What We Do


Project Eligibility Criteria

CAFRED identifies schools in Central America that are inadequate in size
and infrastructure, that hold classes in temporary shelters such as farm sheds
or private homes, and usually have dirt floors and lack sanitation.

Most are in remote inaccessible areas that can only be reached by taking unpaved
and treacherous roads that lack any signage whatsoever. Some of these schools
are already officially recognized by the Ministry of Education and some are

Once CAFRED identifies a school, it leverages donor resources to secure
important commitments from local and national governmental entities, as well as
other regional stakeholders, facilitating cooperative agreements.

CAFRED is an Open-System NGO with a Partner-Centric Approach to Sustainable Education

CAFRED identifies target communities that agree to collaborate as follows:

Community must be willing to work together with CAFRED, the municipality and the
ministry of education to build a school.

Community must be willing to organize a committee to supervise educational activities
and the management of the school.

Community must agree to divide into work groups to contribute the unskilled
labor required for the construction.

Community must sign a written cooperative agreement to allow CAFRED to carry out and supervise extra-curricular programs and teacher training for a two-year period.

 Once an agreement with the local community is achieved, CAFRED empowers and assists communities in negotiations to formalize contracts with local municipalities and the national government that will set up the following:

From the municipality:

The allocation of municipal funds to level and prepare land for construction, build retention walls and fencing around the school. Proper fencing surrounding a school property is needed to secure the construction site and later to protect the school from intruders.

The allocation of water for construction and potable drinking water for the construction crew and community workers.

The provision of municipal oversight during construction.

From the national ministry of education:

CAFRED works with local the community to secure the following commitments from the national government of the host country to make sure that the new school will be fully supported:

Recognition of Schools: In the case of “unofficial” or “unrecognized” schools, the
Ministry of Education must recognize the school as an official MinEd school, which
qualifies it to be eligible for all governmental support and access to programs
and services, including nutritional programs and school maintenance.

Allocation of Teachers: CAFRED provides student population results to the Ministry of
Education that justifies the number of teachers needed. The process may include
obtaining birth certificates for children that have not been registered at
birth. The Ministry then signs an agreement to provide the necessary teachers
and one director. In the event that the ministry of education cannot commit to
the required number of teachers due to temporary budgetary restraints, the
Municipality itself must guarantee to fund teachers’ salaries in the interim
period at the national pay scale.

Provision of School Desks: The Ministry of Education must also provide furniture for teachers and brand new age-appropriate desks for each student before Day One of classes.

CAFRED obtains deeds indicating ownership of land by ministries of education

Title to the school and grounds: must be held by the Ministry of Education to ensure
that the school cannot be sold or used for a different purpose.

When deeds cannot be produced, CAFRED works with local authorities to prove
proper land ownership.

When a target school is located on property that cannot be donated or sold to the
ministry, a new school site must be procured by local authorities, and title
transferred to the national government.

Property must be sufficiently ample for future expansion, based on population trends.

CAFRED raises funds internationally to finance school construction and the cost of extra-curricular programming

To support the search for funding, CAFRED conducts an analysis of the surrounding area, including: current and potential student population data, indicators of community literacy, distance to surrounding schools and public transportation, crime statistics and an inventory of the strengths and needs of the community.

CAFRED procures the architectural drawings

CAFRED conducts a bidding process to hire local professional contractors

Contractor Eligibility Criteria:

Contractor must be licensed by state or provincial authorities and provide adequate references.

Contractor must be able to supervise the work of the men and women of the community and both contractor and crew must be able to work side by side with community members in a cooperative spirit of understanding and respect for age and gender, as well as community values.

Contractor must be willing to hire and/or train local available community labor.

Contractor must agree to build temporary shelter in remote rural areas to house materials and a crew that will live on site for the duration of the project in an environment free of drugs, alcohol and weapons.

Contractor must provide own outdoor kitchen facility, fuel tank and catering

Contractor must hire cook from local community to provide three meals daily for construction crew.

Contractor must be trained in construction safety best practices by a nationally accredited school.

