Travel along Kingston’s Hope Road and you will experience much of Jamaica’s rich culture and heritage. You’ll also see Grants Pen, a neighborhood mired in poverty and crime. Worlds away, the grandeur and beauty of India’s famed Taj Mahal obscures the impoverished communities of Agra.
Oceans may separate these two communities that exist in the shadows of popular tourist destinations, but they are joined by the challenges they face in providing educational and economic opportunities for their youth. Now, EDC-led initiatives are engaging youth in community development projects, as well as education and training to work in the tourism industry.
This work is part of two youth-focused initiatives sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The initiative in Jamaica is part of a larger effort to build the capacity of organizations and agencies in developing countries to provide relevant education and life skills training for out-of-school youth in innovative ways. The program in India fosters collaboration to meet, more holistically, the needs of youth in developing countries.
“These initiative are distinctive because they place youth at the center of development work,” says EDC’s Alejandra Bonifaz, project coordinator for both initiatives.
Jamaica: Reaching Out to Young Men
Many of the young men in the Grants Pen neighborhood come from single-parent households, have little or no education, lack steady employment, or are involved in gangs. EDC partners with People’s Action for Community Transformation (PACT) in reaching out to these youths.
“We chose to focus on men because violence is more often attributed to them,” says Bonifaz. “However, few efforts are directly targeted to young men.”
Program participants engage in activities to develop their literacy, math, interpersonal, and entrepreneurial skills. They also receive training in areas that will help them find employment in the tourism industry, such as lifeguarding, music, and performing arts.
In addition, the youth take part in forums to discuss issues such as gender violence and discrimination. They also plan activities to improve their neighborhood, for example, by painting crosswalks.
“The program is wonderful. It’s uplifting and influential because it really gives a feeling of ‘no limit’ on what we can achieve. I feel glad I am here. I learn from the other boys, and it makes me feel good about my country,” said one 17-year-old participant during a forum discussion.
With time, says Bonifaz, project staff have been able to help local businesses overcome their hesitation to hire youths from Grants Pen. As a result, by the time the first group of youth finished the program in June 2007, the majority had found employment; while others took and passed the entrance exam for Jamaica’s National Training Agency, where they will specialize in areas such as electrical installation, automotive repair, and general office administration. A group of private philanthropists were so impressed with the results of the program that they agreed to sponsor the start-up of some of the business plans developed by the youths in the entrepreneurial workshops.
The project in Jamaica is one of three Education For All (EFA) Youth Challenge Grant projects that EDC manages. The other two are in Uganda and South Africa.
India: Creating a Heritage Walk
In Agra, youth are revitalizing a “Heritage Walk” of historical monuments that runs through the heart of their community. The walk shows visitors an alternative view of the area surrounding the Taj Mahal and is one of the ways in which EDC uses tourism to engage youth in cross-sectoral, or holistic, activities that teach them literacy, entrepreneurship, communications, life skills, and healthy living.
As part of the project, young women are improving their knitting and business skills to create and market the beautiful hand-woven bags that local hotels use to provide newspapers to their guests. Young women are also learning to paint henna on the hands of visitors. Young men are building their English and communication skills so that they can guide visitors along the Heritage Walk.
According to Bonifaz, the project has given youth the skills and training to identify and prioritize their communities’ needs to engage in the tourism industry, plan appropriate responses, and mobilize support to carry out these activities. For instance to raise awareness about healthy behaviors, young women put on a play for the community to discuss substance abuse; while young men partnered with professional engineers and members of the tourism industry to help make the Heritage Walk operational.
The CSY India initiative is conducted in partnership with the local nonprofit, the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence, and is part of the USAID-sponsored Cross-Sectoral Youth (CSY) project. The CSY project is a multi-country initiative that also recently conducted a cross-sectoral assessment of marginalized and disaffected youth in Morocco.
Originally published on May 1, 2008