needs of his wife and two young daughters (right) in La Libertad, Guatemala. He left home for the U.S. in late 2018 but was deported.

motivation behind migration,” Leon says. “With the study, however, we have been able to pinpoint the specific conditions that are the strongest indicators, and we can tailor our development programs to address them on a local level.” The three factors that were found to most sig- nificantly influence migration, Leon explains, were unemployment, a pessimistic outlook on a household’s economic future, and making less than $400 a month and not being able to make ends meet. Across Honduras, 65 percent of people surveyed by Creative who have considered migrating believe their household is worse off economically than it was the previous year. Creative’s analysis found that having a negative outlook on a household’s economic situa- tion makes Hondurans 1.5 times as likely to migrate. However, the impact of these factors

gravely ill, and Marisol had to return home to be by his side. Back in Rivera Hernandez, with her son re- covered, Marisol doesn’t think she can bear to leave her children again, but she also doesn’t see a future for them in Honduras. Marisol’s story is not unusual. According to Creative’s study into factors driving irregular migration, economic factors are the primary motivation of migrants to the U.S. Creative’s Economic Growth Senior Associate Rene Leon Rodriguez says a weak regional economy and shortage of stable, formalized jobs prevent many families from being able to cover their most basic needs and puts upward mobility out of reach. “We know that across the region, even when a household is facing a myriad of other issues, economic factors are often the underlying

Economics at a glance

Believing the economic situation will worsen differentiates those who intend to migrate from those who do not. See the differences in Figure 1 .

“Families facing unemployment or economic hardship with little hope that things will improve are more likely to decide that migrating to the United States is the only possible recourse for their family.”

– Rene Leon Rodriguez Economic Growth Senior Associate

16 | Think Creative | Fall 2019


Age 24

Rivera Hernandez, San Pedro Sula, Honduras


Motivation for migrating

Economic hardship, unemployment

Pastor Arnold Linares oversees an Outreach Center with his family in Rivera Hernandez that provides local youth with opportunities for recreation, tutoring and training.

“We hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, and the next day we didn’t eat dinner. The following morning, I decided I had to leave because we couldn’t live that way.”

goods and recyclables to survive. And due to a stigma against people fromRivera Hernandez, Linares says, the factories and larger busi- nesses in the area rarely hire neighborhood residents. “There is so little work for the people, and there are also challenges in education,” he says. “So when they don’t have these opportunities, they say, ‘Let’s migrate. Let’s leave.’” In Rivera Hernandez, economic difficulties are exacerbated by the notoriously high levels of gang-driven crime and violence. Robberies are common, and people who do manage to find work or start businesses are often extorted. “People want to leave their city or neighbor- hood and emigrate, even though they know that their lives are at risk, even though they realize they may die trying,” Linares says. “But people say that here in the community, they al- ready feel threatened. They’re already suffering from violence, unemployment.”


Plans to seek asylum in the U.S. but returns to Honduras to care for her son

Arrives in Tijuana, finds work

Travels to Mexico City, is kidnapped by the Los Zetas cartel and held captive for three days with a small group of people

60 %

Departs San Pedro Sula in a caravan with a friend

of those

who intend to migrate cite economic concerns as their primary reason for migrating 

Figure 1: Migration and economic outlook in Tegucigalpa and La Ceiba, Honduras


Intends to migrate and thinks economic situation will worsen

Does not intend to migrate but thinks economic situation will worsen  

2x Being unemployed makes someone nearly twice as likely to consider migrating

Tegucigalpa, Honduras



La Ceiba, Honduras


39% | 17

why migrants risk it all

Edwin Mejía, a social worker in San Salvador, El Salvador, leads a conflict prevention workshop. Mejía found his passion for his profession after his own experiences with a gang, incarceration and migration.

Above: Otilia (center) was forced to abandon her home in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador after a gang threatened her if she didn’t pay a huge sum of money.

