At age six, Robinson Joseph was sent away from home to work on a farm as a child slave. As he worked the fields, Robinson watched other children walk to school and often asked the farm owner if he could join them. After realizing that he would never be permitted to go to school, Robinson ran away to Jérémie, a city in the western end of Haiti , where he learned to fend for himself. Now nineteen, Joseph has finally found the opportunity that was denied him as a boy. A student at a youth center in Jérémie, he is getting an education in basic literacy and numeracy and acquiring skills that will allow him to make a living.
Joseph is one of thousands of out-of-school young people in Haiti living on the streets, in domestic servitude, or with families too poor to provide them an education. As the economy in Haiti continues to deteriorate, the number of out-of-school youth is growing; currently only two-thirds of 6 to 12 year olds are enrolled in school. With funding from USAID, EDC has partnered with twelve Haitian nongovernmental agencies and the Academy for Educational Development, National Youth Employment Coalition, and Street Kids International to provide these young people new opportunities for economic and social participation.
EQUIP3/Haitian Out-of-School Youth Livelihood Initiative, or IDEJEN as the project is known locally, operates twelve youth centers. Each center provides 50 students between the ages of 15-20 with an education in basic reading, writing, and mathematics. Students also receive lessons in health, nutrition, conflict-resolution, and other life-skills. In addition, they learn a marketable trade such as sewing, woodworking, auto mechanics, handcrafts, hotel services, or agricultural businesses. “These are street kids and if they don’t see a way to earn money they won’t stick around,” explains Melanie Beauvy, EQUIP3 associate director for youth involvement/IDEJEN program manager.
The program is free and includes access to health care and one hot meal a day. A complete course of study runs 18 months, and the first group of approximately 450 students is set to graduate this June. “We hope to provide these young people the skills they need to reintegrate themselves into society,” explains Micheline Hjardemaal, financial manager for the project. Each student who successfully completes the course receives an initial accreditation by the Institut National de Formation Professionnelle (INFP), the vocational training branch of the Ministry of Education.
The program is followed by six months of “livelihood accompaniment” where each young person is mentored by an adult while pursuing an internship, apprenticeship, starting a small business, or pursuing further technical training. For example, Robinson Joseph hopes to open a tailor shop with several of his fellow students when he finishes his studies this June; through IDEJEN he will receive mentoring on how to establish a business of his own.
Youth recruiting youth
The program has adopted a participatory youth research method known as Youth Mapping, which organizes a cadre of young people who identify potential participants and set the direction of the program. These “youth-mappers,” locate where out-of-school youth gather, which organizations are serving them currently, and what additional services would benefit them. Project staff can then design programs that meet the needs of the young people they hope to serve. The mapping process also allows the program to build partnerships with grassroots organizations that are already supporting youth and help develop their capacity. Ultimately, the project partners with a local community-based organization, such as a church or association, which agrees to provide a space for the center.
Project staff are committed to involving youth in all phases of the work, according to Beauvy. “It is very important that we really understand the young people and their needs and work with them from beginning to end-from designing to implementing, to evaluating projects.”
In addition, the project encourages youth-mappers to develop additional projects that would complement the training going on at the youth centers. One group of youth-mappers has established a community cybercenter where young people can receive tutoring from other youth on how to use computers and the Internet.
Center staff are certified school teachers who receive a week of training on how to adapt the general ministry of education curriculum to meet the needs of out-of-school youth and how to teach basic education in non-formal settings. “We start where the young people are,” says Beauvy. “For instance, we don’t rely on textbooks to teach literacy-we use magazines and newspapers instead. In mathematics we use real scenarios-many of these kids need to handle money on the street, so we start there.” In addition, center staff work with a psychologist to learn about the emotional challenges out-of-school youth face and how best to reach them.
Planning for sustainability
The program requires each center to attempt to become self-sustaining. The program covered start up costs of the centers including the equipment—the desks and chairs, the sewing machines, the ovens. It also covers teacher salaries and other administrative costs. Project staff are working with each center to develop a business plan for a revenue-generating activity, which will provide both vocational training for the students and income for the center. Proposed businesses include sewing cushions for cars and motorcycles, catering, delivery and transportation services, and agricultural businesses that produce jams, wine, and nut butter.
On graduation day in June each of the 450 students will receive a graduation gift—a kit that reflects the trade they mastered. For instance, the students who learned to sew will get a kit with scissors, needles and thread, and a tape measure. Those who learned auto mechanics will get some mechanics tools and overalls. The bakers will get measuring cups, spoons, bowls, and an apron. “These are young people who have never owned anything,” says Hjardemaal. “We want to give them something to help them make a new start.”
IDEJEN will “open many doors for participating youth,” predicts Guerda Previlon, field project coordinator. “Programs like this are crucial for the socio-economic development of Haiti and we hope to see it extended at the national level.”
Originally published on May 1, 2006