A member of the MS2 Gang in El Salvador. Photo by Mimi Chakarova

Some of them have only been in the country a few months, but students at the San Francisco International High School are already tackling difficult topics that transcend borders. Each student has selected a “Changemaker,” someone who, in their eyes, is solving the problems these students care about most. In this ongoing series, Mission Local presents their stories and their profiles of their heroes.

Gang violence around the world is often motivated by racial or ethnic conflict, money, and respect or power. The detailed descriptions of groups considered gangs vary, but across international boundaries, gang members are recruited at very young ages and inducted into a club that multiplies their chance of being murdered, becoming a victim of violence, and participating in serious crimes. These are two of the students who have chosen to focus on this topic for their Changemaker projects.

Lisseth Cortez


My name is Lisseth Cortez. I am from El Salvador. I am 15 years old. I have been living in the United States since 2012. Now I’m a freshman at SFIHS and I’m a English learner.

Gang violence is important to me because it affects many people all around the world. For example, my country has been deeply affected by problems with the maras. In the cities, even though the gangs such as: MS and the 18 gang know our country is poor, they still continue killing people, robbing and they do almost the impossible to have what they want. This problem affects gangsters too, putting their lives in danger when they have problems with other gangs or when the police put them in jail so they can stop doing bad things. In some cases teenagers become gangsters too, and not always because they are bad but because in life they have found really big problems.

In particular, I have experienced an ugly reality that now is so common that some people are used to it. When I was around 7 or 8 years old, a man near my house was killed by a guy from a different gang in the same town. That evening they were drinking alcohol at the store, which was actually my neighbor’s store. My aunt and I went to buy some stuff and we saw the guy on the floor. When we got closer to where he was we saw the back of his head covered with blood. When I saw that I got so scared that I couldn’t even move at all. His friends told us that the guy who killed him buried the knife in his head while fighting. The cut was big enough that I could even see the inside part of his head. I had nightmares every night and I still have them, sometimes.

I wanted to share this because this is something that is ruining our young people and I also wanted to tell them that joining gangs is not a way to overcome their problems that they might feel good right now, but what will you get in the future? What about if later on you want to get out of gangs, but you are so used to it that it can be hard to leave? Will you find a good job if you are not academically prepared? Will you be able to support your family? I don’t think so.

 Cristhian Sevilla


My name is Cristhian. I am from Honduras and I’m 16 years old.

This problem is important for me because in my home country this problem affects everyone. This problem affected me so much because the neighborhood that I lived in was so dangerous. Where I lived, there were three neighborhoods surrounding my neighborhood. The three neighborhoods were controlled by gangs and those gangs used violence against people who lived there. The gangs fought almost everyday to control the area.

I want that this problem to change in the way that all the people in my home country can be equal. I want all of them to have a job because basically people go into gangs because they need money or want power. Another way for this to change is for parents to take care of their children and control them.

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  1. I look forward to reading more about these kids’ insight and experience, Great job!

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  2. congratulations to these wonderful and powerful students. When a challenge is understood changes will come. These folks are leaders!

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