Our graduates overcame enormous challenges and, with the support of Safe Passage and their families, have accomplished what very few individuals in these communities have: promotion from secondary education. When we first began the Proximo Paso program this year, my singular focus was to find formal employment our high school graduates, so that they could support themselves and their families.

The challenges abound here in Guatemala for our young people. Nearly 200,000 students are graduating from high school in Guatemala and all of them are fighting to land one of the 25,000 jobs that the economy generates each year (Banco Mundial). Competition for these positions is fierce. Our students, while they have a wealth of motivation and life experience, are also trying to find jobs in a city that has an unemployment and sub-employment rate of more than 60 percent (Banco Mundial, IGSS). But there is hope for Safe Passage students.

One key to this new program´s success is promoting Camino Seguro within Guatemala City, so that businesses and universities are familiar with our work. In the first few months of outreach work here in the capital, I realized that the vast majority of  potential employers and supporters are already familiar with Hanley´s story and have a positive image of Safe Passage. Along with the Guate PR team, we're working to promote Safe Passage and introduce professional Guatemalans to the organization. These employees, managers, and supervisors are also being invited to participate in Corporate Volunteering initiatives (through the Volunteers Office) so that our students interact consistently with professional role models. The more at ease they feel with this section of the Guatemalan population, the more comfortable the will feel in job interviews. We also know that in Guatemala 80% of job opportunities are providing by friend or family connections, so it is imperative that our students and graduates interact frequently with professionals.

The second important ingredient for our graduates´ success is developing professional skills. Along with providing volunteer opportunities for our students, we are solidifying alliances with  private companies and non-profit organizations that offer professional training opportunities. We have a strong relationship with Transactel, part of TELUS International´s network of call centers, who offers our qualified students and graduates the opportunity to study English for 8 hours a day and practice responding to call requests for a period of 3 months. The students receive a stipend that helps support them while they participate in the program. After this intense preparation, the students have a much higher chance of receiving employment at Transactel. We are currently solidifying relationships to provide students and graduates a wide range of training opportunities.

Finally, in a recent study of our community, we discovered that no immediate family member of our students attended university. This trend, however, is not unique to our population as only 5% of Guatemalans attend and complete university (Informe de Desarrollo Humano 2011). While at the beginning of this year, the program´s focus was on formal employment, I have come to realize that a university education is another one of the keys to being successful here in Guatemala´s professional circles. We are currently teaming up with the Universidad Rafael Landívar, a very well-respected university here in Guatemala City, and promoting possible scholarship opportunities and admission information to our students. While not all of our grads will be able to attend university, for those students who are motivated to have a university education, we are looking to provide them with opportunities. Safe Passage has recently been invited to apply for university scholarships for strong students and we will be working with them this month to fill out these scholarship applications!

As the Proximo Paso program takes its first steps, we are learning a lot about employment and higher education here in Guatemala. I´m excited about what the future holds for our students, graduates, and alumni as we continue solidifying relationships and finding opportunities for our amazing young adults!

-Megan McAdams

Próximo Paso Coordinator

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