CAFRED strengthens local capacities and motivates school
staff while articulating ongoing community support to ensure

helps the community to source all available governmental, business and
nonprofit assets in the region.

trains, monitors and motivates teachers to become better instructors.

improves the school experience for the child through exciting after-school
programs and field trips to cultural destinations.

encourages and guides parents to understand, support and contribute to their
children’s education.

sources all community assets.

CAFRED coördinates with other NGO’s and executing agencies to avoid duplication of efforts and to benefit from lessons learned.

 CAFRED is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and
is tax exempt under U.S. Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3).

CAFRED maintains strict political and religious independence.

NGO ISO Long Term Relationship

CAFRED is on the road in El Salvador, searching for its next project. We have received leads from friends and colleagues, and from the Ministry of Education, to find just the right conditions and the right community. Some might ask, why is CAFRED so picky?

Over time, we have learned that the right community is always waiting for us somewhere – and it is our job to find it.

The Will to Fight

This mythical community is willing to toil and sweat, and be patient. It knows how to advocate for itself and it is actively searching for us just as we are in search of it. When we meet, it will be love at first sight.

What are we looking for in such a community?

Usually, the director and the teachers take money out of their own pockets to help decorate the school and make it a colorful environment – no matter how meager the conditions of the infrastructure itself.

The director of this sought after school          is a born leader – passionate and creative, he or she works every day to overcome the odds. He or she she is a social worker, an child advocate, a community organizer, a fundraiser and an educator, and most of all, he or she is an optimist.

This community has done its homework. It has already fought to get ministry status as an official school, affording it a government stipend for school lunches, maintenance and teachers’ salaries. With limited resources, it has found land – rented, borrowed, bought or donated – to locate its present school. The community built it themselves from whatever materials they could find – be it bamboo, metal sheeting, mud
or plastic. This school is humble, but somehow

This school is usually on a dirt road,
far from any form of public transportation.
It has dirt floors, no electricity or running water.
When it rains, the sound on its tin roof is as loud
as a firing squad and in the afternoon the same
roof transfers enough heat to cause the classroom
to resemble a hot oven.

It usually lacks windows and/or electricity
and therefore, the lighting conditions are
minimal at best.

The school grounds flood during the rainy
season, leaving no space for recreation.

CAFRED works with this community, with
international donors and local and national
governments to build a brand new school.
CAFRED then stays on for two years, helping the community to build sustainability
for the school by sourcing undiscovered
wellsprings of local, national and world-wide
support. It implements extra-curricular
programs for children to offer alternatives
to involvement with gangs, and conducts
ongoing teacher training.

Who We Are

Our Vision

CAFRED’s vision is for every child in rural Central America to fulfill
his or her promise and potential through access to a safe and well-designed
school, staffed by competent teachers and supported and encouraged by
their families, communities, and local and national governments.

Our Mission

CAFRED’s mission is to give sustainable access to quality education
in rural areas of Central America through the construction of well-designed
schools, the training of teachers, and the implementation of extra-curricular
programs that improve learning levels, increase attendance and promote
community and family participation.


CAFRED partners with local and national governments to leverage
financial resources and technical assistance that will contribute to the
sustainability of the schools it builds. CAFRED also partners with other NGO’s to study
lessons learned and to replicate best practices.

CAFRED promotes team building, community support and parental involvement while training teachers to become better instructors. CAFRED also implements extra-curricular programs and activities that improve the school experience for children, thereby increasing attendance, improving academic performance and decreasing the high repetition of grades often found in rural schools.

Our Goal

Our goal is to build and monitor six schools by 2014.

 CAFRED is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and
is tax exempt under U.S. Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3).

 CAFRED maintains strict political and religious independence

Providing Educational Alternatives to El Salvador’s Youth

Here are two NPR articles on Salvadoran gangs (Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Mara 18) and the growing threats of links between these gangs and the Mexican cartels.

The average age of gang recruitment in El Salvador is twelve years of age. Some children are recruited at the age of nine. Many of these children come from impoverished rural areas of the country. CAFRED builds schools and follows up for a minimum of two years, providing the programs needed to help at risk rural children to be engaged and productive, while offering them positive alternatives to violence. To learn how to support this important mission, please contact us at info@cafred.org. ____________________________________________________________________

Report by Jason Beaubien, NPR Correspondent (Mexico City)

The drug war in Mexico is having ramifications throughout the hemisphere, as
Mexican cartels seek new markets and smuggling routes for their products.

