Climbing Beyond Cartels

2014 1103sp 1Monterrey, Mexico –Escalando Fronteras | Climbing Borders, an international development cooperative that uses rock-climbing to prevent at-risk youth from getting involved in gangs and organized crime as child soldiers in Mexico, is set to scale up its project and solidify the place of extreme adventure sports as a youth development tool in violent and conflict prone areas around the world. Encouraged by the positive results of its pilot project, which worked with 50 kids (both boys and girls between the ages of 6-18) from one of the poorest and most marginalized neighborhoods of Monterrey, Lomas Modelo, the cooperative is set to launch an Indiegogo campaign on the 17th of November which aims will allow the organization to reach 1000 at-risk youth in Monterrey by the end of 2015.

Dr. Nadia Vazquéz (from Mexico) (specialist in child soldiers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education), Rory Smith (from the U.S.) (MA in International Development and Management), and Nicklas Karlsson (from Sweden) (MA in Social Anthropology), all avid climbers, with experience working in youth development in Monterrey, and armed with substantial evidence supporting the positive effects of climbing and the outdoors on both the mind and body saw the potential for climbing in development. They set out in the beginning of 2014 to test the effectiveness of climbing as a development tool in areas characterized by violence and conflict.

2014 1103sp 2The results of the pilot-project were immediate and positive. “Within this relatively short time they (the kids in the project) stopped using tolueno (a paint thinner inhaled by many youth in Monterrey), reentered the education system, and distanced themselves from gang life,” says Vazquez. “The most important change we have seen has been in their core behavior and attitude. Instead of hopelessness there is excitement and hope for the future. Their perspective of what they can achieve in life has expanded dramatically.”

With these results the co-founders have decided to raise $30,000 through an Indiegogo campaign to finance a collectively owned youth climbing and cultural space in Monterrey, where 1000 of Monterrey’s most at-risk youth will have access to climbing, entrepreneurial training, as well as to a full-time staff of mentors, tutors, and teachers. Those that donate to the campaign will become members of the international collective and will have voting rights as well as influence in the future direction of the organization. Over the long-term, the organization aims to continue working in Mexico while at the same time expanding the program to other areas in Latin America and the U.S characterized by youth violence and gang membership.

“Imagine never having been told ‘You can do it. You can do whatever you want’ or ‘I am so proud of you’ by your parents or family. This is the reality of these kids. No one has ever valued them or said, ‘you can be somebody.’ However, through climbing they have learned that they can do what they thought impossible. They have found value in themselves” says Smith. “These youth are a boundless and potent source of ideas, creativity, multiculturalism, and promise. They are the future of this globalized world and if we want to resolve the many issues that confront us, one of the most basic steps, I believe, is giving these youth an education and a positive space to exercise their unique creative genius as well as become a source of positive change for all those around them.”

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