Below are the individual reflections from three Youth Studies students. Each student has entered the immersive experience prepared to focus on a specific lens that will serve as a starting point for their personal research trajectories.

Student 1 – Focus on Youth Development

Met with CINDE today. Staff was available to speak about the different programs they offer focused on “construccion de paz” – peace building. They described the work they have done globally. It was interesting to hear about Tegucigalpa and the tools they provided to communities in order to help cultivate peaceful communities.  I wanted to understand what ages are considered young people in this type of work. They clarified that young people are 18 to 28, adolescence is 12 to 18.  CINDE works with children as early as kindergarten to age 40.  CINDE’s work focuses on young people, parents, family and community as a whole.

We visited an elementary and secondary school, Las Villas, in the town of Soacha. Las Villas has six different school sites serving about 5000 students. The school offers CINDE programs which are integrated into the day program and after school. Students are required to complete 120 hours of “servicio social” – social service. The service has to be completed during “jornada contraria” – out of school time on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. We heard young people’s stories about the program. Their descriptions were eloquent, heartwarming and inspiring. They were shy about speaking to the group, however, once the group session ended they were quite willing to take pictures and talk to us.  One of the young men gave a demonstration of his salsa dancing skills.

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Student 2 – Focus on Staffing

Spending a great deal of my professional career engaged with peer leadership and development, I focused my lens on the staff.  The CINDE staff shared some of their recent projects from the past few years, including a peace building initiative in Honduras and Community and Family Centers here in Colombia. The staff each presented different aspects of the programs with passion and great depth of knowledge regarding pedagogy, purpose, and scope. As a woman in a leadership role in my organization, I was happy to see many women in leadership roles as well, with men supporting in administrative and technical capacities; the coordinator for our immersive experience, Henry, is a master’s student in a youth development field. I bring these gender issues to the table as males in youth development, from my experience, are outnumbered by women, and is also reflective in our Youth Studies program, and this study abroad course.

After engaging deeply with CINDE staff, we traveled north to Soacha, to engage with Las Villas, a school that CINDE has worked with for many years. We were greeted by the eager and smiling faces of current, past and future members of the Proyecto Gestores Sociales y Ambientales, a required program for students to graduate. The staff were extremely proud and supportive of the young people that desperately wanted to represent their experience in the program. We also heard from a woman, who began as a mother to students in the program, and through her involvement, became a staff member. This type of organic engagement strikes me as a crucial indicator that CINDE works extremely hard to support the communities they engage with. CINDE continuously conveyed that their style of engagement is setting up communities to create an environment ripe for those communities to organize in the ways that make sense for them to achieve agreed upon goals.

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Student 3 – Focus on Funding

At CUNY SPS, many class discussions have circled around the topic of funding. Specifically, how funding streams affect the organizational governance, advocacy, changes in mission priorities, target demographics, and capacity to attract, engage, develop, and retain staff. Anyone working in youth programs knows that there are many hurdles to securing and maintaining funding sources for programs in the States. It was only natural that we touched on this topic in our discussion. How are CINDE programs funded and financed? This question solicited a knowing nod by the staff. Surprisingly, they answered that their programs are self-maintained. Time constraints prevented the team from elaborating on how their organizational model is structured to be self-sustaining. After all, the ajiaco was getting cold! Our hosts were generous in sharing comidas tipicas of the region. Ajiaco is a traditional soup attributed to Bogotá. Today we learned that the herb used to flavor this soup is indigenous to this region and is only used for this soup. The chicken was great too.

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After our very filling lunch, we climbed back on our transportation and headed to the municipality of Soacha. One of the CINDE colleagues began to elaborate on the various systems that are at play in funding the Community Family Centers (CFC). Private funding streams are primary sources of revenue. Banks, foundations, UNICEF, and consumer charity programs play a large role in the funding of the CFCs. What are consumer charities? She says that some funding comes from small donations made at the cash register at consumer check-out points. She mentioned that a local government has set aside a small amount of funding for music program within the CFCs. At Las Villas Sol Naciente the Director shared the elaborate plans for the expansions of many of the existing programs. Unfortunately, at the moment there is not enough funding available to develop these programs. The school is working hard in lobbying to secure funding from the ministerio de educación. There are many challenges facing the community of Soacha; displacement of folks from rural communities affected by the continued threat of violence to Soacha and poverty are high among them. These challenges affect the educators, facilitators, and parents of the young people of this community and the holistic approach of the CFCs help to mitigate some of these challenges by instilling a sense of community connection, learning and uncovering talents and challenging young people to care and protect their environment.

I was deeply touched by the story of one parent. Her son was diagnosed with autism and she was searching for some way to help create a sense of connection to others. The CFC at the Sol Nacimiento was a place where she could go and help him to find connection. Through her engagement with the program, she uncovered her hidden math talent while tutoring other students in the program. Currently, this parent is working to spread the word and help other parents engage with the CFC, using her story to demonstrate the possibilities that can be uncovered through engagement. As she shared her story, she was moved to tears, as was I. The impact of quality programs in Sol Nacimiento are surely needed in the community of Soacha and beyond. I hope to learn that next year, the director’s vision for the expansion of these programs find a sympathetic ear at the ministerio for the good of Soacha.

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