In 2018, TRACODA created a training process, targeting youth from the eastern of El Salvador. Shortly after, in alliance with the Centre for Strengthening democracy, the organisations reshaped the vision of the process and launched ‘Democracy bootcamps’, which brought together young people aged 14-22. These adopted a new horizontal approach, focused on practical and daily life cases that can later transform into democracy problems in a society. The Bootcamp topics went from fake news to fighting corruption, and the reach was more than 5,000 citizens. The main reason for creating these democracy bootcamps was to fight the erosion of democracy and the lack of awareness among citizens as to how the government is stripping away their rights.
In El Salvador, democracy and the rule of law are particularly important, given the country’s history of authoritarian governments and corruption. Engaging with youth is crucial for promoting these values and encouraging the next generation to become responsible – and politically active – citizens. Democracy bootcamps offer a unique and effective way of doing this, as they provide hands-on learning experiences that help participants understand how these abstract concepts affect their daily lives. The idea arose from the recognition that training processes in general are boring, and usually adopt a vertical approach where the professor simply talks and the students listen. TRACODA saw the need to create a new and different approach using games, TikTok videos, memes and other resources to catch the full attention in problems that not necessarily are ‘tangible’ for the youth.
The bootcamps were developed by Luis V. Villaherrera, the co-founder and executive director of TRACODA, as a way of engaging youth who may not be interested by traditional training methods. They cover topics including democracy and the rule of law, transparency and corruption, fake news and disinformation, the electoral process as well as civic participation. Each theme includes practical case studies; for example, the theme of democracy and the rule of law begins with a rigged soccer match in which the corrupt referee declares the winner. Following the game, facilitators lead a discussion about the importance of rules and the impact of their absence in daily life, and the need for checks and balances to ensure fairness.
The bootcamps are designed for a broad audience and use a methodology that engages participants aged 12-55, regardless of their experience and knowledge of democracy, the rule of law and corruption. The programme was tested during 2020-2021 with over 2,500 participants, and received praise from both the youngest (12) and oldest (67) participants. In 2022, TRACODA plans to deliver 10 or more iterations of the bootcamps to over 1,000 participants, with revised content that includes more in-depth information on fake news and disinformation. Furthermore, this initiative helps to empower youth in different parts of the country, where people previously had little interest in topics such democracy and access to public information. Through the bootcamps, more than 100 participants have exercised their right to access information and have analysed that information in order to pressure local governments to become more transparent. One of the cohorts even created a smaller-scale version of the bootcamp in their own communities. Although these bootcamps do not fully solve all of society’s problems, they are a step in the right direction, raising citizens’ awareness of the importance of checks and balances, democracy and the rule of law in bringing about a diverse range of voices within a society.
The bootcamps have been incredibly successful in their unique approach to educating citizens on important topics, regardless of age or background. The goal is to create material that is easily understandable and engaging for all individuals, including those who may have previously considered the subject matter boring. The lack of interest in the state of democracy and its impact on daily life is a concern. Through these bootcamps, efforts are being made to increase the awareness and understanding of human rights. The approach is inclusive and aims to reach people from different backgrounds and ages to help them understand the importance of democracy and human rights. This helps to build a society where people are more aware of their rights and how to protect them. The bootcamps also play a crucial role in the development of active citizens, who can participate in the democratic process and hold the government accountable. Overall, they provide a valuable tool for promoting education, awareness and engagement in the democratic process.
TRACODA is the first led youth organisation working to enhance democracy, the rule of law and transparency through technological tools and unique methodology processes. TRACODA was initially funded in 2016; however, its legal recognition was finalised in 2018. TRACODA is always looking to create new concepts and initiatives. We have a track record on developing technological tools: in fact, Carlos Palomo (TRACODA’s co-founder), alongside Luis had developed technological tools such as GobData that helped uncover cases of corruption, nepotism and crossed nepotism. TRACODA is currently working on open data and creating digital tools to fight fake news and disinformation. It is also working with innovative leaders to enhance good practices with youth and citizens around El Salvador and in helping journalist and media outlets in sharing information. Furthermore, TRACODA is helping advance youth engagement in trying to recover civic spaces and counter polarisation.