Indonesian Youth Programs
Around 85 million children live in Indonesia, making up one-third of the country’s population. Children are necessary for their country’s future, and the education and opportunities they receive are what allow them to have that impact. That is why it is important for children to have programs and organizations that give them more opportunities and allows them to realize their full potential. Several Indonesian youth programs provide these opportunities to children in Indonesia. The Indonesia Youth Foundation, Indonesian Youth Opportunities in International Networking (IYOIN) and Indonesian Youth Diplomacy are prime examples of Indonesian youth programs that aid children in education, provide resources and give them outlets to channel their passions.

Indonesia Youth Foundation

The Indonesia Youth Foundation began on July 23, 2020, as a non-governmental organization. Its objectives include connecting the children of Indonesia and other global youth through a variety of youth activities, offering general knowledge about the country and taking part in world advancement and the development of youth.

One can track the organization’s Youth Empowerment program through a series of articles on the organization’s official website, each entry providing tips on subjects such as boosting productivity and caring for mental health. Also featured is information on education and tourism to provide a better understanding of Indonesia.

Indonesian Youth Opportunities in International Networking

Indonesian youths created IYOIN in 2015. Since then, the self-started Indonesian youth program has spread across several different regions in Indonesia, with 18 local chapters.

The purpose of this organization is to serve as a medium for children in Indonesia to congregate, share and work together to realize their values for the country. The opportunities that this program provides also aim to improve the Indonesian youths’ education and to ensure that the youth will have the qualifications to tackle their futures successfully.

IYOIN became a United Nations SDSN Youth Member in 2017, a program that works to guarantee education that is inclusive and equal for all, in addition to encouraging learning opportunities. IYOIN joined this program because these goals align with its own mission.

Indonesian Youth Diplomacy

Indonesian Youth Diplomacy is a nonprofit Indonesian youth program that promotes and provides international exposure and empowers the next generation of Indonesian leaders. Known initially as G20 Youth Indonesia, efforts to form the organization began in 2010. This process continued in 2011 when the Indonesian Organizing Committee emerged to recruit Indonesian youth interested in contributing to the annual G20 Youth Summit. Recognizing the necessity of involving Indonesian youth in diplomacy beyond what the G20 program provides, the organization updated in 2013. Now known as the Indonesian Youth Diplomacy, it sends Indonesia’s promising young leaders to represent the country in international forums to raise awareness of diplomacy.

Youth programs can offer multiple benefits to children. They provide youth with quality education, a chance to involve themselves in their community and learn essential life skills and create a healthy social environment. All three of the organizations give these opportunities to the children of Indonesia. These Indonesian youth programs are crucial to allow children to spread their wings and learn since the youth are the backbone of their country.

– Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Youth Workforce
Pakistan is looking to bridge the skills gap between Pakistan’s youth workforce and the upcoming demands of its rising technology and automation markets. Structural change is necessary for Pakistan as the growing youth population faces challenges such as a rising unemployment rate and socioeconomic and gender disparities that keep students out of the classroom. In 2020, youth in Pakistan faced an unemployment rate as high as 8.5%; today, approximately 44% of children and teenagers are out of school. With 64% of the population younger than 30, Pakistan has more young people than ever who have the power to revolutionize its workforce by becoming re-skilled in relevant and desirable industries.

Pakistan’s Fourth Industrial Revolution

Pakistan is ushering in its fourth industrial revolution with a big challenge to overcome: enrolling more youth in schools where they can begin working with technology at an early age. This is especially critical as countries are growing increasingly dependent on online learning and employment during the worldwide COVID-19 crisis.

Pakistan’s rising investments in automation, e-commerce, digital payment systems and more requires the youth workforce to keep pace with new technologies. Such growth poses many new opportunities for the nation, including modernizing technology and making tasks such as digital banking and online learning easier.

According to Parwaaz, a reskilling initiative that the World Economic Forum supports, the top 10 skills of 2025 include:

  • Technology Use & Monitoring
  • Technology Design
  • Critical Thinking & Analysis
  • Active Learning & Learning Strategies
  • Reasoning, Problem Solving & Ideation
  • Analytical Thinking & Innovation
  • Resilience & Stress Tolerance
  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Leadership & Social Influence
  • Creativity & Originality

These skills can take the Pakistani youth beyond their current capabilities by smoothing their transition into the workforce while giving existing employees opportunities for career advancement.

