On his trip to Latin America, President Obama highlighted the theme of partnership and echoed President Kennedy’s challenge “to build a hemisphere where all people can hope for a sustainable, suitable standard of living, and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom.”
One of the modern challenges for Latin American countries like El Salvador is addressing the grip of gangs and criminal organization on local communities, especially on young people. One of the ways that USAID works to address youth issues in Central America is by partnering with local organizations and governments to invest in crime and drug prevention programs.
To highlight the need to engage youth and harness their potential for positive development, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the site of a USAID project called ¡Supérate! in San Salvador.
Accompanied by USAID Administrator Raj Shah, the first lady helped 30 enthusiastic ¡Supérate! students complete their community service project by painting a mural to decorate the center’s health clinic, which is scheduled to open next month.
¡Supérate! (which means improve yourself!) is a three-year after-school program that provides English, computer and life skills training to underprivileged youth-at risk (ages 13-18) who have demonstrated high academic performance and a desire for self-improvement. Students train two hours, six days a week before or after their regular school day.
Students involved in this enriching program develop the skills necessary for a successful transition to higher education and or future jobs. With the help of Microsoft, youth involved in iSupérate! have access to computers and other technologies that allow them to further their education and compete in the modern job market. More than 300 ¡Supérate! graduates have obtained university scholarships and/or permanent employment.
The program was launched in 2004 by the Sagrera Palomo Family Foundation, a local organization. Encouraged by the earlier success of ¡Supérate!, USAID teamed up with the foundation and Microsoft to open six new education centers in El Salvador. The partnership expects to benefit an additional 1,000 youths through the next 3 years.
At the event today, the first lady congratulated the students and the community of teachers and mentors who support them for their achievements and emphasized how important it is for students to give back to their communities through action.
Mark Feierstein is the Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID.