50% of Mexico City’s population is under the age of 20. Hundreds of thousands of these youth live in slums and lack educational and labor opportunities to improve their lives. This situation and a lack of vision limit their possibilities for personal and professional development. Many end up as day laborers in low-paying jobs, others illegally cross the border to the United States in search for better futures, while yet others lose themselves in crime, alcohol, drugs or teen pregnancies, adding to the social problems of the urban poor communities they live in.
To address the challenge countless youth are facing, we have launched the “Agentes de Cambio Juvenil” (ACJU-Youth as Agents of Change) initiative. The initiative is working towards establishing a reproducing youth movement of many youth clubs that empower and equip youth to become leaders and change agents in their families and communities.
ACJU Escolar, our school-based youth initiative, works in local secondary and high schools. This initiative uses a peer education methodology in order to reach the largest possible number of students. Youth identified by school personnel as leaders meet weekly with the project Facilitator. These direct participants receive mentoring, leadership and life-skills training, spiritual formation and values education. At the same time they are equipped to improve their educational goals and obtain better job opportunities. Those youth, in turn, replicate what they learn in their workshops with the rest of the school population.
ACJU Deportivo, our sports and recreation initiative, works in collaboration with an established local youth soccer league. This project seeks to attract and involve youth in the project through their involvement in sports. The many benefits of sports-programs are well-known. Playing team sports can help offset many of the disadvantages youth growing up in an urban slum encounter. Additionally, as the youth participants become more involved in the project, they receive life skills education and begin to be trained as peer leaders. These young leaders are then encouraged to organize together to develop community improvement projects.
ACJU Callejero, our street outreach project, engages youth in the street and their homes, outside of a structured environment. Mexico has a very high percentage of “neither/nors,” youth who neither study nor work. ACJU Callejero provides an opportunity for those youth to participate even though they may not be involved in other organized activities. Each ACJU project emphasizes life skills and leadership development. In ACJU Callejero the older, more responsible youth leaders are called Promoters. These Promoters design and lead weekly youth encounter meetings with other neighborhood youth. They are assisted by younger youth “leaders-in-training,” who are called Animadores.
ACJU furthermore encourages youth to envision improved community conditions, helping them put community improvement projects into action. ACJU finally trains existing churches and schools to adopt its youth leadership development model, accompanying and training them to begin youth clubs in their own settings, which will significantly increase our impact.