A Multistakeholder Approach to Success

Pakistan’s largest skills development fund, the Punjab Skills and Development Fund (PSDF), is partnering with the World Economic Forum to join the “Reskilling Revolution.” According to Managing Director Saadia Zahidi, the goal of the revolution is to bring better work, skills and education to over 1 billion people by 2030. Challenges to reskilling include high costs, disconnects between training and relevant skills and few private training opportunities. However, with the launch of Parwaaz, a more structured form of reskilling is underway.

A multi-stakeholder public and private skills training initiative, Parwaaz has pinpointed six sectors that require trained workers in order to accommodate future market demands. These sectors include:

  • ICT
  • Financial Services
  • Textile
  • Hospitality
  • Retail and Services
  • Manufacturing & Light Engineering
  • Agriculture & Livestock

Parwaaz is expecting to change the core skills of 40% of workers in the country, raise the rate of automation from 33% in 2020 to 47% by 2025 and give two out of three employers returns on human capital investment. It plans to achieve this by creating incubators that will train 1,000 young people by June 2021 in market-relevant skills. Parwaaz will continue to function with financial and policy support from the Pakistani government and support from other stakeholders such as educational institutions and industry experts.

Integrating Pakistan’s youth workforce into new, more advanced markets is a nationwide effort that will result in high-performing companies, skilled employees, increased innovation and a stable structure for the future. Ultimately, investments in technology, automation and the growing youth workforce will lead to a brighter future for everyone while helping lift vulnerable populations of poverty.

Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

Suicide in GreenlandBetween 1970 and 1980, the suicide rate in Greenland was seven times higher than that of the United States. The high incidences of suicide in Greenland stemmed from the devaluing of local Inuit culture which occurred when Denmark pushed to modernize the island. Due to a lack of adequate resources, improvements have been slow. However, as mental health has become destigmatized, various NGOs and government programs have appeared over the last decade with promising solutions to address suicide in Greenland.

Suicide in Greenland Today

In 2016, the global average annual suicide rate was 16 persons per 100,000. In Greenland, the annual suicide rate was 82 persons per 100,000.

Suicide is not evenly distributed across Greenland’s population. Teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk of suicide. According to the Nordic Centre of Welfare and Social Issues, the prevalence of suicide in Greenland is three times higher among 20 to 24-year-olds than 25 to 65-year-olds.  Additionally, 23% of teenagers and young adults reported that they have self-harmed.

Recognizing Risk Factors

Due to the rapid modernization of the 1970s and 1980s, many people emigrated to the cities and larger settlements for economic and educational mobility. However, once there, they needed to assimilate to appear more Danish. The loss of identity that followed saw communities turn to alcohol, which in turn led to child abuse and neglect — two major risk factors for suicide. This erosion of family structure made it hard for individuals to cope with emotional and psychological hardships.

Combating Suicide in Greenland

Over the last couple of decades, the government and several NGOs created programs to combat this endemic.

  • SAAFIK – Established in 2011, this nation-wide counseling center extends medical, psychological, social and legal support to child victims of sexual abuse.
  • Break the Silence, End the Violence – In 2014, The Ministry of Family, Gender Equality and Social Affairs launched a three-year campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence. To this end, the Ministry established a web page about violence and information campaigns.
  • SAPIIK – This peer mentoring program is focused on reducing the number of children who drop out of school. Through social activities and outings, SAPIIK focuses on improving a child’s intrapersonal and interpersonal skills.
  • School Fairy System – This program places a social worker, known as a School Fairy, in schools to help students who need social support. The School Fairy engages students through conversation and activities. The School Fairy also reports concerns and observations to the school when he or she deems that special interventions are required.
  • TIMI ASIMI –  Founded in 2011, this is an outdoor-based intervention program geared toward at-risk teens and young adults, ages 13 to 21. Throughout the course of three months, participants engage in educational courses, community service, academic counseling and physical activities.
  • Project CREATes – Over the course of two years, this project utilized storytelling as an effective way of eliciting personal experiences related to both suicide and resilience. These workshops were safe spaces for the arctic’s youth to come together and share their experiences with suicide and mental health. Facilitators worked with youth to help them to write, audio record, photograph or film their own stories as a way of healing. Though Project CREATeS ended in 2019, it was just one part of a series of programs created by the Arctic Council to combat suicide in the arctic. It was succeeded by Local2Global, another suicide prevention program focused on fostering community and creating digital projects for storytelling.

