Government, business, and NGO leaders recently joined the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to celebrate 150 graduates of the Caribbean Youth Empowerment Program (CYEP). The program’s emphasis on expanding economic opportunities for underserved youth through life skills, technical, and entrepreneurship training is part of IYF’s ongoing efforts to promote tested solutions to the global youth unemployment crisis.

The event was one of several graduations that have been held over the past few months to mark the culmination of this three-year initiative. Since the program launched in early 2010, over 2,640 vulnerable youth from Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia have trained for jobs in the areas of hospitality and tourism, general maintenance, and the culinary arts. More than 490 companies have supported the regional initiative by offering graduates mentoring, internships, and jobs. 

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Mansfield Blackwood, USAID/Barbados and Eastern Caribbean representative, described the challenges the local economy faces in light of the global recession. In that context, he noted, “CYEP has been providing youth with a new beginning and hope for a brighter future for the past three years.”

At the ceremony, Gina, a twenty-one-year-old graduate of the program described growing up in a ghetto outside Saint Lucia’s capital city of Castries and how deeply discouraged she felt about finding a job. “Months went by, there were no phone calls, no email, no success, but I had bills to pay and a family to support,” she said. After enrolling in CYEP, she says she “fell in love with the course and my hunger to learn more grew.” Motivated to learn more after graduation, Gina took an additional 12 weeks of classroom training at a local college, where she earned an internationally recognized professional certificate in food and beverage service. She now has a job at the local Sandals hotel. “The doors keep opening,” she said proudly.  

Job Edwin, age 25, spoke about his flashes of anger, expulsion from school, and how he “found comfort” by joining a neighborhood gang. “I developed a temper which I simply could not control,” he admitted. A drug deal that went bad landed Job at Saint Lucia’s Bordelais Correctional Facility. Over the past two years, the program in Saint Lucia has focused its job training efforts on building up the life and vocational skills of youth in conflict with the law, including those who are incarcerated or on parole. Thanks to CYEP, Job learned to control his temper and was able to move forward in his life after being released from prison. He too enrolled in additional classes that will give him a recognized certificate in commercial food processing and preparation. “This is a dream opportunity for me,” he said. “I finally believe I am on the path to becoming a better man.”