Colombian project opens doors to better opportunities for LGBTQI+ youth


Alex Castro Colombia

When Alex Castro was young, he often accompanied his father to job sites in Cali, Colombia, where he would watch intently as his father laid the foundation of a house, renovated a kitchen, or worked on revitalizing a client’s back garden.

One day in particular sticks out in his memory. Alex was nine years old, and his father handed him a shovel and asked him to prepare some mortar for the bricks he was using on a house. Alex remembers this exact moment, he says, because it solidified his dream of working in construction.

As an adult, however, his dream would not be an easy path to follow. The lack of security and stability in construction work was troublesome; moreover, it would prove difficult for Alex because he is transgender.

“Inclusion is still an issue. When employers find out I am a transgender person, they do not give me the opportunity of working on construction sites,” says Alex, now 23 years old. Over the past few years, he has sought formal employment with construction companies, as well as at warehouses and security companies in Cali.

“In some selection processes, I was told that I could be chosen for a position if I dressed like a woman, but that was not something I was willing to negotiate.”

Things began to change for Alex earlier this year when he saw an online notice about the Sustainable Colombian Opportunities for Peacebuilding and Employment (SCOPE) initiative led by Cuso International and local partners in Colombia. He was eager to participate because the program provided technical training in construction and would help him to find a good, long-term position.

“One of our goals is to support diverse and vulnerable populations in their search for employment, and to ensure they have access to and remain in stable positions,” says Tania Shephard, Cuso International’s Head of Programs, Latin America and the Caribbean. “There is significant bias regarding gender identity, and in some sectors, employers still believe that only men can perform certain jobs. The SCOPE project works to counter this reality and support women and members of the LGBTQI+ community so they can work in all economic sectors and provide for themselves and their families.”

The training sessions through SCOPE, combined with skills learned from his father, have given Alex a strong foundation for work in construction. And a few months ago, he found a job as a construction helper with a local company.

“I tell the LGBTQI+ community that when some doors close, others open, and I think that’s what is happening to me,” he says, adding that over the past few months, many colleagues he works with have shifted from being reluctant towards his gender identity to being more accepting.

“If a building can be transformed with dedication and love, acceptance of diversity can also be achieved – everything is possible.”

Alex now has peace of mind, knowing he can pay his bills and look toward building a career in the construction industry. And he is happy because he enjoys the work, is learning new things every day, and is following a path true to his own heart.

The SCOPE project creates tangible solutions and better opportunities for women, youth, victims of armed conflict, migrants, and marginalized populations in Colombia. Initiated in 2015 and funded by Global Affairs Canada, the project has engaged 90 partner organizations in Colombia and benefitted more than 14,740 people. More than 6,740 people have found formal employment through SCOPE.

Thanks to our generous donors, Cuso International can continue to provide youth like Alex with access to resources to build brighter futures and cultivate positive social change. To support our efforts, donate today.