Support for youth-led projects is a key focus of Kellogg Foundation grantmaking activities in Central America. In 2002 and 2003, nine such projects received funding in six countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
With the intention of providing a space for youngsters to share experiences, the Central American Youth Leadership Network has been set up to help youngsters learn to become actively engaged as social change agents. Three issues unite this initiative: Leadership, the Environment and Citizenship.
In order to keep the network functional, its members meet once every six months. These meetings, scheduled to take place over the next three years, are held at youth leadership camps. “It’s a methodology that gives us a greater degree of interaction, communication and commitment, enhancing teamwork capabilities and gender equality, while also providing an opportunity for the youngsters to express themselves freely,” explains Luis Tinoco, manager of the National Association of Former Scholarship Recipients for the Development of Honduras (ANEDH) program and one of the organizers of the event.
The 1st Central American Meeting took place in Panama, in May 2003; it lasted five days and was attended by 114 participants. The meeting served to set up the Network and to get to know the projects involved.
To begin with, activities were focused on establishing an environment of trust and self-knowledge, and on forming working teams. Once this was done, social activities were introduced whereby the youngsters worked as volunteers, by visiting and assisting socially vulnerable groups.
The meeting also included personal growth, leadership and environmental activities. “The youngsters acquire a greater social sensitivity at the camps, as they share what their countries have in common, without economic, racial or social differences,” says Tinoco.
A second meeting was held in Honduras in January 2004 with the participation of 113 youngsters who defined the vision, mission and objectives of the Network, and set up working commissions for specific issues. This meeting also gave the Network a name: United Youth Network of Central America (Rejuca).
These initiatives have occasioned many extremely enriching experiences. Some institutions have, of their own volition, begun to share their working methodologies and their own experiences, and they are collaborating with the training of staff from other organizations that are involved.
“The camps develop mainly team work,” says German Valverde, one of the organizers of the meetings. “Through this experience, the youngsters recover something precious: values.”