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How young people are finding opportunities during COVID-19

POSTED October 13, 2020

How young people are finding opportunities during COVID-19

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By Fred Witteveen, CEO, ceo@childrenbelieve.ca

CEO stands by poster

As another Thanksgiving ends in Canada, I’m grateful I could spend time with family. It reminds me everyone isn’t always as fortunate to have that support. Others would be thankful for a job to provide a steady flow of income.

In Nicaragua, one of the countries where we work, too many youth struggle without basic needs.

The pandemic has complicated matters. As opportunities for full-time, permanent work become harder to find, more young people will look outside their country, consider irregular migration as a means to find opportunity or reunite with family who have left the country in search of a better life.

Understanding the barriers to success

There’s no better time to be working closely with youth, listening to their needs and providing resources for them to learn and grow their leadership and entrepreneurial skills. We’re doing that by leading the Preventing Irregular Child Migration in Central America (PICMCA) project, with funding from the Government of Canada.

The $15.2-million regional project spanning El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua is a reminder of the difference we can make when we listen to, help and engage with young people. We’re especially focused on girls and young mothers, since poverty is concentrated in rural areas where it’s less likely women will receive an education.

How youth are finding hope for a better future

Consider Delia (pictured below). The 25-year-old mother of a four-year-old boy doesn’t want to go to another community to find a low-paying job as a domestic worker. She wants a better future. She’s learning how to do that through PICMCA and is excited by the prospect of opening the first beauty shop in her community.

In Nicaragua, through PICMCA, more than 100 young women and men have benefited from technical courses as well as life skills and business development training on how to find employment or start small enterprises. And, more than 500 youth in Guatemala completed a comprehensive training program, which culminated with the presentation of their business plan and submission into a contest to win seed money to start a business.

Norman, 18, is on the other side of the project. He recently opened a chicken farm in Nicaragua, following the successful completion of PICMCA-supported technical and small-enterprise development courses. “I am very grateful to God and the CONFIO (Spanish name) project for their great support for all the young people who want to improve their lives,” he says.

Woman stands by road

Providing more than an education

Astrid from Honduras developed a sense of personal power learning about equality and leadership through PICMCA teachings on gender-responsive leadership and youth-advocacy training. She’s already made a difference as a youth champion at a global event in Washington, D.C., funded by the Government of Canada.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, which has seen dramatic increases in homicide, Christian, 13, learned about the culture of peace. He was part of a group of 6,000 children between the ages of six and 13 learning how to challenge patriarchal culture through human-rights training and violence-prevention programs. “I’ve learned to initiate conversations with other kids, get along with them and have respect for others,” he says. “My mindset changed from individuality to becoming a person who thinks about my community.”

How young people are being supported to thrive

To find true success, the adults who support youth need to be engaged, too, and that’s what PICMCA is accomplishing.

  • In Nicaragua, 400 child-protection system staff, including border officials, learned about gender equality and how to identify kids at risk of crimes linked to irregular migration, such as human trafficking and sexual exploitation
  • In Mexico, more than 200 medical personnel, teachers, local authorities and more learned about their roles in keeping children and youth safe
  • In El Salvador, more than 200 decision-makers, institutional officials and more received training in child protection and violence prevention

PICMCA is projected to reach 77,840 people. And, as COVID brings fresh fears of irregular migration to the forefront, the project team has reimagined programming so they can continue providing support. Virtual trainings are replacing in-person training; technologies and social media, such as WhatsApp, continue to engage youth; and a seed capital contest in Nicaragua continues to provide opportunity.

The innovation and learnings from this project are also fuelling our work on EMPUJE, a new educational-focused project we’re also leading in Nicaragua. The $7.3-million, Government of Canada-funded initiative is designed to improve the well-being of 12,000 youth (60 percent women), boosting life skills and soft skills so they can find and keep a formal, full-time job. Consultations and online polls on education and other needs are underway, and I’m excited to hear success stories that will be born here.

Looking ahead to a bright future

I am not the only one filled with hope. Our new “My Nation Is In My Heart” campaign puts youth in the driver’s seat so they can share why they love their country and want to grow their lives there. We’ll reach more than 100,000 young people in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and México, bringing inspiration from young people to their peers. It’s our job to support them so they can create a better life for their future families.

To learn more about our work in Nicaragua, and Central America, visit childrenbelievenicaragua.org.

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ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE (formerly Christian Children's Fund of Canada):

Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60 years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.