Empowering Youth: Stories from Rwanda and El Salvador-Transcript

Matt McGarry: Hello, everyone! My name is Matt McGarry. I’m CRS’ senior director for development, and it’s my privilege to be your host for this conversation about how your support enables CRS to work with young people in Rwanda and El Salvador to advance the empowering youth objective of our Vision 2030 strategy.

Joining me are those closest to the work and whose passion support our youth programming, namely, Karen Rauenhorst, CRS Board of Directors and co-chair of CRS’ Go Far campaign. Dr. Jude Marie Banatte, country representative for CRS Rwanda, and Juan Carlos Duran, head of youth programs for CRS in El Salvador.

Jude, I’d like to begin with you. Can you give a little bit of background on Rwanda itself and CRS’ work there?

Jude Marie Banatte: Rwanda sits next to the Democratic Republic of Congo, below Uganda, and above Burundi, and right next to Tanzania. Quick facts about Rwanda: Many of you may have heard about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi here. And this has its impact on the demographics. In this country that has 12 million people, more than 70% of the population is under 30 years old. We are talking here about 8.4 million people who are youth under 30. So, no need to explain why youth programming is so important in our work, in CRS’s work in Rwanda.

When we design the programs, we have specific criteria to enroll the youth. For example, you need to be out of school … you need to be between 18 and 30 … you need to be part of an association, for example. Over the past 12 years, CRS has provided more than 33,725 youth through a variety of interventions. And thanks to your generous contribution, we have been able to provide a large range of interventions in close collaboration with our Church partners, such as Caritas, and namely we can mention access to finance—both formal through microfinance solutions and bank—but also informal, through internal lending and saving communities among the youth themselves, raising the, the capital that they use for the loans.

We also have entrepreneurship, business management training, and one of our flagship curriculum here is the Be Your Own Boss Program through which some of our youth go through. We have other programs that are getting youth ready for employment. And we have a curriculum called Work Ready Now that help youth get ready to be placed in an institution as trainees, then later become employees.

We also have programs that use technology platforms—what we call here Digital Entrepreneurship Program. And we have other youth leadership engagements and life skills that help them be better actors of their development in their communities. And we also have programs that are connecting youth that are doing advocacy to help youth get better access to services and opportunities.

Matthew McGarry: Wow. That’s incredible, Jude. You really are working with young people across quite a spectrum there. You mentioned digital entrepreneurship. CRS Rwanda is on the forefront of some of that work, doing some really exciting things that we’re trying to emulate elsewhere in the agency. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Jude Marie Banatte: We commissioned a study using a U.S.-based firm and we found out that 44% of the youth in our coverage area own a mobile device, a mobile phone. And out of this 44 youth, 39% of them have access to a smart phone. And this is a great platform for digital entrepreneurship. We have these youth who are private agriculture service providers. And then we not only train them in the business of selling seed, buying seed, reaching out to their customers, get the services to the last mile, but we also train them in using technology to help monitor their business.

Basically, they have access, 24/7, through their handheld to their entire business. The app essentially helps them monitor their customer data, their orders, their payments, their cashflow, help them check their income and also profits. Thanks, Matt.

Matthew McGarry: Thanks, Jude. That’s really exciting and a great step forward in CRS’ programming. Could you introduce us to some of the young people that you’re working with and how this work makes a difference in their lives?

Jude Marie Banatte: Anything we do with the youth has the big potential of going beyond generation. What we do here in terms of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty, enabling youth to become actors of their own development in their communities.

One story that comes to mind here is the story of Eraste Hakizimana, known today in his community as Big Chick. So, Eraste is 26 years old, and he comes from the Western province of Rwanda, has dropped out of school, was not doing much, unemployed and ultimately was selected to participate in our youth program. And he went through the Be Your Own Boss curriculum, and Eraste discovered himself. Eraste gained confidence and took the decision to start. He worked on his business plan. And Eraste put together this business plan to raise chickens. So, with initial seed money, Eraste started this chicken farm, and today, two years later, Eraste owns two chicken farms totaling 2,000 chickens. And most importantly, now Eraste has become an employer in his community. Valence and Solange are now working for Eraste. They have been collecting eggs to be sold on the market, which also contributes to better nutrition in the community.

So Big Chick, Eraste, his plan for the future is to invest in pig raising, building on his success with the chicken business, so he can diversify his assets. Trust me here, these are the types of transformation that give a meaning to the work that I do, that keeps me motivated to work for CRS for the past 22 years. On behalf of all of the Erastes who are not on this call today, allow me to thank you again for providing us with the much-needed resources to continue this work, reaching those youth and enabling them to be actors of their own development.

Matthew McGarry: That’s really amazing. We’re doing this work beyond Rwanda, right? Can you tell us anything more about what’s going on in some of the neighboring CRS country programs?

