Promoting Peace

Promoción de Paz

Promoción de Paz

Consuelo Bañuelos and Gabriel Ordaz of Promoción de Paz

Consuelo Bañuelos and Gabriel Ordaz of Promoción de Paz

In an August radio interview, Mauricio Fernández, a long-time Nuevo León politician, declared that there are currently six drug cartels operating in the state, including a new group that recently broke off from the Zetas who themselves splintered from the Gulf Cartel in 2010. In Monterrey, references to la inseguridad, the insecurity, frequently come up in conversations. Residents have reacted by taking extra measures to assure the safety of their cars, homes and loved ones. Beyond that, what more can one citizen do?

A lot, in the case of Consuelo Bañuelos. In 2000, when Bañuelos completed a Master’s in Human Development, she had gotten interested in Viktor Frankl’s theory of logotherapy which proposes that the motivating force for all humans is the desire to find meaning and purpose in one’s life. A Holocaust survivor, Frankl affirmed that there are reasons to live even in the worst conditions.

Bañuelos started working in a state prison where she wanted to create programs to lessen violent behavior and to aid inmates transitioning back into society upon release. With Frankl’s ideas, she knew she had to look at individuals deprived of their freedom in a holistic way. She helped them develop tools to reintegrate into society with a greater sense of responsibility and consciousness.

Promoción de Paz program in one school

Promoción de Paz program in one school

Her work got good results, and before long, she was inviting others to help out. The results and projects and number of volunteers kept growing, but the high recidivism rates for those who earned their freedom bothered Bañuelos. So she and her volunteers went into the neighborhoods with the highest crime rates and started creating preventive programs for young people. And the successes kept growing.

In 2011, Bañuelos officially incorporated all the programs as a non-profit. Promoción de Paz (Promoting Peace) now has seven full-time paid employees and four others called in as needed for specific projects. There are thirty volunteer “urban leaders,” veterans of the programs who went on to turn their lives around. These leaders share their life-changing stories with youths growing up in high-risk communities, mentoring and serving as positive role models. There are some forty additional volunteers. Today, Promoción de Paz volunteers work in three state penitentiaries, two juvenile facilities, seventeen rehab centers and thirty high-risk neighborhoods.

Neighborhood sala

Neighborhood sala

In detention and rehab facilities, volunteers refer to their meeting spaces as “Salas para la Paz,” (Living Rooms for Peace), and try to make them comfortable spaces that foster interaction. Neighborhood meetings are held in itinerant salas, often under a canopy erected in a park or plaza. The latest addition is a family sala at the largest penal institution in the state where relatives of inmates can come for help and where young people are given special attention. Family salas are planned for the other two penitentiaries in the near future.

Inclusiveness and solidarity are important pieces of the Promoción de Paz philosophy. There are clubs for cooking, painting, theater and jigsaw puzzles. There is even a grandparents’ club for members sixty to eighty-five where participants can play chess and dominoes, watch classic movies and listen to songs from the past.

Metal working shop

Metal working shop

The neighborhood groups for young people have programs like Urban Art, Hip Hop, Positive Graffiti and Urban Dance, all carrying preventative messages about violence, crime and addictions. The messages include sobering facts like “80% of all crimes are committed under the influence.” Promoción de Paz can connect a low-income youth with drug addiction to the proper center and get him admitted. They help keep kids in school or get them back in. 

In an email exchange on August 28, I asked Consuelo Bañuelos what more she would like to communicate to American readers. Here is her reply. “Our team works with great passion for our mission. Every day we create new ways to respectfully reach out to people living in difficult situations. Every day our work is to prevent addictions, crime and violence. There is a phrase that I always keep in mind and that is especially significant today on the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream Speech.’ ‘If I am able to sew the seed of hope in just one person, my life will have been worthwile.'”

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The videos below are in Spanish. The first, “Confiar en nosotros mismos,” (Believing in Ourselves) includes a January, 2013 interview with Consuelo Bañuelos. The second, “Dejando la violencia,” (Leaving Behind the Violence) is a March, 2012 television report. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, the latter video shows the realities in which Promoción de Paz volunteers work every day.

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