Helping Mexico's youth climb beyond drug cartels and gangs

30 December, 2014

Tiffany Hensley and Gareth Leah are ambassadors for Escalando Fronteras (Climbing Borders), an initiative aimed at helping at-risk youth reach for a better future, and are six weeks into a four month stay in Mexico.

Currently working with kids in the most marginalised areas of Monterrey, the project uses rock climbing "to give youth in danger of becoming involved in gangs and drug cartels the skills to instead become leaders and agents of positive change."

The Escalando Fronteras website says that there are 30,000 child soldiers in Mexico and that 15 youths out of every 100,000 are murdered in Monterrey.

Tiffany and Gareth headed south from Boulder this November, in a van they nicknamed Wall-E. Before leaving, Gareth outlined to DMM, what they hoped to achieve during their stay in Mexico.

"First, our goal is to help Escalando Fronteras by volunteering our time to the program and teaching the kids new skills, develop new routes in the nearby neighbourhood and provide climbing gear through sponsor donations."

"Secondly, we'll help develop climbing in Monterrey on a larger scale and collaborate on a guidebook to help bring eco-tourism to the recovering city with the desired effect that the climbing area will, in time, bring money to the impoverished areas and offer the kids an alternative way to earn money outside of Mexico’s dangerous drug trade."

Looking back at the peak Pico Licos at the entrance to Parque La Huasteca. © Gaz Leah

Since arriving in Monterrey the pair have been busy working towards their goals, with a list of achievements to date that include:

  • Climbing with the kids of Escalando Fronteras twice a week.
  • Replacing 200+ bolts and rebolted 20+ routes.
  • Creating six new single pitch routes and one new multi-pitch route.
  • Writing quarter of a new guide that will help raise money for Escalando Fronteras and create sustainable tourism in Monterrey.
  • Creating a bolt fund to aid the re-bolting efforts.

Escalndo Fronteras also has a crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign underway, that is looking to raise $30000 to create a create a youth climbing centre, where a 1000 of Monterrey’s most at-risk youth will have access to climbing, mentors, tutors, and job training.

But why climbing you might ask? It's been shown to have an immense capacity to remediate the negative values, low-levels of self-esteem and confidence, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and hopelessness that abounds in the vulnerable neighborhoods of Monterrey. Escalando Fronteras was conceived after extensive fieldwork by Rory Smith and Javier Hernandez, into the factors driving Monterrey's disaffected youth to join gangs and organized crime groups.

To find out more and donate head over to indiegogo.com

The Wall-E van and local youths near Monterrey. © Gaz Leah