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Ariela Suster

2017 Fellow

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El Salvador

Ariela experienced the pain of El Salvador’s violence firsthand. During the civil war, her father worked for the government and became a target for trying to secure a peace agreement. After a treaty was signed, Ariela’s teenage brother was kidnapped and held ransom for over a year. While her brother was being held, Ariela was attending college in the U.S. She graduated and made a name for herself as a fashion editor in New York. She returned to El Salvador in 2011. “Coming back was not easy, but after so much suffering I wanted to find a way to break the cycle of violence,” said Ariela.

Six years ago, Ariela established SEQUENCE, a handcrafted accessories company that exclusively employs young people who are most vulnerable to gang recruitment. Her main workshop is located in the town of Tepecoyo, on the outskirts of San Salvador. “Young men join gangs out of a need to survive, lack of opportunities and fear,” said Ariela. She’s already employed 46 young men and women. “At our workshop, we provide a safe working environment, and give staff access to the tools and opportunities they need to grow.”

SEQUENCE offers training and education opportunities, including basic computer lessons and graphic design. The social business also encourages and assists its young artisans with financial support to graduate from high school and earn a university degree. SEQUENCE products are sold globally online and through corporate partnerships and collaborations.

Focusing on prevention has become the key elementfor Ariela’s work. Last year she visited a high security prison in El Salvador, where she spoke to a crowd of thousands of incarcerated gang members. “I learned that the structure of violence creates an endless cycle that traps and disempowers young men. It reassured me that my purpose is to focus on youth before they embark on that violent path.”

In 2017, Ariela plans to expand her workshop and hire 30-40 new artists. She is also launching a university tour that will inspire young people to create social change through a for-profit model. “I continue to be inspired by the resilience, hopefulness and courage of our young artists. Our products are the economic engine that we use to create change and make a difference in the lives of our SEQUENCE family.”