In Ecuador, a warm welcome from tattooed gangsters

By , Contributor

Warm Welcome: When we got out of the taxi in front of the Paz Urbana Print Shop in Guayaquil, Ecuador, I had a sinking feeling. Locals had warned that this area was dangerous – and I had brought along my baby brother to take pictures. Had they known, Mom and Dad would not have been happy.

Young men with tattooed arms and baggy pants greeted us as hip-hop music blared. The streets were vacant.

But elements of life there were surprisingly familiar. The gangs were proud of their shops, their art, and the neighborhood they had created. Their eyes lit up when they spoke of their mentor, Nelsa. (Click here to read about how Nelsa helped them to create an organization of small businesses, including a bakery, a beauty parlor, and a dance school.)

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We piled into a truck to go to an award ceremony held in a school computer lab. The youths displayed a mixture of pride and playfulness that reminded me of the ceremonies at my school.

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