Greenland has come a long way since the 1980s. People are now able to talk about suicide and get help for mental issues. With more initiatives and resources, suicide in Greenland can decrease to match the global average or even undercut it.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

Little Light UgandaLittle Light Uganda is a nonprofit organization located in Namuwongo Slum, which is in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Since its establishment in 2007, Little Light’s mission has been to provide aid to those in the community who are living in poverty.

Little Light Helps Uganda

Uganda’s economy has had a reduction in growth because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a locust invasion and heavy rains that led to flooding. With subsequent job loss along with the economic decline, programs like Little Light Uganda are essential for giving help to those in need. Little Light’s services include “giving access to proper education, economic empowerment and psycho-social support.”

Little Light Uganda has two groups in the organization, its youth group and its women’s group. The youth group, officially known as Spoon Youth, aims to provide the young people in Namuwongo a safe and reliable environment. The group also educates children on how to navigate life living in poverty, including matters of crime and violence. Children and youth make up more than 70% of Namuwongo’s population, half of them without parents, which is why Little Light works to provide them sanctuary and resources.

Women’s Empowerment Group

The mothers of children in the youth group are invited into Little Light’s women’s empowerment group, called “Umoja,” which is Swahili for “Unity.” The group’s mission is to give women living in the Namuwongo slum tools to better their economic and social situation. Members of the women’s group meet every afternoon at the organization to make authentic African jewelry from recycled newspapers and hand-rolled beads. The jewelry is marketed in Uganda and abroad to provide an income and livelihood for women.

Mama Pendo Jewelry

The name the group has coined for the jewelry brand is Mama Pendo, which translated from Kiswahili means “The Mother of Love.” The initiative aims to improve the quality of life for refugees and single mothers trying to provide their children with an education.

Little Light Uganda volunteers have worked with the women to support their hard work and create a website for their jewelry to be sold. The proceeds from sold jewelry go toward projects the women feel passionate about, all of which intend to benefit the conditions for struggling women and other vulnerable individuals.

Combating Malaria and COVID-19

One of the group’s projects is dedicated to fighting malaria in Uganda, which is one of the main causes of death in the country. According to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, between 70,000 to 100,000 children in Uganda die from the disease every year. The group uses money earned from sold bracelets to buy an organic mosquito-repellent soap, which is given to disadvantaged families that live in places that are more vulnerable to malaria.

The women have also created an initiative to combat COVID-19. Since hygiene is an essential tool for preventing the spread of the virus, the group has pledged one bar of soap for a family in Namuwango living in poverty for every website purchase.

Women’s Empowerment for Poverty Reduction in Uganda

Little Light Uganda does a lot for its community with initiatives like the Mama Pendo project. Not only is the organization helping those in need but it is also empowering women living in poverty. Women with more resources and liberation are more likely to pursue their own education and prioritize the health, nutritional and educational needs of their children.

– Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Youth Development in the PhilippinesThe Philippines has an opportunity for rapid economic growth and the potential to greatly innovate industry across the country. This opportunity comes from the number of young people in the country. Young people account for 50% of the entire population of the nation, leaving it with immense potential for economic growth as these young people begin to enter the workforce. Youth development in the Philippines is crucial for the country’s transformation into a resilient nation.

The Education Problem

Unfortunately for the Philippines, an alarming portion of these young people are currently not in any form of education or employment. One-fifth of all youth in the Philippines are either jobless or not attending school or employment training.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines was facing an education crisis. The country placed last in reading comprehension and second to last in both science and mathematics in an international student assessment.

USAID: Youth Development in the Philippines

USAID has committed to help improve and promote public education and other forms of education in the Philippines. Starting in 2018, USAID began a five-year effort to create a series of programs aimed at uplifting economically disenfranchised Filipino youth who are at the most risk of poverty.

One program, in particular, YouthWorks PH is a five-year partnership between USAID and the Philippine Business for Education that engages the private sector to address the education needs of youth as well as the skill requirements of employers. This partnership will improve access to training and employment opportunities for at least 40,000 youth through an innovative work-based training approach. Young people are able to earn a competency certificate from a university or training institute while working in partner companies.

