CENTRAL AMERICA: Empowering Youth As Catalysts of Change
By Linda Adami and Carlos Muñoz Burgos
February 20, 2013
Music is one of many out-of-school activities offered to youth at outreach centers.
More than half of the seven billion people in the world today are under the age of 30. The majority of this demographic also happen to live in the developing world. Consequently, we can no longer conceive viable and sustainable development solutions without integrating youth as a key component of development strategy worldwide.
In October 2012, USAID published the first Youth in Development Policy to engage youth, improve their capacities, and enable their aspirations, so they can play an active role in the development of more stable, democratic, and prosperous communities and nations. Investment in youth potential undoubtedly has a positive, long-term, and comprehensive impact on development outcomes. At Creative, we have experienced this impact firsthand through our work over the years. Our most recent, tangible experience seeing youth benefit from capacity building programs and take ownership of these initiatives within their own communities is through our work with youth in Central America.
Outreach centers provide a safe space for youth to gather.
In August 2006, under the USAID-funded Youth Alliance Program, Creative began establishing outreach centers in Central America to provide youth with a safe space and with opportunities to define their own future. Under this program, Creative set up its first outreach centers in Guatemala in August 2006 to engage youth to prevent crime and reduce violence at the community level. Creative has since partnered with USAID to open outreach centers throughout Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama. December 2012 marked the opening of the 100th outreach center in the region.
In Honduras alone, outreach centers have reached over 14,000 at-risk children and youth from the most violent and vulnerable communities. The centers provide a safe space for youth to gather, receive training in marketable skills, access academic tutoring, gain opportunities for employment, and volunteer, empowering them as catalysts of positive change within their own communities. At the core of the program’s success is a critical partnership with local communities to address widespread challenges stemming from gang-related violence.
The outreach centers are staffed by youth who work as volunteers and mentors, creating opportunities for young people to become leaders in their community and encourage their peers to disengage from violence. The volunteers who engage with youth at the centers have themselves benefitted from the program, strengthening the message. This pattern of giving back results in youth taking ownership in their communities and acknowledging their responsibility to enact change.
Believing in the mobilization potential of youth in Central America, Creative assisted a group of youth in Guatemala to establish the Youth Movement Against Violence in 2009. Today the Movement, an advocacy group, which promotes a culture of peace, develops public policy recommendations, and carries out activities to raise awareness of the problematic crime and violence. The Youth Movement Against Violence has become a regional endeavor with chapters in all seven countries of Central America. In December 2012, representatives of each of the seven Central American countries gathered in Managua to present regional public policy recommendations on prevention at the Central American Presidents Summit.
By taking ownership within their communities, youth see the impact of their actions at local levels, which further motivates them to dream bigger and extend this impact beyond the community. Aleyda Méndez, a volunteer in the Youth Movement Against Violence in El Salvador shared her thoughts on the impact the Youth Movements and Outreach Centers have had on her work as a volunteer:
“The impact is reciprocal. The Movement has given me the opportunity to reach my dreams and elevate my spirit and heart to believe in a cause. The Movement has not only enabled me and given me tools for my work as a volunteer, but also it has given me the opportunity to keep reaching for my dreams, knowing that everything is possible if we are passionate in our beliefs. Thanks to all these benefits, now I can also teach and replicate my lessons learned through the motivation that I now possess. This motivation is contagious to others in the fight against violence and for love and prevention of violence. The Movement has given me the opportunity to support the opening of the Youth Movement Against Violence Nicaragua chapter and to work to create a public policy for violence prevention at the national and regional levels. ”
Investments in youth leaders, such as Aleyda, build the foundation of future government, civil society, and business leaders worldwide who ensure sustainable development outcomes for their societies.