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Comandos de Salvamento: Young paramedics save lives in gang-wracked streets of El Salvador

A volunteer ambulance corps in El Salvador gives young people a refuge from gangs and braves neighbourhoods where even the police won’t go to save people.

The Comandos de Salvamento formed over half a century ago with a mission “to save the lives of people due to consequences of mother nature or man, regardless of race, religion, or political creed.” The country-wide public ambulance and rescue corps now has 33 local groups across El Salvador.

Originally, the humanitarian organisation was primarily occupied with rescuing and saving the victims of natural disasters and wars. More recently, their patients have been increasingly victims of criminal violence. The Comandos’ rescue teams treat everyone, regardless of any gang affiliations.

A record 103 per 100,000 habitants were murdered in El Salvador in 2015, making it the most dangerous country in the world outside a war zone. In fact, more people are dying from violence in El Salvador now than during the country’s civil war.

Two of Central America’s largest gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, recruit children as young as eight years old to fight over territory. Many see no choice in life but to join.

The Comandos de Salvamento has provided an alternative for young people who don’t want to take up a life of crime. Instead, they can become one of the organisation’s yellow-clad volunteers and receive training in providing emergency medical care and search and rescue services.

The job does not come without risks, however. Although the Comandos have signed a non-aggression pact that allows them to enter gang-controlled areas, they do occasionally come under attack. A 14-year-old volunteer was gunned down by a gang member just last year.

Most young Comandos go on to work full-time jobs when they get older, but many still volunteer when they can. Some even get formal medical training and return as paid paramedics.

With no end in sight to El Salvador’s gang violence, the Comandos de Salvamento provide a beacon of hope for the country’s youth and a much needed service for the crime-wracked country.

To find out more about Comandos de Salvamento, watch Saviour St  at RTD Documentary Channel.