More than 5,000 young Filipinos will have access to free technical and vocational training as a result of this initiative partnering with Aboitiz Construction and D.M. Consunji, Inc. (DMCI), two of the biggest construction companies in the country.

This type of on-site vocational training will help prepare youth for well-paid employment opportunities and will create more skilled workers in the Philippines.

There are also other programs created by USAID specifically to increase the quality and accessibility of education in the Philippines. All Children Reading (ACR), is a program to increase the reading skills of Filipino children. ABC+ aims to address the interconnected factors that contribute to low education outcomes in the poorest performing areas of the Philippines.

Youth Development Potential

Young Filipino people could potentially bring about massive economic growth in the country. In order to fully capitalize on this opportunity, resources and development opportunities must be provided to the youth so that they can fully integrate into the workforce as skilled workers. For this reason, the youth development work of USAID is integral. Not only will it lift thousands of poor Filipino youth out of poverty but it will help create a stronger economy for the Philippines.

– Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

HIV in southern AfricaIn 2006, the Duke of Sussex partnered with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to form Sentebale, a charity focused on providing psychosocial support for children and young adults living with HIV in southern Africa. It partners with grassroots organizations in Botswana, Lesotho and Malawi and works to improve adherence to HIV medication programs.

Sentebale

“We teach them that this human immunodeficiency virus does not have to be a death sentence for anyone anymore, that the real enemy we are fighting is stigma and the antiquated attitudes that work against young people coming forward when wanting to take an HIV test,” said Prince Harry in a speech during a dinner for Sentebale in January 2020.

The name Sentebale was chosen by Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso. It means “forget me not” in Sesotho, which is Lesotho’s official language. Princess Diana, Prince Harry’s late mother, and Queen ‘Mamohato, Prince Seeiso’s late mother, were both previously involved in work with children who had been affected by HIV/AIDS. The mission of Sentebale is to become the leading organization for psychosocial support for young people and children with HIV in southern Africa.

The Let Youth Lead Program

In recent years, Sentebale has found that social accountability and peer-to-peer support were central tools to bolstering its mission. In March 2017, Sentebale launched the Let Youth Lead program. The program’s objectives are to eventually have all young people in southern Africa know their HIV status, provide and promote peer-to-peer support and help young people to advocate for themselves at the government level. Another goal of the program is to empower these young advocates with the tools to assist their peers and have their voices heard.

“I volunteered because I wanted to help people. I don’t see this as work, I just want to transform people’s lives,” said Pheto Kutmela, a Sentebale Let Youth Lead advocate. Kutmela has been volunteering in Ha Makunyapane, Thaba-Tseka district, where he lives.

These youth advocates have been able to facilitate community dialogues in 30 community councils, where they are able to discuss challenges they have been facing and suggest improvements for going forward. It can typically be difficult for young people to have their voices heard at the governmental level and this program helps create a platform for them to do so, by giving them the tools to engage with policy leaders and address education and health services.

HIV/AIDS Progress in Botswana

Sentebale has overseen some transformative improvements in the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past several years. In Botswana, HIV/AIDS infected less than 500 children under the age of 14 in 2018 and more than 95% of pregnant women living with HIV were receiving treatment.

Sentabale is in the process of developing a five-year strategy for the organization. In January 2020, it hosted an “initial workshop” to hear the voices of young people and children so that it can shape the organization’s future vision around their feedback. Looking forward to 2021, with a few adaptations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sentebale will continue to prioritize its commitment toward empowering youth who HIV in southern Africa has affected.

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

Serbian YouthBelgrade is Serbia’s capital, with a population of over 1.7 million people. With a 40% youth unemployment rate, large numbers of Serbs were forced to leave the country and search for work elsewhere. Unemployment in Serbia is significantly higher than the European average and one of the country’s significant economic challenges is the need for private-sector job creation. In the last 12 months, Serbia has had 62 startups with $0 in total funding. More than ever, the country is in need of a program like Impact Hub to help Serbian youth.

Impact Hub

Impact Hub was founded in London in 2005 and now has over 7,000 members in more than 60 locations, one of which is Belgrade. The program is funded by USAID and assists young innovators in accessing the tools they need to connect with investors because unsuccessful funding is the biggest obstacle for startups. On Impact Hub’s website, online visitors can become “Impact Angels” and invest in a startup in minutes.

Impact Hub assists in the development of new products and business models. The program focuses on technological innovators and entrepreneurs and the future of their businesses. The organization provides collaborative workspaces, program support, an inspirational environment and diversity.

