A youth job-training program seeks to turn sport skills into employment opportunities
Can the abilities and the discipline required to succeed in sports translate into better economic prospects for disadvantaged young people, such as getting a steady job or setting up their own business? Robert “Boby” Duval, president of Fondation L’Athlétique d’Haïti, is betting it can work in his ravaged country.
L’Athlétique is getting ready to kick off the Haitian version of A Ganar, a sports-for-development program backed by a $3.6 million grant from the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Fund ( MIF ). The program, which started as a pilot project in Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay in 2005, has expanded to 11 countries, working with local organizations and the U.S. non profit Partners of the Americas ( POA ).
A Ganar is one of several job-training projects the MIF is supporting in Haiti. Although it is smaller in scale than more traditional programs, which seek to reach thousands of young people, A Ganar is likely to become a very visible test case because of Duval’s high profile and the Haitian passion for soccer.
A former soccer and basketball star, Duval started L’Athlétique in 1995 as a sports program for poor children in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Besides training in soccer, basketball and track and field, the program offered poor kids a hot meal a day. After last year’s earthquake, its playing fields became a camp for hundreds of displaced families.
Despite the staggering tragedy, the foundation pressed on with its plans to launch A Ganar, starting with “train the trainers” events. In October, they suffered another setback when cholera was detected in Haiti for the first time in more than a century. L’Athlétique now has a cholera treatment center on its grounds. In January they resumed work on the job-training program.
Explaining why programs like A Ganar are so important for his country, Duval described them as “the missing link” in helping young Haitians transition successfully into the workplace. Youths at risk of falling in with gangs or taking up self-destructive habits, such as drug use, have been particularly ignored by society.
“These youngsters need coaching as early as possible in their lives,” Duval said. “Besides learning a trade, at-risk youths have to develop their self-esteem and the intrapersonal skills that their disadvantaged upbringing and surroundings denied them. A Ganar not only addresses the technical aspects of job training but also the psychosocial side of youth development, which is so crucial for young people in Haiti.”
Over the past five years A Ganar has trained more than 6,000 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in 10 countries, said POA’s director for sports-for-development programs, Paul Teeple. An external evaluation of the pilot project found that it achieved remarkable results: 78 percent of those who enrolled graduated. Of those who completed 240 hours of training, usually over six months, 68 percent found jobs, went back to school or started their own businesses.
A Ganar, known as Vencer in Brazil, puts its young charges through three phases of training. During the first one they work on developing communication, teamwork and problem-solving skills through exercises on the playing field. Such skills are highly valued by potential employers, who look for job candidates ready and able to perform as responsible adults in the workplace.
Only after they have gone through those paces do the young participants start on the second phase of technical training in trades such as construction, garment manufacturing or car mechanics. Courses vary according to market demand in each country or region where the program is taking place, based on consultations with private sector and local government representatives.
The final phase places the young trainees in internships in businesses, non-profit organizations or local government agencies. This is where Duval’s strong connections with the Haitian private sector will play a big role. The most successful A Ganar projects capitalize such links to involve seasoned business people both as mentors and as sources of employment opportunities for young people.
An intangible but crucial benefit of A Ganar is that it instills a strong sense of confidence in its participants. Among graduates interviewed for the program’s evaluation, 84 percent reported that it had improved their ability to search for work and to succeed in employment interviews. Teeple recalls youths telling him that they now have dreams about a better future. “Their dreams may not be about becoming the president of their country or the next Bill Gates, but they can picture themselves having a good job,” he said.