A CRS and YouthBuild International program called Youth Builders of Central America focuses on helping impoverished urban youth to pursue economic opportunities through formal job training and/or small business development. Youth learn to believe in themselves, and opt to become integral members of society rather than falling into the trap of violence, drugs and gang membership. In some cases, gang members choose to renounce violence and risky lifestyles.
I’ve met many youth who participate in this program, and have walked away from each of these encounters motivated by the youths’ willingness to transform their own lives for the better.
Over the past year, CRS has started to add an important savings component to the program model as a way for youth to pull themselves and their families out of poverty. This is critical since even socially focused MFIs tend to mistrust youth, and hence refuse to lend to them (there a few exceptions such as Enlace in El Salvador, but these tend to prove the general rule). Instead, savings can provide a critical tool for youth to build up enough capital to invest in themselves.
By way of example, I am sharing the video “From Cora to Cora,” in which Mirna Cristina, a youth participant in our program in El Salvador, tells her own savings tale. A “cora” is how Salvadorans have referred to a US quarter (25 cent of a US Dollar coin) ever since the country formally adopted the dollar as its national currency in 2001.
Poco a poco, as they say, a cora at a time, lives in even the most daunting urban environments can and do improve.