Impact Hub Belgrade offers young entrepreneurs resources such as acceleration and connections to grow their business. It is both a community center and a business incubator. The program encourages the sharing and building of a community and the space in which the project operates is used to organize events, from arts and culture to entrepreneurship.

Guiding Young Entrepreneurs

Impact Hub founders believe talent allows for growth and production. Since many young people know how to code, design and create innovative solutions, Impact Hub aims at helping  Serbian youth grow their startups. The program secures investments and teaches young people about using money in competitive markets. Impact Hub wants to get young entrepreneurs out of their comfort zone to expand their network. There are two different paths that Impact Hub employees guide entrepreneurs through. The first is “Core Competence for Market Validation,” in which individuals learn how to get the first buyer, expand their customers and make financial projections. The second is “Growth Readiness” and focuses on profiling a buyer, expanding traction and creating revenue models.

Impact Hub Belgrade implemented an initiative called We Founders, in which startup teams, founders, leaders and business developers can connect and work to improve their businesses. Impact Hub helps form partnerships to allow people to share the risks and prepare together for possible losses.

Impact Hub is Positively Impacting

Participants of Impact Hub raised $230,000 in investments from the Serbian public sector and private investors, not including a $100,000 investment from Dubai’s Innovation Impact Grant Program.

Alongside USAID, Impact Hub Belgrade gives Serbian youth the chance to see their innovations and ideas come to life. Outside of Belgrade, Impact Hub is available worldwide to allow individuals the opportunity to receive education regarding the tools and skills necessary for creating a business.

– Rachel Durling
Photo: Flickr

Skills Training for African Youth
Africa is no stranger to the challenges of an underdeveloped workforce. Africa has a history of economic crisis paired with harsh conditions to yield ample commodities. The trend for unemployment in Africa’s younger generations is trending upward. The rate at which African youths enroll in job-specific training is also rising slightly. As of 2012, 20.4% of young African students had enrollment in training that would benefit them in the workforce. Projections have determined that this number will be approximately 20.8% in 2021; a small but encouraging increase. Here is additional information about employment in Africa and how some are providing skills training to African youth.

The Situation

Unfortunately for young African women in job training, the numbers have dropped from 26.3% in 2012 to 25.8% in 2020. Cultural belief systems continue to be a barrier for young women in Africa entering the workforce.

Since 2012, the youth unemployment rate has declined from 11.8% in 2012 to 11% in 2020, and expectations have determined that it will remain at 11% in 2021. While Africa’s youth unemployment rate is lower than the global average, this is not a good indicator of economic success and a great need exists for skills training in Africa. About 37.6% of Africans in the workforce are living in extreme poverty and earning less than $1.90 USD per day which exceeds the global average of 35.4% in 2020. Research shows that the poverty rates link to the quality of work available in Africa.

Africa comprises 54 countries and is home to 1.2 billion people. Many industries exist that hold the promise of growth for the younger generation in Africa if they receive the proper skills training. Many of the jobs in Africa relate to farming. Projections state that Africa’s agricultural business will grow to $1 trillion USD in the next 10 years. About 50% of all of Africa’s usable farmland has not undergone cultivation yet. With the expansion of agriculture comes the need for jobs in advisory positions, veterinary medicine, management and more. Additionally, a greater need for professional services such as banks, communication companies, construction and technology will emerge.

Currently, African youth earn less than $150 USD per month on average. This statistic is true for youths who have been out of school for as long as five years and is largely due to a lack of skills training in Africa.

International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF)

International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF) recognizes the unique challenges that the younger generations in Africa face and seeks to respond by providing skills training to African youth. About 250 million youths in Africa are preparing to enter the workforce. Projections have determined that that number will rise to 321 million by 2030. Though students do graduate from secondary school, they often find themselves in what the U.S. would consider entry-level or lower careers such as driving a cab.

Even after paying university tuition while studying subjects such as math and science, youths in Africa still frequently lack the skills necessary to secure middle-class jobs. ICEF recognizes the need
for skills training in Africa to include vocational training and apprenticeships as a part of a degree program. Not only would these apprenticeships be beneficial to companies’ labor costs but they would also give students the hands-on experience they need to enter the workforce.

Beginning in 2021, ICEF will be returning to Africa virtually to help increase educational content to institutions in Africa that lack up-to-date academic plans and provide a network for educators in countries such as Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana.