As the Mexican government has attacked the cartels, several of them have been
moving into Central America, where security forces are ill-equipped to confront
them. The migration of the cartels into Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador has
given the region the highest homicide rate in the hemisphere.

In El Salvador, there’s fear that the Mexican cartels are aligning themselves
with the country’s ubiquitous street gangs.

El Salvador has had a gang problem for quite some time. The two main gangs —
the 18th Street and the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS — are so powerful and so
volatile that their members get sent to separate prisons. Impoverished
neighborhoods in the capital, San Salvador, are clearly divided as belonging
either to the MS or to the 18th Street.

The gang members control street-level drug sales, charge local residents for
security and battle to keep their rivals out.

A Risky Business

Luis Alberto Espinoza Aranda is a 23-year-old gang member in San Salvador.
Tattoos on his shoulders reading “18” make his allegiance clear. “It’s a tough
life,” he says. “You suffer a lot of discrimination from the authorities and
ordinary people.”

Espinoza joined the 18th Street gang five years ago, along with his two
brothers. Just as Espinoza was completing a one-year prison term for murder, his
younger brother was sent away for drug trafficking.

“It’s a world where, like in prison, the authorities and everyone treats you
like you don’t have a right to anything just for the fact that you’re a gang
member,” Espinoza says.

He says the Mexican cartels have been moving aggressively into El Salvador
over the past couple of years, and that they mainly try to hire gang members to
transport drugs.

“This is the riskiest thing — to move the drugs,” he says. “Selling it
doesn’t pose that much risk. You’re just in one place. But when you’re moving it
around in the streets, this is when you’re going to clash with the police or the soldiers.”

Espinoza, like many gang members, also has a regular job — he and his mother
sell tostadas from a stand in the street. He’d like to get out of the gang life,
he says, but that’s a difficult thing to do. The 18th Street gang doesn’t allow
its members to leave.

CAFRED Provides Educational Alternatives

Connecting Street Gangs With Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels control roughly 90 percent of the cocaine flowing
from South America into the U.S., according to a 2010 State
Department report
. Much of that cocaine comes through Central America. As
the Mexicans move south, it’s led to huge
cartel massacres in Guatemala
, a skyrocketing murder rate in Honduras and more drugs on the street in El Salvador.

Howard Augusto Cotto, the deputy director for investigation with the
Salvadoran National Civilian Police, says there have been some large-scale
seizures of drugs recently in El Salvador. But, he says, there have been no
firefights between the security forces and Mexican narcos like those that have
unfolded, for instance, in neighboring Guatemala.

“The Mexican cartels are not paying with money; no, they’re paying with
drugs,” Cotto says. “A lot of people are talking about if the maras,
the gangs here, are involved with criminal organizations in Mexico. I don’t
think that in this moment that relationship is high or is strong, but we are
very concerned about that.”

The police commissioner points out that the Salvadoran gangs and the Mexican
cartels are very different organizations. The Mexican cartels have relatively
vertical structures focused on criminally lucrative activities. The
maras have horizontal structures, and offer security to their members
and a way to make some money. The Mexican cartels expanding into the country are a “very powerful enemy,”

The maras could offer — and according to some security analysts,
already are offering — the Mexican cartels access to a vast criminal network.
The maras have stashes of weapons, established communications networks
and ruthless foot soldiers who have no qualms about smuggling drugs or
assassinating rivals — for a price.

Both the 18th Street gang and the Mara Salvatrucha originated on the streets
of Los Angeles several decades ago. Their presence grew in El Salvador as
members were deported from California. U.S. officials warn that an alliance
between the Salvadoran gangs and the Mexicans could pose a great danger because
the Salvadorans already control street-level drug distribution in some American

‘Selling Drugs Is For The Benefit Of Everyone’

Usiel Pena, a sociologist in San Salvador, is standing on a dirt path amid
shacks made of cinder blocks and metal sheeting in the barrio La Victoria, which
is controlled by the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS.

Pena was a soldier with the leftist FMLN rebels during El Salvador’s civil
war. As a guerrilla, he was based in this crowded neighborhood. He says the MS
now controls this area the same way the FMLN did in the 1980s.

