Source: Alba Sud Foto
Hope. There is so much promise in those four letters. When United States Vice President Kamala Harris said she wants to help bring hope to the people of Central America—and do it in partnership with local organizations—I was inspired.
Generating hope requires rallying all stakeholders around solutions that work. Bringing private sector resources and civil society to the table, as Vice President Harris has recently done ahead of her upcoming visit to Guatemala and Mexico, is a critical step forward.
As a Central American dedicated to working with young people throughout the region, I know firsthand the value of hope and the fundamental role that local organizations on the ground play.
Some see the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as a lost cause or a burden, but in doing so they look past people working hard everyday to generate opportunity so that our children can thrive at home and Central Americans can together build a better today and tomorrow. While many young people and families leave because their lives are at risk, that is not a choice that anyone wants to make.
When Vice President Harris centered hope, it felt like she saw us. She saw the potential, commitment, and capacity of local organizations working with communities to recover from devastating hurricanes. She saw youth leaders mentoring their younger peers. She saw female leaders advocating for justice, and volunteers rebuilding their communities. We are all here. We are the heart of the solution. And we are ready to dig in, together.
Madame Vice President, as you begin your important work of addressing root causes of migration in the region, we are deeply encouraged by your emphasis on local organizations. While there are no easy answers, we have many ideas we are eager to share and put into action.
On that list of ideas is a youth job corps—a “Central AmeriCorps,” if you will. Just like in the United States, the young people of our countries want to be a part of the solution. They are tired of being seen as a liability, rather than an asset. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to work hard, contribute to their communities and their families; earn respect and feel valued. They want to be impact leaders, with the agency and skills to create change. And when they do, they will succeed. This is where hope is born.
A Central AmeriCorps program, in which young people are put to work—at scale—with local organizations improving their communities, would offer important life skills acquisition through a service-learning practical training model. It would offer them a modest, but stable, income to help support their families, and integrate them into the formal economy.
Additionally, it would launch a wave of community investment. Imagine thousands of young people helping rebuild and recover from the devastation of Hurricanes Eta and Iota; supporting their younger peers reintegrate into schools that have been closed for more than a year; working on public health campaigns and COVID-19 response efforts; or helping to run programs at community centers, serving as mentors, and learning how to lead. From our city centers to our smallest villages, our young people could help improve our countries—gaining confidence, hope, and a deeper sense of place, belonging, and rooting.
Central America’s youth are poised to be the generation that turns the tide on the fear and hopelessness that has hollowed us out. They need strong partners. The many and diverse civil society organizations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras stand ready to join the U.S. government, as well as private and philanthropic sectors, to be those partners and give them the chance they so richly deserve.
We are the boots on the ground. We know the context best because we are permanent actors in our communities’ ecosystems. As local organizations, we have the local credibility, access, presence, and trust of the communities we work with. And, most importantly, we will be here long after the contracts end and the foreign assistance leaves.
In partnership with you, we want our countries to be places of safety and opportunity, where Central Americans want to remain, and foreigners want to visit; places where every child has the opportunity to feel safe and become the very best version of themselves. We are ready for the heavy lift.
Let’s build hope together.
Celina de Sola is co-founder of Glasswing, a Salvadoran NGO working in the Northern Triangle region.