Figure 2: Migration and victimization in Guatemala City and Totonicapán, Guatemala Municipality

Fleeing victimization In the survey of high-migration municipalities, more than half of respondents who intend to migrate reported having been a victim of crime. Nearly a quarter said they’ve had a close friend or relative murdered. To understand how crime and violence contrib- ute to migration on a deeper level, Creative’s study looked more closely at these individual experiences of victimization in the region. It took into account exposure to homicide, as well as robberies, extortion, bribery and violence against women. Creative’s study found that these crimes shape migration decisions differently across the three countries and even municipalities within the same country. While being a victim of extortion may spike a person’s likelihood of migration in one municipality, in another

municipality a different type of crime may more acutely affect residents. At a regional level, having been robbed on the street was found to be a clearer determining factor in a decision to migrate than exposure to homicide. This can be seen in El Salvador, where 50 percent of respondents who have considered migrating said they have been robbed, while 29 percent of those who have not considered migrating said the same. “We knowmany of these municipalities’ populations are highly victimized. But we can’t assume that specific exposure to crime and violence resonates the same way across the region,” says Enrique Roig, Director of Cre- ative’s Citizen Security Practice Area. “These distinctions are crucial if crime and violence prevention programs are to address the root causes of migration.”

Intends to migrate and has been exposed to at least two acts of crime or violence

Guatemala City, Guatemala


Totonicapán, Guatemala


In the municipality of Apopa, outside the cap- ital of San Salvador, 22-year-old Alberto is still shaken from the nine murders that recently oc- curred in the span of a single week. He doesn’t want his 2-year-old daughter, or his 8-year-old sister, to grow up with violence as an everyday occurrence. Alberto attempted to reach the

Victimization at a glance

1.5x Having been a victim of a crime or having a family member or someone close to them who has been makes individuals 1.5 times more  likely to consider migrating 

61 % of those who have

considered migrating from Honduras have been robbed on the street compared to 39% who haven’t considered migrating but have been robbed 

Being exposed to crime differentiates those who intend  to migrate from those

In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Luisa and Alberto fear extortion and violence from area gangs. They were one of many families that joined a caravan heading for the U.S. in 2018.

who do not. See the differences in Figure 2. 

18 | Think Creative | Fall 2019


Age 22


Apopa, El Salvador Crime and violence, underemployment

Motivation for migrating

Alberto (right) says hopes for his family’s wellbeing and security motivated him to try to cross the border into the U.S.

“It was more than painful to leave, because not seeing [my family] for me was as bad as the fear I had of losing my life on the journey.”

Does not intend to migrate but has been exposed to at least two acts of crime or violence  




Detained by U.S. immigration authorities in McAllen, Texas. Deported from Laredo, Texas

United States in 2016, planning to send money home to support his family and hoping that someday they would be able to join him. “It’s sad to get on a bus and know that you might not return to your country for a long time and that you’re leaving behind the people you love most,” he says. “But I think that your family understands that in this country, we can be here today, but anything can happen to us tomorrow. So we go looking for protection.” Alberto was ultimately detained by U.S. im- migration authorities shortly after crossing the border into Texas and was deported back to El Salvador. Now, he’s working on-and-off as a driver, struggling to find more permanent employment. In addition to the busy streets of San Salvador, Alberto must navigate the map of gang-controlled territory in Apopa.

Crosses the Rio Grande on a raft from Miguel Aleman, Mexico

Arrives in Mexico City

Crosses into Mexico near Tacana, Guatemala

Departs from San Salvador bus terminal

“In many high-migration municipalities, crime and violence have become part of the daily reality, forcing many people to leave their communities in search of safety.” – Enrique Roig, Director Citizen Security Practice Area

54% of survey respondents who have considered migrating have been robbed on the street | 19

why migrants risk it all

25% of survey respondents who have considered migrating receive remittances

He fears crossing into the turf of a gang that rivals the one running his neighborhood; simply living in a certain part of town can put him at risk of being attacked or killed, swept up in the ongoing gang feuds. In Apopa, 14 percent of those interviewed for Creative’s survey said they have had a relative or close friend murdered. Eleven percent said they have been extorted for money or know family or someone close to themwho has been, while 11 percent said the same for having been bribed by police, and 40 percent reported the same for robbery. Against this backdrop of pervasive victim- ization, Alberto feels that for himself and his young family, a second attempt to reach the U.S. is the best option. “The truth is that I want to emigrate to the U.S. again, even though I suffered on the journey. But with the situation here in this country, it’s almost as if being a young person were a crime because of the gangs,” Alberto says. “God willing, my family will be able to get out of the violence in which we’re living.” Alberto, like 63 percent of survey respondents across the Northern Triangle who intend to migrate, has a family member living abroad. Both of Alberto’s brothers previously migrated to the U.S. on separate trips. In addition to the economic and victimization factors pushing Al- berto toward migrating, he also is experiencing an important pull factor of ties to the U.S.

