Southside Youth Success Project Drop-in Centre Serving Belize City Youth
Twenty four young men are enrolled and participating in a five-month programme that will allow them to get life-skills guidance and training for employment including through apprenticeship. Upon completion of the training, these Southside Belize City youth will receive certificates, which will allow them to access opportunities to become employed and/or to re-enter formal education. Three more cohorts of young males from the area will later be able to register to participate in this programme which is being implemented over the next two years.
The programme is taking place at a drop-in centre which has been established to: 1) Serve at-risk out of school young men 14 to 17 years old, from Southside Belize City; 2) Provide a space for young men to positively engage and learn; 3) Provide training in life and employability skills; 4) Provide certificates to those who complete the training program; 5) Provide paid apprenticeship opportunities enabling employment and entrepreneurship.
The Drop-in Centre was officially inaugurated last Friday, August 24, 2012. Present at the inauguration were Hon. Herman Longsworth, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley, representatives from the Embassy of the United States (US Embassy) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), project organizers, coordinators, and supporters, members of the media, the first cohort of young men and their proud parents.
Hon. Herman Longsworth emphasized the importance of this project and the appropriateness of the planned programme of activities, by quoting the World Bank book “Youth at Risk in Latin America and the Caribbean”. The book “points to a link between certain risk factors, risky behavior and negative outcomes today. Factors such as low self-esteem, parental abuse, neglect or violence, household poverty, low access to schools and training, unsafe neighborhoods, and easy access to alcohol and drugs, among others, lead to risky behavior including high absenteeism from school and poor school performance, early and unsafe sexual activities, use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and criminal and violent activities, among others. These risky behaviors ultimately lead to negative outcomes - school dropout, early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and AIDS, incarceration, addiction to drugs and social exclusion. The book also points out the importance of ‘second chance’ programmes that target groups most at risk, and at programmes that are most successful are those that affect multiple risk factors. This project seeks to provide a ‘second chance’ to those most at risk through a programme that addresses multiple risk factors.”
Funded by the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), State Department, United States of America, the Centre is part of the “Southside Youth Success: Pathways to employment for young men at-risk of joining gangs”. US Ambassador Vinai Thummallapaly explained that CARSI is an initiative which strives to support the development of strong citizen security through a variety of projects including this project for economic development in the communities of Belize City. “We are all aware of the statistics about the economic and the citizen security difficulties affecting our friends and neighbors everyday in Belize City” he said. The reality, unfortunately, is quite simple and quite tragic – young people are killing each other, and we have to do whatever we can to stop it.” The ambassador re-emphasized some of the benefits the project offers for the young participants to help overcome challenges in their lives. This project represents a broad-ranging partnership and the key to the success of the project is collaboration and cooperation, he said. “Through this partnership, both the US Embassy and UNDP are acknowledging a very basic truth – that no single organization can face these challenges alone. It takes concerted action from ALL of us. It is the sense of shared responsibility and shared partnership that will lead to real and successful change. This project benefits from a multiplier effect - with all of us working together towards a common goal and providing for better lives and better opportunities for the young people of Belize City.”
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is executing the project in partnership with the Department of Youth Services under the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation. UNDP Resident Representative Roberto Valent expressed gratitude to the embassy and government of the United States for its contributions to human development and citizen security issues and for its generosity in providing funding for the project.
He stated that the partnership of organizations is the collective institutional engagement enabling the betterment of the lives of the programme participants, reminding the young men that “the commitment and the perseverance is an individual one”. He said that the Centre is for the youth, it is about “youth…moving towards success and self-fulfillment…it’s not just about you being productive - it’s about you being happy with yourselves and being able to support others that is important. The other objective is to work with you indeed, the young men and boys, promoting standards of excellence, disciplines that support you in developing yourselves, and your contributions to Belize, and to yourself, your families, friends, etc. Let me conclude wishing you all the best…wishing you success - the drop-in centre accompanies you for 5 months. The Government of Belize, Civil Society and the private sector will accompany you through all your life so anchor yourself also to these institutions and representative settings because they are very helpful, and learn how to actually relate to them and relate to yourselves.”
Valent commended the Government of Belize, the Belize City Council, the Department of Youth Services, and the Belize Tourism Board, other business partners, and the media for their involvement in and support of the project therefore fulfilling their particular roles in providing opportunities for the social and economic development of the Belize City male youths, and by highlighting “the importance of youth, youth engagement and youth development for the future of Belize and the world!”
The overall objective of the Centre is to promote standards of excellence and discipline that support the youth in self-development and to promote a positive path to adulthood for them, through fun and learning activities in a safe environment. As part of this project, young men are also able to access, counseling and related conflict resolution skills, which enable them to aspire to choose more secure life paths.