The last event occurred in Africa in 2019 and was a success at helping those who educate Africa’s younger generation and assist with skills training. About 241 individuals residing in 43 countries participated in the event. Thirteen African markets received representation and many made connections across the international education plane to help bring skills training to Africa and help lift more people out of poverty.

Meeting the job skills training needs of young people in Africa can offer a long-term solution to some of the tragedies that young people on the continent are facing today. With the collaboration of more developed countries sharing their approach and resources, Africa can make progress by providing skills training to African youth.

– Carolyn Lancour
Photo: Flickr

Global LEAD InitiativeAs a demographic, over one-sixth of the global population are between the ages of 15 and 24. Because of its sheer size, this group plays a critical role in forging the next steps for global development. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) introduced the Global Leadership and Education Advancing Development (Global LEAD) Initiative in August of 2020 in order to support and empower the world’s youth. Youth help shape the future of their respective nations. As a result, USAID’s Global LEAD Initiative aims to increase youth participation in building resilient and self-supporting communities. The Initiative serves as an umbrella project, with several programs branching out.

Key Subgroups of Global LEAD

  • New Partnerships Initiative (NPI): A fundamental goal of USAID’s Global LEAD Initiative is to make connections between young people, the communities they serve and other related groups and organizations. The NPI is a separate initiative led by USAID that removes access barriers to various USAID resources and funding. NPI impacts USAID’s Global LEAD Initiative by allowing for diversification of available partnerships, helping youth connect with the organizations that serve them.
  • YouthPower2 (YP2): Part of the process for USAID’s Global LEAD Initiative is to proactively support young people, providing them with training and resources to give them the skills they need to foster healthier communities at the start. YP2 uses what is known as a “positive youth approach,” meaning that adolescents are empowered to participate and play active roles in societal endeavors. Under this model, YP2 works with groups and organizations that are run by youth, or that serve youth. Another program that emerged from YP2 is YouthLead, which puts a strong emphasis on building leadership abilities among youth. YouthLead connects youth with opportunities to engage in service and advocacy projects within their communities. The program also provides information on funding, grants and scholarships so that young people have the financial resources to make positive changes for their futures.
  • HELIX: Higher Education for Leadership, Innovation and Exchange, or HELIX, is another mechanism of USAID’s Global LEAD Initiative that supports its mission to encourage nations and communities to prepare themselves on the “Journey to Self-Reliance.” Under this program, the focus is on bettering the capacity of higher education institutions and systems to find innovative solutions to cultivating increased development within communities. Various partners of the HELIX program aim to provide opportunities for global youth to access higher education, such as through scholarships, internships, research and fellowships. USAID believes that having better access to higher education is fundamental for a nation’s development, where a nation can experience sustainable progress by nurturing the cognitive and creative capacities of its youth.

Leaders of Tomorrow

The youth of today will be the leaders of tomorrow so it is vital that they are included in the process of bettering communities. USAID’s Global LEAD Initiative is taking steps to ensure that the world’s youth have access to the necessary resources to be able to innovate and lead further international development.

– Melanie McCrackin
Photo: Flickr

Improving Life in El Salvador
Why would a parent ever voluntarily give up their child? In El Salvador, perilous circumstances pressure some parents to do just that for the sake of the child. Other children find themselves in orphanages because of an abusive or impoverished family. Amid economic malaise and violence, NGO Sus Hijos is improving life in El Salvador by helping Salvadoran youth find hope.

Poverty in El Salvador

In the United States, the poverty line is around $26,000 for a family of four. The same family of four in El Salvador would be making around $8,000 according to the World Bank. That is $5.50 per person daily. In 2017, the poverty rate among Salvadorans was 29%, with 8.5% of Salvadorans surviving in extreme poverty. If one compares this to 2007, these statistics are a win: that year, 39% lived in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty.

Still, the current situation presents a challenge to El Salvador’s government, other countries and private organizations as they try to reduce the poverty rate. El Salvador’s economy has grown slowly since 2000, at an average of 2.3% GDP annually, but the World Bank predicts COVID-19 will contribute to a -4.3% growth rate in 2020. Even if 2021 brings an economic rebound, growth will have stagnated and recovery will be arduous absent additional action. Gangs and corruption both present endemic barriers to anti-poverty reform. In fact, gangs have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic, as police have split their focus between law enforcement and containing the virus.