Eugenia, a single mother living near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, tried to reach the United States so she could provide her young daughter with a better childhood than she had.

The pull of transnational ties Creative’s six-month study examined the influence of transnational ties (family in the United States, receipt of remittances and prior migration) on the likelihood of migration. Creative found that these factors were an important part of migration patterns but less of a motivator than economics or victimization. Only 3 percent of those who intend to migrate cite family reunification as their primary rea- son for migration. The research looked closely at remittances and found that receiving money from a family

After being deported from the U.S. back to Honduras, Dayra returned to school and started a career in community-focused nutrition and health work. She is currently a basic sanitation supervisor with the ACS-PROSASUR program (see pg. 8).

Transnational Ties at a glance

“While economics and victimization provide the push, transnational ties are the pull that open the door a little wider.”

Only 3% of those who intend to migrate cite family reunification as their primary reason for migration

– Salvador Stadthagen, Director Latin America and Caribbean Strategy

20 | Think Creative | Fall 2019


Age 29


Totonicapán, Guatemala Unemployment and lack of economic opportunity

Motivation for migrating

member overseas does seem to increase like- lihood of migration, while at the same time raising household income. Nearly a quarter of survey respondents said they receive remit- tances, which not only indicate strong family ties but also the potential for job opportunities for future migrants. “In the Northern Triangle, transnational ties are about more than just missing a loved one overseas. These strong connections to the U.S. point to a support network and the possibility of economic prosperity,” says Creative’s Sal- vador Stadthagen, Director of Latin America and Caribbean Strategy. “For migrants, a link to the U.S. can make it easier to find a job and reduce some of the uncertainty, risk and cost of making the journey.” Manuel, 33, has family and economic ties that have contributed to his decision to leave Guatemala on two separate occasions. Orig- inally from SanMarcos and currently living in Guatemala City, Manuel first migrated at

“Out of necessity, I’m going to try again, one or two more times until I get there.”


Detained by U.S. immigration authorities in Phoenix, Arizona and deported

Manuel, 33, is still fearful after

Crosses into the U.S. in Arizona through the desert

experiencing extortion and threats of violence in Guatemala. He preferred to not reveal his identity on camera to protect his own security and privacy.

Departs Totonicapán with friends and crosses into Mexico at La Mesilla

Positive effect Remittances have a positive effect in reducing

wife. Today, he is working at Casa del Migrante, where migrants frommany countries stop for support, a meal and a place to stay on their own journeys. Manuel says that for now, he’s happy to be putting down roots in Guatemala, but knows that he has a support network and opportunity back in Ohio. “And maybe someday I’ll emigrate again,” he says. “I’ll always carry that beautiful memory of [my friends] and the United States. And it will always be in my prayers. Not just because I have family there, but because that country was a blessing for me.”

age 18, joining his aunt in Florida. Eventually making his way to Ohio, he began working in landscaping, finding a network of friends and a supportive boss who had a job waiting for him when he returned after visiting his family in Guatemala. “The second time, I was in communication with my boss. And he told me, ‘Come. If you come today, you’ll start work tomorrow,’” Manuel recalls. After a couple more years abroad, Manuel decided to return to Guatemala to be with his

poverty and increase household income, helping families below the $400 threshold make ends meet | 21

why migrants risk it all

Dariana, 18, hopes to be able to reach the U.S. with her partner and 5-year-old daughter and support her mother in Corozal, a coastal community in La Ceiba, Honduras.

