July 24, 2014

A Fresh Start

In Guyana, youth are finding new directions through EDC’s SKYE program

The neighborhood of Agricola is one of the poorest and most dangerous communities in all of Guyana. For Flemlyn Ragobeer, it was also home.

Now, as a youth coach for EDC’s Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) program, Ragobeer is going back to Agricola, helping to pull other young people out of poverty and crime and into a better life.

“SKYE is all about a second chance,” she says. “I feel blessed that I can actually go back and offer this to them. It’s a way out.”

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, SKYE provides workforce training to young Guyanese in Agricola and other high-risk communities where drugs and violence are common, and opportunity is often in short supply.

The premise of the program is simple—give young people the training and opportunity to do something positive, and they will jump onboard.

“These young people want to do something with themselves, but they do not have the qualifications to do what they want,” says Ragobeer. “They see that SKYE will give them a great opportunity to become somebody.”

Launched in 2012, the program is already generating results. As of June 2014, more than 1,100 youth have completed SKYE’s work readiness training, and 400 graduates have already found employment, mostly in the construction and clerical fields.

Ready for work

SKYE has a stellar reputation among the country’s employers, as U.S. Ambassador to Guyana D. Brent Hardt mentioned during remarks to program graduates in March 2014. BK Quarries, one of the region’s largest employers, recently took on 12 SKYE graduates—and soon afterward, requested 20 more.

“We were told it was the first time they had a group of youth who had the right attitude to work,” says EDC’s Fiona Wills, who directs SKYE. “SKYE graduates are a recognized brand. A key factor is the Work Ready Now! training that we use.”

EDC’s Work Ready Now! curriculum emphasizes training in areas such as workplace safety, conduct, and financial skills. Throughout their involvement with SKYE, youth participants work with a coach who helps them develop an individualized plan for their short- and long-term goals.

Wills says employers are happy to take a chance on employing these young people because they know the youth will be supported by their SKYE coaches.

“I think they understand the value of the coaching, and the value of the methodology,” she says.

The program is also being used to steer young people clear of Guyana’s criminal justice system. Magistrates are opting to link young people with SKYE instead of sending them to prison for minor offenses. They see how SKYE can help youths turn their lives around.

It’s an intervention that has made a difference. According to Wills, officials from the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sports stated that the alternative sentencing opportunities provided by SKYE were one of the factors behind a nearly 33 percent drop in the population at the youth detention center.

Taking the future in hand

SKYE’s combination of goal setting and skills development puts young people on a better, more constructive path. Wills credits the program’s success to its emphasis on providing young people with one-on-one support and letting each youth decide on a path that interests him or her.

“Everything we do is about empowering young people to help themselves,” she says.

Coaches like Ragobeer are instrumental in helping young people find the SKYE program. They canvas at-risk communities in some of Guyana’s largest communities, specifically targeting soccer and basketball clubs and other places where large groups of out-of-school youth gather.

Ragobeer shares the story of Roy Philadelphia, a young man she eventually recruited into SKYE.

“I met with Roy and his father,” she recalls. “The father said that Roy was dyslexic and wouldn’t benefit from the program. But then I talked to Roy alone, and I heard his heart! He was in a tough situation at home. We placed him in a pre-work readiness program because of his age, and he completed that, and then I found work for him at a local welding shop. The owner of the shop is so pleased with him that he said he would keep Roy as long as he would like.”

Like Roy, many of SKYE’s young participants come from troubled homes, and for them, the SKYE training can be transformational.

“After the training, they are more alive, sharper. They are ready to actually approach the work and the world,” says Ragobeer. “It’s really exciting. Their eyes have a spark.”