Jóvenes en Acción (Youth in Action) brings Mexican high school students on a four-week exchange program to the United States, where they focus on civic education, community service, and youth leadership development. During this time, the program also explores how local communities can address problems related to violence, substance abuse, gangs, bullying, or social disengagement.
From public schools all over Mexico, young people are selected in teams of three to five to work on a project within the larger theme of "culture of lawfulness."
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During their four-week exchange in the United States, the Jóvenes stay with host families across the country, where they get an immersive look at American culture. During their stay at the SIT campus in Brattleboro, Vermont, participants engage in a range of activities – from workshops in leadership and service, to interactive training and supplementary English classes. After the four weeks come to a close, the students return to Mexico, where they apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired in the U.S. by planning and carrying out service projects in their home communities.
Judith Ballestros Villascan, Delia Jimenez Ahumada, Amelia Guerrero Perez, and Kassandra Lorena Escalente Diaz are part of the "Make it Happen" group, which focuses on youth leadership and empowerment. From Puebla, Mexico, the four young women have used the training they received during the Jóvenes en Acción program to encourage other student-led groups at their high school. One of the main problems they identified within their community was a lack of engagement from their peers: students have a lot of time on their hands, the “Make it Happen” group said, which can lead students to drinking, drugs, and delinquency.
The "Make it Happen" effect is felt throughout Judith, Delia, Amelia, and Kassandra’s Puebla high school campus. Not only do they carry out their own youth empowerment and leadership training, but they also train and encourage others to start their own campus initiative. On Wednesday afternoons, the four young women support an English conversation club, which was founded by students who attended the “Make it Happen” meetings earlier in the school year. A few months down the line, the English conversation club was formed and, with guidance from “Make it Happen,” now plans its own curriculum and runs its own meetings. Students play vocabulary games and practice their public speaking skills with great enthusiasm.
The 2014 Jóvenes en Acción group gathered in Mexico City from April 16-18 for a reunion conference, held at the Hilton Santa Fe. Since last summer, the Jóvenes students have been actively involved in a service project, each group targeting social issues such as dating violence, school dropouts, drug abuse, and bullying. Over the weekend in April, the high school students met together one last time, to share in their achievements and reflect on their growth over the past year.
Jóvenes en Acción is the result of public-private partnerships. Funders include the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública), the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, and private donors like Cisco, Microsoft, Kimberly-Clark, and several Mexican banks.
"Your country is a better place because you are in it," Kirstin French, the World Learning coordinator for the program, told the Jóvenes en Acción group in one of the closing activities. The youth leaders expressed their pride in the success of the individual programs they have implemented in their communities, the personal growth they achieved, and the friends they have gained for life.
The grant to administer Jóvenes en Acción is awarded competitively each year. World Learning has run the program since 2011, in which time we have trained 396 Mexican youth — 247 of them women — from 16 Mexican states.
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