Jude Marie Banatte: So, I can tell you that in the East Africa region, we have digital entrepreneurship program going on in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania. In West Africa, I know we have Senegal, and in South Africa, we have Madagascar. So, we pretty much have a larger footprint, way larger footprint than just in Rwanda.

Matthew McGarry: Thank you, Jude. So, Juan Carlos, I’ll turn to you now to look at our youth work on the other side of the world. Could you explain a little bit about the work that you do and the young people that you work with in El Salvador?

Juan Carlos Duran: Where El Salvador is located is just in the middle of Central America. It’s the smallest country in the region. And despite that we are very far from Rwanda, what Jude was describing about the challenges, and also the success that the youth have been having in Rwanda, they’re very similar here in El Salvador. In El Salvador we have a large youth population, and most of them, I would say perhaps 70% of them, they are unable to complete high school.

To explain a little bit about what we do in our youth program, I want to share the story of Nidelson. By the time Nidelson enrolled in our program, he was 21 years old. He was a father of two sons, and he wasn’t unable to complete high school. And he was looking for a job. So, he was kind of desperate at the time he enrolled in the program. He wants to find a job really quickly because he needed to support his family.

Our program has a holistic approach. It is based in a model that was developed in the US by YouthBuild. So, what we do, we start providing youth with vocational training in skills or courses that will make these youth like Nidelson to be able to get an employment. For example, we teach them in courses like basic tech courses, like how to manage Word, Excel or PowerPoint, cooking, or motorcycle repairing—skills they can easily get and make them more employable. There are several institutions or other NGOs that provide vocational training, but I think that what distinguished CRS is that we care a lot about our youth and our participants, and we strongly believe that we also need to cultivate those other skills in those other, I would say, aspects of the person that are very critical.

And thanks to the training, and the job placement, and the relationship that the program, that CRS, builds with businesses, youth like Nidelson are able to get employed. Nidelson, he’s very happy to, he had got a job, he’s working in a chain restaurant, very popular here in El Salvador called Pollo Campero. But he got a job, and he was very, very proud about his achievement of getting this job. One of the things that he said that was very important for him is that after completing the program, after being employed, he was sure that he was a better role model for his sons.

Matthew McGarry: Oh, thank you, Juan Carlos, it’s such a beautiful story. Such a holistic approach to this youth programming. Let’s maybe take a step back, though. You mentioned the connection with the actual workplace. It’s the training. You lay the foundations but then a big part of the program is actually getting these young people in the jobs. I know one of the really impressive aspects of your work there is public-private partnerships. Could you tell us a little bit more about how those work and how you’re making those connections in El Salvador?

Juan Carlos Duran: Yeah. Thanks, Matt. And appreciate that question because in a context when you have youth who are very stigmatized, it’s not only an issue of being trained, is only about to be connected with businesses. So, in CRS I think we are kind of connectors. We have staff who are talking with businesses, talking about the program, and trying to build or find these win-win relationships. In those where youth can find employment, but at the same time employers can find very committed youth. It’s impressive when you talk to employers after they have hired some participants, they’re very impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm that they have, bring to their businesses with our youth. So, I think that the role of CRS is just not training, but also talking with businesses, finding opportunities and bringing them on this mission to increase youth employability.

Matthew McGarry: What an ambitious undertaking. Similar question to what I asked Jude earlier. Are we doing similar things elsewhere in Latin America, elsewhere in Central America?

Juan Carlos Duran: Yes, Matt. We work as a community. I think we feel a lot like a family. So, in the region, we have similar works that’s going on in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and somehow as well in Nicaragua. So, we are sharing this approach, we’re sharing these learnings. And there are some customizations and adjustments in every country because of the particularities of each context, but as a whole, as an approach, we have been doing this work in the region. In the last 5-7 years, we have been able to reach more than 10,000 youth with this approach.

Matthew McGarry: Thank you so much, Juan Carlosfor sharing that. Karen, let’s go to you now. You’re someone who’s been a CRS supporter and leader for many years now. Would you mind telling us a little bit about your connection to CRS and how it has evolved over time?

Karen Rauenhorst: Thanks, Matt. My husband Mark and I have been supporters of CRS, and mostly the emergency disaster relief programming. But I got involved in CRS in 2005 and joined the Governing Board. And I realize that this organization provides so much to people throughout the world, they have programs in over 100 countries. And CRS is known for its collaboration. They work with local Church, they work with local partners and other nonprofits to provide services to individuals, and particularly to families and changing communities. I’ve had the chance to see many of these programs throughout the world.

Matthew McGarry: Thank you, Karen. We mentioned you were co-chairing the Go Far campaign. That campaign is the fuel that’s really driving our 2030 strategy to make some of these transformational changes over the course of 10 years, by 2030. You’re one of the early supporters of this youth work and have really thrown your full support behind the Go Far campaign. Why has youth programming been particularly important to you?

