EducaFuturo Helps Disabled Youth in Ecuador Develop Marketable Skills

Teri West, Communications

In poor and isolated areas of many Latin American countries, youth are at risk of having to support their families through child labor. Disabled youth, however, run the highest risk of being placed in harmful working conditions, such as begging in the streets.

“The problem that these families have is that they cannot provide for all the basic needs, and that’s when the children are very vulnerable to being sent out to work in very difficult conditions,” said Martha Cecilia Villada, Partners of the Americas program manager.

Last year, Partners’ EducaFuturo project piloted an A Ganar initiative with disabled youth in Ecuador in response to this problem.​

A Ganar uses sport to help youth in the development of group work skills​.

EducaFuturo provides opportunities for youth to develop interpersonal skills and entrepreneurial capabilities. It helps the youth succeed in school while also preparing them for jobs that will provide a living income. EducaFuturo is a project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and implemented by Partners of the Americas in Ecuador and Panama. As part of EducaFuturo’s strategy, Partners, in partnership with Fundacion de las Americas (FUDELA) in Ecuador, implemented the A Ganar methodology.

The pilot program was held at a school for disabled youth in Gualaceo, a town in Ecuador’s southern-central Azuay province. The 24 youth who participated had a range of learning and developmental disabilities.

In the first phase of the program, the youth participated in sports-based activities to practice values such as leadership, teamwork and communication.​

During the second and third phases, an instructor taught the youth how to bake bread.

“The second phase is always focused on entrepreneurship and to let youth become very knowledgeable and also to develop skills…so that they can be more self-autonomous and learn something that will help them have better opportunities in the future,” said Natasha Gartner, EducaFuturo project director.

Youth in the EducaFuturo program learn how to bake bread as part of their workforce training.

One student named Mayra, a 15-year-old with Down syndrome, improved her social skills and gained a new sense of independence. Her therapist and mother noticed that she was newly able to take on responsibilities without needing help, both in school and at home.​

During the baking portion, Mayra was responsible for mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough and shaping the dough into loaves. She now has marketable skills that can be applied to a job, supported by the foundational skills she gained during the first phase.​

“For all this to happen there are local technicians or local facilitators that usually are very committed and support the kids and get very involved with the methodologies,” Villada said. The instructors were sensitive to the disabled youth’s needs.

“First, I taught them basic steps like touching, smelling and tasting the products we were going to use for the training,” said Emilia Leon, an instructor who worked with Mayra and the other youth. “I allowed each youth to see, touch, [and] know how it worked, which allows them to become slowly more familiar with the utensils and tools in order to see how to handle them safely. This helped build confidence and increased their interest in the training.”

Youth in the EducaFuturo A Ganar pilot program in Gualaceo, Ecuador.

The facilitators also build relationships with the youths’ parents so that they can be engaged with the program as well. Local leaders were impressed by the program and are currently looking into options for continuing it in the future, said Paula Jácome, a member of the Gualaceo city council and the chair of the government’s program to eradicate child labor.

“Protecting [disabled youth] and giving them a safe environment is very important,” Villada said. “At the same time, giving them a specific skill so that they can work in legal, productive and safe environments is also very key.”​​