David, 23, seen here volunteering as a youth soccer coach in Soyapango, El Salvador, applied for asylum upon reaching the U.S. border in 2018 but was denied and deported.

Youth migration Across the Northern Triangle, Creative’s study shows that youth are hardest hit by the factors that influence migration. Survey respondents ages 18 to 29 were more than twice as like- ly to consider migrating than adults 30 and older. Regionally, 37 percent of youth from high-migration municipalities intend to mi- grate, compared to 20 percent of older adults. The factors that influence migration can have a unique impact on youth compared to older people. Unemployment, for example, seems to be a more significant driver of youth migration. In Guatemala, 18 percent of young men who have considered migrating are unemployed,

compared to just 2 percent who say they have not considered migrating but are unemployed. And youth who have considered migrating report higher exposure to victimization factors than older adults. Fifty-eight percent of youth in El Salvador who have thought about migrat- ing have been robbed. “Young people in the Northern Triangle are grappling with many of the same issues as adults, sometimes to an even greater extent,” says Creative’s Eliza Chard, Senior Project Manager for Workforce Development and Youth. “With little opportunity and high inse- curity, many youth see no way to move toward

their goals and realize their potential without leaving their home communities.” Adonay tells the story of his journey fromEl Salvador to California. Just a teenager at the time, he was living with his father outside of San Salvador when a gang member came to Adonay’s house, armed and threatening him. He fled to an aunt’s home and from there went to the United States, where he joined another relative in Los Angeles. “They’ve said that if I go back, I could end up dead on the street. I can’t visit my dad or my brothers,” Adonay says. “I knowmany people who have left the country because of the same situation that we were living in.” Adonay, now 23, lived and worked in California for five years before he was deported. He left behind a son, now 2, who lives with his mother in Los Angeles. Back in El Salvador, Adonay says he felt stifled by a lack of opportunity.

Figure 3: Percent of youth who plan to migrate 


Young men

Young women 

El Salvador





22.6%  51.3% 



Figure 4: Regionally, unemployment is higher among youth who plan to migrate than among those who do not plan to migrate




Plans to migrate & unemployed

No plans to migrate & unemployed

Plans to migrate & unemployed

No plans to migrate & unemployed

Plans to migrate & unemployed

No plans to migrate & unemployed

Young men







Young women







Youth at a glance

3x For Guatemalans who intend to migrate, unemployment is 3 times higher among youth than adults

46 % of Honduran youth intend to migrate compared to 28% of adults

2x Youth ages 18 to 29 years old are more than twice as likely to consider migrating

22 | Think Creative | Fall 2019


Age 23

Karla, 19, saw her large family struggling to get out of debt and left for the U.S. in search of work that could help cover basic necessities for her parents and young siblings.


San Salvador, El Salvador Violence, lack of economic opportunity

Motivation for migrating

“I would describe myself as someone who wants to move forward, who wants a better po- sition in life, a better future, to learn something new every day,” he says. “We are in a country where the doors are closed on us, and we can’t demonstrate our potential or our abilities.” Adonay is an example of how a variety of factors—economic, victimization and transna- tional ties—often converge. Adonay is currently employed at a restaurant in a San Salvador mall, but the thought of his son growing up without himmay pull him back to California. “Mymotivation for returning to the United States would bemy son, to be with himand start tomove forward,” he says. “I would run the risk in order to havemy son inmy arms again.”

“My hope for the future would be to move forward and be able to demonstrate my capacity, to move up little by little.”


Deported after more than 5 years in the U.S.

At 18, is released to live with his aunt in Los Angeles

Crosses into the U.S. through Reynosa and turns himself in to immigration authorities

Crosses into Mexico through Chiapas

Isabel, 20, plans to soon start the journey toward the U.S., frustrated with the lack of opportunity she faces in Guatemala, particularly as a young indigenous woman.

Departs San Salvador at 17 years old

“Young people in the Northern Triangle are grappling with many of the same issues as adults, sometimes to an even greater extent.”