National efforts to fight corruption and violence can do good if implemented correctly but small-scale efforts should accompany them. These on-the-ground efforts can attain acceptance from the community, and help construct a bottom-up fight against poverty. One such charitable organization improving life in El Salvador is Sus Hijos.

Sus Hijos

Sus Hijos (His Children) is a faith-based NGO that has been serving in El Salvador since 2008. Its mission has expanded as its support has grown, and it now pursues a variety of poverty-reducing initiatives, such as a community feeding program, a home construction campaign and culinary and cosmetics training programs. It also uses its transition program to help Salvadoran youth stay out of gang violence and off the streets.

The Borgen Project interviewed Dave Sheppard about his work with Sus Hijos, where he served as the transition program director for more than three years, between 2013 and 2016. As the director, he helped 38 young adults through the program, 20 of whom successfully completed the two-year transition. He also observed the sights and way of life around him, in a country that hopelessness often plagues.

Transitioning from Tragedy

The situation Salvadoran youth face is especially saddening. In 2010, parents abandoned 66% of children, often because their parents were simply too poor to care for them. Abandonment is still high today, and for many, the orphanage is safer than home.

Gang violence contributes to this problem. Gangs in El Salvador may outnumber the security forces, and operate by dealing drugs, extorting business owners and human trafficking. As they often control entire neighborhoods, dividing San Salvador into regions of influence, gangsters frequently impress children as young as 10 into their network. Those who do not join experience threats, harassment and assault. Sheppard told The Borgen Project that many families willingly turn their children over to the government so that they can escape gang influence and danger.

Once children turn 18, however, they are no longer eligible to live in government care. As a result, they go back to their families as government employees cannot legally leave them on the street. With unstable family situations, many of these young adults end up on the street or in gangs.

This is where Sus Hijos and other charities step in. It picks up the children on their 18th birthdays and offers them a room, food and support for up to two years. Sheppard told The Borgen Project that Sus Hijos’ transition program targets “the worst of the worst cases” to help—often those who experienced sexual abuse as children or had to work for long hours in sugarcane fields.

Transitioning to Hope

Sus Hijos’ transition program aims to provide young adults with support while fostering work ethic and faith-based values. To enter the program, the children must agree to avoid drugs and alcohol and follow other rules that help promote their personal growth. They also had to pay $1 a day in rent—money that they would receive as a gift from Sus Hijos once they left or completed the program, Sheppard said.

While in the program, the young adults also continued their education, completed chores and worked a job to make money. A ninth-grade education is a requirement to work at certain food establishments, like McDonald’s or Super Selectos. Most children complete only a sixth-grade education in El Salvador, so moving through additional grades can translate into greater pay. Sus Hijos’ training programs in its restaurant and salon also offers the young adults real-world job skills.

 In his role as director, Sheppard purchased a bus to ferry the youth between the residence and their jobs. He said that the gangs occasionally harassed him on his routes, but such harassment became “very, very rare” once they discovered who he was. “Once they knew who I was, they would leave me alone,” he stated.

Transitioning to Success

Sheppard told The Borgen Project about two individuals whose success was above average. The first was a young woman in government care through most of her teens due to domestic abuse. She completed Sus Hijos’ two-year program and graduated high school, which ends after 11th grade in El Salvador. Unlike many Salvadorans, she managed to get into a college and complete her associate’s degree. The college was the product of a U.S. doctor who had repaired a derelict hospital. The college paid full tuition while Sus Hijos and others helped out with living costs. Sheppard keeps in touch with the young lady, who now works at a call center where she makes about $600 per month.

The other success story Sheppard mentioned was of a young man whose parents had been killed when he was only four months old. He lived in a government facility until 18, at which point he entered the Sus Hijos program. He completed his seventh, eighth and ninth-grade education while at Sus Hijos, and then left the program to work at a local grocer, where he still has employment.

Even though Sheppard’s volunteer work ended in 2016, he keeps in touch with several of the youth from the program and its administrators. Today, the transition house is assisting nine kids through the program and Sus Hijos is continuing its other works. Its contributions are part of a small-scale, non-governmental initiative with a focus on improving life in El Salvador. If Sus Hijos’ efforts are a barometer of success, the country is bound to continue improving.

Jonathan Helton
Photo: Flickr