“It’s the same web, the same structure as when the guerrillas were here. It’s
the same neighborhood, the same little old grandmother who prays for them,” he
says with a laugh.

The smoke from cooking fires wafts through the air, as does the pungent smell
of marijuana. Outhouses serve as toilets.

The second in command of the MS in La Victoria is a 33-year-old who only
wants to give his nickname, “Blue.”

The head of the MS here, “Triste,” is laying low after a couple of people
were gunned down in the barrio the night before. Blue says the MS only sells
drugs to outsiders, except marijuana, which is permitted by the gang.

“Selling drugs is for the benefit of everyone,” he says. “If someone sells
drugs it’s because of all the needs of everyone in the community. There are
colleagues who don’t have a mother or anything, and only the gang helps them —
no one else.”

Protecting The ‘Civilians’

With his shirt covering his tattoos, Blue looks more like an evangelical
preacher than a leader in one of the most feared gangs in the hemisphere. He’s
wearing a short-sleeved beige button-down shirt and black slacks. His hair is
neatly parted and swept across his brow. Only his missing right arm, which got
blown off by a hand grenade, hints at his violent career.

Blue talks of the MS as a social organization that protects the “civilians”
in the neighborhood. They help get water lines connected. They’re refurbishing
the community hall. To him, it’s normal that residents have to pay rent to the
gang for these services.

His clique of the MS doesn’t yet work with the Mexican cartels, but he says
it would if the conditions were right. Roughly half the members of the MS in El
Salvador are in prison, and Blue says it’s nearly impossible for them to find
work when they get out.

“There are a lot of my colleagues who want to learn something, have
something, function in a different way without bothering people constantly with
extortion,” he says.

But for gang members in El Salvador, Blue says, there are few good options
available. And that’s why they’re quite open to the arrival of the Mexican
narcotics cartels.

If the cartels aren’t stopped soon, it may be too late for El Salvador

by NPR’s Mexico City correspondent,  Jason Beaubien

As Mexico’s drug cartels come under sustained attack by President Felipe
Calderon’s forces at home, several of them have started outsourcing. Los Zetas
and the powerful Sinaloan cartel have been expanding their operations in Central
America, where security forces often lack the resources to confront them.

The World Bank warns that the Mexican cartels pose a huge threat to
development in some of the poorest countries in the region, like El

In a graffiti-marred section of the capital, San Salvador, a squad of
national police called “The Hawks” is on patrol. The policemen ride in a
battered pickup truck but carry high-powered assault rifles. They are rolling
through an area controlled by the 18th Street gang.

When the police spot anyone they suspect of being a gang member, they jump
out and frisk him — like one tattooed, emaciated young man officers have
spread-eagle against a wall. They search his pockets and make him shake out his
shoes. He’s carrying a crack pipe, which the police confiscate before letting
him go.

Juan Bautista Rodriguez, the head of the emergency response police in San
Salvador, says these types of patrols are a crucial part of the fight against
organized crime. Police say routine busts of low-level, street drug dealers, like these in San Salvador, are an important part of their strategy to keep organized crime under control.

Police say routine busts of low-level, street drug dealers,
like these in San Salvador, are an important part of their strategy to keep
organized crime under control.

“We are attacking the small, street-level drug dealers that have proliferated
with the gangs,” Bautista Rodriguez says. He says this keeps a constant pressure
on the gangs and often provides leads for bigger busts.

‘Using The Local Gangs’

Bautista Rodriguez says there has been an increase in crime and violence as
the Mexican gangs move south, but he says the situation isn’t as bad in El
Salvador as it is in neighboring Guatemala or Honduras.

“Here in El Salvador, we still don’t have well-armed groups that have the
capacity to directly attack the police,” he says. “In all the cases that we’ve
had, we confront two or three gang members, and they are arrested or killed in
the confrontation.”

The police chief says the Mexican cartels appear to be expanding their
operations in El Salvador by hiring members of the 18th Street or Mara
Salvatrucha gangs to do work for them. Both of these gangs are known to be
extremely violent, and Bautista Rodriguez says their links to the Mexicans have
made them even more so.

