Working with Youth: Starfish and Synapse

Publish by : Helena Arroyo
One of the transversal subjects of CECI is integrating youth into the market systems in the areas identified as priorities in the Uniterra Program. I worked in the recycling industry in Guatemala, and presently in the horticulture market in Senegal. Even though, I had to consider many issues when organising my activities, I cannot forget the importance of integrating young people in the planning. In my mandates, I was lucky to have my offices physically close to two organizations that train young people in being leaders and entrepreneurs. I offer to organise workshops and presentations in subjects that were of mutual interest and they accepted! This gave me the opportunity to work directly with more than sixty very energetic Mayan ladies and more than forty mostly Wolof future business people. Starfish (Estrella de Mar) is an NGO that work with young Mayan Women in Guatemala.. As they say in their website ‘Starfish One by One empowers young women through education and mentorship to become leaders in their communities. Founded in 2007, Starfish combines academic scholarships, personalized mentorship, and positive peer networks to ensure sustained access and success at the secondary school level’ ( They had offices in Panajachel, San Pedro la Laguna and Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, with a group of more than twenty girls doing their training in each one. They are planning to open a big school soon, where even younger girls can follow their formal education. They train to be leaders of their community and to develop their small business. They inculcate interesting values, such as expressing themselves in a self-assured way, having very concrete objectives for their life (a minimal age before marrying, a convenient salary, completing their University studies), as well as transmitting valuable skill: learning English, witting, maths, etc. I visited with my Coordinator from CECI at the beginning of my mandate. He offered to the director the possibility of volunteers, which they later accepted, and I offered workshops in Eco design and Waste Management. My idea was to introduce them to the possibility of using recyclable materials in art crafts such as jewelry, bags, modified clothes, etc. The advantages are many: a steady supply of free materials, a marketing advantage and a differentiation in their creations. We did one workshop for each group. We shared materials and we let the imagination run. The girls had to generate ideas for their business plans. I really hope I inspired them a little bit to contemplate the potentials and the creativity they can employ if incorporating Eco Design concepts! I had the chance to accompany them in many more activities and events, my colleague gave them a photography workshop and they have their own CECI Volunteer as a project developer. The relationships with CECI are well on their way with this amazing organisation! IMG_6654 Synapse Center is a Business Start-up program for young Senegalese that started in 2002 ( .They offer different programs and they have a big building near my office in Thies. I went there for the first time when I started my mandate here, to assist to a conference given by the coordinator of AUMN, the association of horticulturalists Unions, where I work this year. Mr. Ndiaye was talking about the cultural calendar of vegetables. At the question period, I noticed that there were many questions about organic cultures, the advantages and the economic implications of doing so. Because I saw the interest, I offered to the coordinator to organize another talk specifically about the ecological agriculture: the principles, bases, and the economical comparison with conventional agriculture. We did it at the end of November. We even visited an ecological farm near Thies that I am actually using as a model to show present of future producers that being green can be profitable too! They really liked the visit and I hope they will incorporate some of the techniques in their future plans as farmers. The reduction in the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers may have a great impact in their health as well as the general quality of the environment. IMG_7322 IMG_7300 IMG_6570 It was very enriching for me to be in contact with young people, see their interest and answer their questions. The two places are extremely inspiring, they transmit very positive values, and they aim at creating self-sustained business opportunities. I was very lucky to have the chance of meeting them and share experiences. I see big potential in all of them, and I hope they keep the environment quality preoccupation in their planning.

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