The youth of Las Gardenias


Woman smiling in front of a brick wall

By Allison Vickery, SCOPE Volunteer Research Advisor

Working with marginalized youth in Barranquilla, Colombia wasn’t originally part of Allison Vickery’s placement, but it became one of the highlights. Here is part of Allison’s story, as told from her perspective.

Las Gardenias is one of the largest subsidized housing projects in Colombia. Home to more than 20,000 inhabitants, the area has been known for high rates of violence. In June 2018, the need for urgent intervention became clear when a teenaged boy died.
Following the boy’s death, the municipal government of Barranquilla formed a committee to promote peaceful coexistence in Las Gardenias. As a volunteer for the Secretary of Economic Development, I had the opportunity to be part of the committee and work with these vulnerable youth.

My arrival coincided with the completion of the project’s first phase. Twenty-two young people from the housing area participated in the initial exploration. They explained that boredom and a lack of academic and employment opportunities often led to their participation in delinquent acts.

The committee connected these youth with employment opportunities and many began new jobs. Unfortunately, the majority of them—67 per cent—left work in the first month. Only one person remained employed after the second month.

With the support of government psychologists, I expressed the need for a holistic intervention in order to better prepare these youth to enter the workforce. Together, we created a psychosocial plan that included home visits, meetings with families, job training and a series of personal development workshops.

We found that most of the young people we were working with had not finished their high school education. So, we adjusted the plan and started hosting workshops on life skills such as peaceful coexistence, conflict resolution, leadership and teamwork.

The final phase of our plan focused on job training. With the help of the Secretary of Economic Development, I led sessions on personal presentation and professional dress, how to write resumes and answer questions during job interviews, and the importance of work ethic and personal responsibility. The youth also received several professional development opportunities thanks to the National Learning Service (a technical school), the Secretary of Education and an entrepreneurial foundation.

For me, the most impactful part of this project was the sweeping change I saw in these youth. We were able to bring a job fair to Las Gardenias at the end of the project and I looked on proudly as they arrived with their collared shirts and resumes in hand.

Fifty-eight youth attended the job fair, while more than 160 people received support through this program.

These young people were always capable of all the things they accomplished during the program. They just needed their minds opened to the possibilities. I feel very fortunate to have been part of the beginning of this new chapter for the youth of Barranquilla.

Cuso International SCOPE volunteers in Colombia.
Cuso International volunteer Allison Vickery