“Drug bosses, cartels — they are using the local gangs, and this makes things
more violent because the gangs are used more as hit men, used more to kill —
used for revenge,” he says. “If this continues as we’ve been seeing, it’s going
to cause a rise in insecurity for the ordinary Salvadoran citizen.”

A ‘Very Powerful Enemy’

Earlier this month, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, in a plea for
regional unity against the Mexican cartels, said the nations of Central America
face a “very powerful enemy.” He said the profits garnered by the drug smugglers
exceed the resources “available to the security forces of our countries.”

This was an understatement. The billions of dollars in revenue generated each
year by the cartels exceeds the annual gross domestic product of any country in
the region.

The party line from Funes’ administration is that, yes, drug trafficking is
on the rise in El Salvador, but so far it hasn’t gotten out of hand. The
Salvadoran government, they argue, hasn’t lost control of any of its territory
to the smugglers, as has happened in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Outside of Funes’ administration, however, not everyone shares this

“The presence of the drug cartels is increasing. Their power is increasing.
The drug traffic is increasing,” says Carlos Dada, the editorial director of the
Salvadoran news website El Faro. Two weeks
ago, El Faro published a 15,000-word, 33-page report on the workings of a
Salvadoran drug syndicate called the Cartel de Texis
. “Texis” is short for
one of the towns they control, Texistepeque.

Dada says this cartel controls a swath of land along the north of the

“Because they own policeman, judges, congressmen, local mayors, et cetera,
they basically manage this piece of Salvadoran territory as their own,” he says.
“So they charge drug cartels for crossing that territory free of threats from
security forces. So if you are drug cartel, you pay them and you have a free
pass from Honduras to Guatemala.”

This cartel will sell its services to whoever wants to move narcotics through
the region toward the United States. The El Faro article lays out the exact path
the drugs follow — it cites intelligence documents making reference to the
Cartel of Texis more than a decade ago.

The Salvadoran attorney general’s office says it’s opening an investigation
into the cartel based on the El Faro article.

The news report caused quite a stir because it described in detail how the
cartel generated millions of dollars through its links to top government and
business officials in the region.

Effects Of The Rise Of Organized Crime

Suspected members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang under arrest at a San Salvador police station.  The 24 suspects were arrested in a police raid. Police officials say they're accused of major crimes including homicide, rape, extortion and drug possession.

Jason Beaubien/NPRSuspected members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang under arrest at a San Salvador
police station. The 24 suspects were arrested in a police raid. Police officials
say they’re accused of major crimes including homicide, rape, extortion and drug
Suspected members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang under arrest at a San Salvador police station.  The 24 suspects were arrested in a police raid. Police officials say they're accused of major crimes including homicide, rape, extortion and drug possession.

Jeannette Aguilar, who studies violence in El Salvador at the University of
Central America, says it’s clear that organized crime is intensifying in her
country every day. She points out that the homicide rate has doubled since 2003.
More cocaine is available on the street. Ancillary crime, such as extortion and
kidnapping, is on the rise.

She says El Salvador faces a huge challenge to try to reverse this.

“The state, the institutions for security and justice, have been penetrated
by organized crime for many years,” she says. “And this has blocked the state
from effectively pursuing these criminals.”

The violence, extortion and insecurity, she says, discourage foreign
investment in El Salvador and prevent local businesses from flourishing.

‘Very Fragile Institutions’

Criminal groups are also attracted to El Salvador because in 2001 it adopted
the U.S. dollar as its currency. And the country didn’t just peg its currency to
the dollar — physical U.S. dollars and coins are the only money in circulation.
This makes the country an ideal place to launder greenbacks.

Mexico last year slapped tight restrictions on the use of dollars solely to
further squeeze the cartels. No one doubts that illicit funds are flowing
through El Salvador; last year, police found $9 million, some of it in small
bills, buried in barrels on a ranch.

Dada, at the El Faro news site, says El Salvador needs to wake up and
confront the serious threat posed to it by organized crime.

“We have very fragile institutions. We are an emerging democracy,” he says.
“The danger is that the few steps we have taken, that we take them backward,
because the organized crime is substituting the state.”

Dada agrees with government officials that the international drug cartels
haven’t yet penetrated his country the way they have in Guatemala and Mexico.
But he says if the cartels aren’t stopped soon, it may be too late for El