Karen Rauenhorst: We got involved with the youth programming, particularly in Central America, probably about seven years ago when it was in its early stages. And I think one of the most important things is it’s about how you change the lives of these young adults and give them the opportunity to have a job, to change their family lifestyle, that they will be able to have food security, they will be able to have housing. But I think you heard from our speakers; it changes the whole family that they’re involved with. And that’s critical. And we know that if you support young adults and you help them get in on a good path and having a stable lifestyle, it will change their community and their lifestyle, and their children’s life and health in the long term. We’re in Africa, we’re in Central America, and where else do we need to go to help support the local communities and the families and the adults? And so, CRS is really working on what they know to do best and how to take it to scale. And that’s an important part of this campaign.

Matthew McGarry: Thank you, Karen. It’s so true that that multi-generational impact of the work … it makes such a difference and it’s wonderful to hear some of these stories today. Karen, thank you again for joining us, and for your support and your leadership.

But Jude, if I could go back to you, the COVID-19 pandemic has been such an incredible challenge the world over. But it struck me as you were speaking earlier that hearing some of these stories you’ve talked about, this work really requires close accompaniment and working side-by-side with these young people. That must have been especially challenging for you and for your team the past couple years. How have you adapted and responded and been able to keep programs going under such difficult circumstances?

Jude Marie Banatte: No need to mention how COVID-19 has been impacting our lives. It definitely has had an impact on many different businesses that we have helped youth put in place. And again, thanks for the resources that we are able to raise through the contribution of our supporters, we were able to respond to those needs. And one thing that we did was a cash transfer program, using mobile phones, contacting our database, to help youth, those particularly who would be daily workers, to have access to what they would need at least to keep food on the table.

But one particular story that I want to bring to emphasize today is the story of Gilberte Tuyisabe, 23 years old. So, we use WhatsApp, and we had a business plan contest. Basically, what we asked the youth to do, like five questions for them to respond and to provide us with their clear plan that they would put in place to get their business back in order. We had more than 648 youth participating in the contest. And 104 of them were awarded with a small grant to get their business back on their feet. And one of those group was the Uruguero Group. That is a carpentry group. They have used their grant to purchase new equipment to resume business activities and respond to the local market demand. So Gilberte Tuyisabe, among five other colleagues were able to get a job in Uruguero Group to manufacture clothes, beds, et cetera, to sell to their community.

With the support the group received, now we have Gilberte and five other colleagues who have a job. And Gilberte is earning today the equivalent of $25 a month. And with this, now she’s making plans to get married. So, these are the type of immediate response and the flexibility that access to the private resources help us in tailoring our response to the needs as they emerge. Thank you.

Matthew McGarry: What a great story, Jude.

Going back to you, Juan Carlos, one of the most important parts of CRS—one of the things that makes us who we are—is that we’re not just relief services, we’re Catholic Relief Services. Could you tell us a little bit about how we’re working with the Church and faith-based organizations in the El Salvador context, and how that helps us to implement these programs?

Juan Carlos Duran: Yeah, thanks, Matt. In our youth programming, I think building this relationship with faith-based organization or training institutions have been critical because they also share our mission to reach out to the most vulnerable youth. So, we have been working with these training or faith-based institutions. We help them to increase the skills of their staff so they can deliver higher quality programming. At the same time, we develop materials, so we help them to also embrace their mission to reach out to these youth. But they are critical also partners in our programming as well. Thanks, Matt, for the question.

Matthew McGarry: Jude, how do you attract youth in the first place? How do we find them? How do they find us? How do we get them involved in all these programs?

Jude Marie Banatte: Thanks for the question. We work through the Church or other existing partners on the ground. For example, over the past two years, we’ve worked with the Church in Rwanda, and we’ve gone through every single diocese to help them come up with a youth strategy for the diocesan level that started from the parish level, went to the diocesan level, and now they have a big youth strategy at the national level that Caritas Rwanda is implementing.

Another way is, youth who were not selected in one cohort and who see the change of what is happening with youth who work through this program and themselves, either they want to have a job, or they want to start a new business, they come and ask to be supported. And thirdly, then sometimes, they also get referred to us by the local authorities. So, three mechanisms.

Matthew McGarry: Juan Carlos, anything additional from the El Salvador perspective?

Juan Carlos Duran: I just want to add what Jude just described in such detail. Youth are very engaged in social media as well and we have partners who are very skillful in using social media. So, it has worked as well, that we have been reaching out youth using Facebook or other social media platforms to engage youth in our programs.

Matthew McGarry: Thank you so much, Juan Carlos. And also, thanks to Jude and Karen for joining us for this discussion. And, of course, thank you for listening and for your continued support and prayers. You really are an essential part of all the work that we do. Please visit gofar.crs.org for more information and stories on how you make a difference every day. Until next time.