YWCA Young Men Project Official Launch
July 25, 2012
It is a real pleasure for me to be here today. The U.S. Embassy has a long tradition of collaboration with the Young Women’s Christian Association in Belize. Several months ago, our colleagues in Washington alerted us to a grants opportunity. The problem was that a high-quality grant application had to be submitted very quickly. That is not an easy task. We immediately thought of our partners at the YWCA. Sure enough, Mrs. Lenares drafted and submitted a winning proposal, one which received funding from the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and which we are celebrating this morning.
When one hears the phrase “Regional Security,” there is a temptation to think about the police or border patrol. And it is true that they are important elements of regional security. But the U.S. Embassy’s partnership with Belize is much more than that. Through grants like the one we are acknowledging today, local organizations, supported by the U.S. Government, provide economic development, skills training, and citizen security community projects throughout Belize.
I am particularly proud of projects that focus on helping at-risk youth, programs that give 12-to-17-year-olds alternatives to gang life. For example, the U.S. Embassy has partnered with Caracol Youth Development, Youth Voices, Partners for Democratic Change and the Yabra Community Center. The Embassy also helped inaugurate the GREAT program – Gang Resistance Education and Training – in schools throughout three districts. The GREAT program gives primary school children ages 7-14 the skills to say “no” to gangs, violence, and drugs.
But older children, those who are already young adults, need help, too. That is where the YWCA comes in. The YWCA has been very successful with its Helping Early Leavers Program (HELP) which offers skills training and alternative education to girls aged 13 to 18. The Ministry of Education has provided aid and resources to strengthen this alternative education program.
The YWCA will use the CARSI funding we are here to celebrate today in order to create a new Enterprise Creation Arm which will offer to young men training similar to the HELP program which has done so much for young women. The issue is simple: young men ages 16 to 20 who do not have a job are much more likely to join a gang. And gangs make Belize a much less secure place to live. Finding a solution can be challenging, but the YWCA is taking an innovative approach. Its Entrepreneurship Program for young men will teach them barbering skill basics, familiarize them with public health and sanitation issues, and provide instruction on how to start a small business. As they progress in their studies and learning, so, too, will the Enterprise Creation small business mentoring.
Narrow-minded people may sneer at a small business like a barbershop. But even Bill Gates started out in his father’s garage, if the stories one hears are true. I spent most of my career in the private sector and can tell you that the challenges of negotiating with suppliers and satisfying customers are the same in big businesses and small. The skills that the YWCA’s Enterprise Creation Arm expects to impart can be the first steps to financial independence for at-risk youth and a genuine alternative to a life of violence. And as violence decreases, regional security will increase.
We at the U.S. Embassy are delighted to be teaming up with reliable, competent partners like Mrs. Lenares and the YWCA as we work together toward a safer, more productive Belize. So, please join me in a round of applause to celebrate the launching of the YWCA’s Enterprise Creation Arm.