– Eliza Chard, Senior Project Manager Workforce Development and Youth | 23

why migrants risk it all

After the Journey

By Jillian Slutzker Rocker

José  On most days, José finds odd jobs to do around Tijuana, Mexico—harvesting jícama, garden- ing, masonry, carpentry or painting.  “I plan to stay in Tijuana for a while because there is work. Here there is a lot of work,” he explains.  Although he only gets paid about $10 for a nine-hour day, José is content to be earning an income and to have cash to buy food. He wasn’t so lucky in his hometown of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.   “I didn’t have money for even one taco. I didn’t have anything to eat. I opened the refrigerator but there was nothing,” he remembers.  José was just one of many residents of Hondu- ras’ capital experiencing unemployment and poverty. Creative’s study found that 64 percent of the city’s households worry about having enough food for everyone in the family. One in four households in the city makes under $400 per month and cannot make ends meet.  “If there was work in Honduras, I’d be there. Believe me, I’m not the only one,” says José. José was previously deported from the U.S. to Honduras, but made his way back north to Tijuana, spending a part of the journey on The Beast train.

For many migrants, the challenges do not stop when they reach their destinations. Though they’ve fled crime and poverty, or in some cases reunited with loved ones, now they must learn to get by in a new place. Read the stories of Jessica, Juan Carlos and José to see what life can look like in the United States and at the northern Mexican border.

Juan Carlos and Jessica settled their family outside of Washington, D.C., while they go through the process of securing asylum. Still concerned about their safety after being threatened in El Salvador, the family preferred to keep their identities private.

Jessica and Juan Carlos 

Jessica and Juan Carlos are waiting anxiously for 2022, the year their asylum case will be heard in court. Until then, they are starting to put the pieces of their lives back together in the Washington, D.C., area and build a better future for their three children.  “My children feel happy in this country,” says Jessica, 36. “They do not want to return to El Salvador. My daughter is 15 years old. She already knows and understands.”  What Jessica means is that her daughter understands why the family left their home in SanMiguel, El Salvador. She understands that the gangs were threatening her father and, by extension, the whole family. She understands that if they return, the gangs will still be there.  Creative’s study found that 1 in 4 residents of SanMiguel has been robbed on the street. Thir- teen percent have had a relative or close friend murdered.  “The gangs issued a sentence and said that they were going to kill me and my whole fami- ly,” explains Jessica’s husband Juan Carlos, 46. “The problems were getting worse and worse. I had to sit down with my wife and tell her that we were going to leave.”  Jessica adds, “My children were not free, they could not go out to have fun or go to the park because we were thinking that something could happen to them and to us.”   The family of five hired a coyote, or smuggler,

who helped them board La Bestia, The Beast, a freight train that travels throughMexico. Migrants commonly climb atop the train’s cars or cling to the sides to carry them north, but it’s incredibly risky. Many people have been killed or severely injured after falling onto the rails. “We suffered a lot and got separated from the guides. It was very difficult for us to sleep in the streets,” says Jessica. “But I said to myself we just had to get here, to touch American soil, because we had proof of needing asylum.”  Today, Jessica has a work permit. Juan Carlos is also working. He says the labor is hard, but he has found one thing in the U.S. he could never get in El Salvador: security.  They miss their family members in El Salva- dor, and they are struggling to adjust to their new environment, to “start from scratch,” as Jessica says.   If the security situation improved and the gangs were no longer a threat, Jessica and Juan Carlos say they would eagerly return to El Salvador.   But for now, they wait for their asylum hearing, hopeful for the outcome, and they watch their children grow, learn English and thrive in their new home.  “I no longer worry that my children can get hurt. I think we are more secure here,” says Jessica.  

Caught between his native Honduras and the U.S., José is making a living in the border city of Tijuana, Mexico.

“People don’t want to leave their countries in search of employment, for a way to generate money, to raise your kids,” he adds.  For now, José bides his time in Tijuana, work- ing for low but consistent wages. He hopes to eventually make it to Los Angeles, where his two American-born daughters Britney and Catherine live. And he hopes to find a job in the U.S., where the pay is much better for the same work he is doing now in Tijuana. “People are migrating in search of a new future,” he says. n

Photos by Erick Gibson (top) and Lucas Williams

24 | Think Creative | Fall 2019

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