Web Site Documents Central American Diaspora, Offers Resources for Youth Affected by Civil War, Gangs

A University of Texas at Austin photojournalism professor has introduced an interactive Web site that aims to raise awareness about the impact of war on young people and to provide resources for young people affected by war.

Donna DeCesare, associate professor of photojournalism, has introduced "Destiny's Children: A Legacy of War and Gangs," a Web site following the lives of four young people marked by the experience of war and its aftermath.

"I created the site to educate audiences in both the U.S. and Central America and inspire them to action -- by volunteering their time, promoting activism or contributing resources," said DeCesare who spent four years photographing the Salvadoran Civil War and more than a decade documenting the Salvadoran Diaspora. "By sharing these four very intimate stories, I hope to create bridges and maybe even encourage U.S.-style philanthropy to Central America."

Told in black-and-white photos with bilingual text, "Destiny's Children: A Legacy of War and Gangs" enables viewers to scroll through four linear stories or chose their own path. Hyperlinks make it possible to move back and forth between the individual stories, an historical timeline, a blog and layers of historical context. One story includes the voice of protagonist Carlos Perez, a former gang member who was able to leave his gang and graduate from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria.

The "Need Help" section of the site guides young people in need of assistance -- in the U.S. and Central America -- to programs in their geographical area. The resource pages are formatted to appear on a cell phone connection -- the most common way of accessing the Internet in Central America -- or may be downloaded and printed for use as handouts in barrio classrooms and community centers without Internet access.

The second phase of the project, for which DeCesare is raising funds, will include a wiki to enable users to build out information on additional assistance programs. The centerpiece of the second phase will be workshops that train young people how to report on their community and tell their own stories through writing and photography. Those stories would be featured on the Destiny's Children Web site and serve as inspiration for other young people affected by war.

DeCesare's photos of the El Salvadoran war have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Aperture, and were used as the backdrop to the off-Broadway documentary play "De Novo."

For information about DeCesare's work covering the Salvadoran Civil War, read her story in Know.