In Belize, teaching youth life-skills to prepare for workplace

 Participants in a youth training programme learn teamwork through sports.
Participants in a youth training programme learn teamwork through sports. (Photo: UNDP in Belize)

For Diangelo Ramos, a young man living in Belize, surviving after he was thrown out of his house at 13 took determination and courage.

Highlights

  • Established in 2012, the Southside Youth Success project is a coordinated system that provides mentoring for vulnerable youths in Southside Belize City
  • The project targets at-risk out-of-school young men and provides them with life- and social skills to help reduce crime and violence
  • 100 youths placed in apprenticeships or jobs, linking successful youths to potential micro-entrepreneurial schemes and specialist training schemes

“I was drinking at school, missing classes,” he recalled. ”My teacher said she would not give up on me because she knew I could change.”

Diangelo participated in a youth engagement programme implemented by UNDP. The Southside Youth Success project, established in 2012, is a coordinated system that provides mentoring, life-skills, training and job placements for vulnerable youths in Southside Belize City (SBC), the most violent area of the country. It focuses on preventing “most-at-risk” youth, in particular young men, who come from the most marginalized parts of Belizean society, from entering gangs and provides them with the life-skills and knowledge base to enter the workforce instead.  

“Today I think I have changed,” Diangelo said after completing the programme.

Mentoring in social values and building the economic capacities of youths generates community-wide economic and social benefits, crucial to alleviating the poverty that can sometimes be a root cause of gang recruitment.

Between 2000 and 2008 the homicide rate in Belize climbed from 19 to 32 per 100,000, with perception being that youth are increasingly becoming the perpetrators as well as the victims of violence. However, youth are significantly marginalized in the criminal justice system due to a lack of knowledge of their rights and overall inability to access legal services when in conflict with the law.

These marginalized youth describe the police as the government institution that fails them the most, and 88 percent of them describe the police as “poor,” “horrible,” “bad” or “non-existent.”

To address this problem, the programme created drop-in centres for vulnerable youth 14 to 18 years old, who are most at risk of joining gangs, and provide them with mentoring and training to prepare them for the workspace. Many youths in SBC do not have the basic skills to find a job, but through the life-skills training, they learned about self-esteem, conflict resolution, anger management and sport competencies, skills which reduce their vulnerability to crime and violence, enabling effective participation in society.

Through the various trainings and outreach efforts the programme has placed approximately 100 youths in paid apprenticeships or jobs. The initiative will be expanded in the future, linking successful youths to potential micro-entrepreneurial schemes and specialist training schemes.

”Today, I am a graduate of the Southside Youth Success Program,” said Diangelo. “They kept me on because they say that I am very respectful.  My dream is to become a Belize Defense Force Soldier.”