Town of Santa Cruz from the CECAP roof and sample of the students iron-cast work in the railing.

Town of Santa Cruz from the CECAP roof and sample of the students iron-cast work in the railing.

With the global economy in its current state, youth are disproportionally impacted and face unemployment levels at extremely high rates. A high level of youth unemployment is particularly troubling and can be a destabilizing factor for communities. This is especially true in developing countries that often have youth bulges, and youth unemployment can compound existing issues of inequality and marginalization. Lack of economic opportunities weakens social cohesiveness and tears at the esteem of communities. Because of this, it is a critical issue to address and one that requires creative solutions.

I visited the Centro de Capacitacion (CECAP), a vocational school in Santa Cruz, Guatemala, that is doing amazing work to provide young (and older) adults practical education that leads to greater employment opportunities. They offer a variety of certification and training programs, including: culinary arts, carpentry, sewing, weaving looms, bead and jewelry making, ironwork, computer literacy, and hair and beauty. The programs have incredibly high job placement rates after graduation, with some programs as high as 100 percent.

The uniqueness of this center is that is it is a sustainable, community driven initiative. The trainers and executive director of the school are all local, and the local community decides the areas of training within the center based on their interests and the economic demands of their community. The center also makes every effort to be self-sustaining. For example, the culinary school opened a café within the center that not only provides excellent real world practice for its students, but is turning a profit that provides funding for needed staff. CECAP also has a small garden on its rooftop that provides many of the herbs and ingredients for its café. Also, the artisan work of students is sold in a small shop within the center and has begun to sell internationally. The center hopes that it can continue to expand the existing market for the artisan products so that its students and future students are able to have continuous work.

CECAP also makes many efforts to involve the community in their programs. For the final exam and graduation of the culinary school, students must design a multi-course meal and beverage. The community is invited to try the dishes and celebrate in the graduation. The center also works closely with local public schools. Students starting from around age 10 attend computer classes and are encouraged to attend trainings in one of the many other areas offered. Since local schools lack computer labs, this is provides a needed exposure and opportunity to build computer literacy. CECAP has 17 donated computers in its lab and solar panels on its roof to reduce electricity costs.  This is just another example of the many ways that CECAP is self-sustaining.

While its mission is to provide vocational education, it is doing much more. It is helping the local economy by providing jobs and a skilled labor force in areas of economic demand. Santa Cruz is one of the poorest towns in the area and is incredibly isolated, as it can only be reached by boat. Being able to help grow the economy in these conditions is a difficult task. CECAP also is helping to build a vibrant and cohesive society. By having the community involved and celebrating the success of its students, it is fostering civic engagement and local ownership of the accomplishments of its community members.

~Beth Davis, Manager of Educational Programs