By David Snyder
Community service projects are at the heart of the Jóvenes en Acción program. Through the program — a partnership between the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, World Learning, and a host of U.S. partner communities — Mexican high school students travel to the U.S. for cultural immersion and a chance to take part in a range of leadership-based activities and lessons. Returning home to Mexico, they turn their experience into action through service activities that address problems in their communities. For Mariana Sanchez Cid, a 2013 Jóvenes en Acción participant, that problem was school drop outs.
“We decided on an education project because we saw a lot of people dropping out,” Cid says. “It was very noticeable, so we decided to try to do something about it.”
Returning home from her four-week Jóvenes en Acción program in the U.S., Cid and several fellow participants from her school planned a series of local events to draw attention to the problem of school drop outs. But after a singing contest failed to draw community interest, the team switched tactics, and began weekly tutoring classes to help struggling students. To further bolster their message, Cid says, the team also brought in outside speakers to discuss topics like youth empowerment, health, and scholarships.
And while these efforts all proved helpful in raising awareness about the problem of school drop outs, Cid says their biggest impact came when they launched a project aimed at addressing teen pregnancy, a leading cause of dropping out for high school girls.
“We started a project where people were given baby ducks they had to treat as children,” Cid says. “It was a creative way to show students the responsibility of being a parent.”
Through the project, Cid and her teammates approached a local farmer and negotiated a purchase of 20 ducklings at a discounted price. Distributing the ducklings to fellow students through an interview process, the students in charge were then to care for the chicks 24 hours a day for six full weeks, arranging for caregivers when they could not physically be with the chicks.
“After the six weeks, the winner was selected by a Facebook vote,” Cid says. “It was really a way to get people engaged.”
Working together for eight to ten hours each week to discuss their projects and plan events, Cid says she and her Jóvenes en Acción teammates coordinated carefully with school officials to carry out their activities. As word of the Jóvenes en Acción program spread, other students approached her asking how they too could apply. In all, it was an experience that taught Cid much about helping others.
“We learned that we could do more than we thought we could do,” Cid says. “It was empowering.”
Now a freshman studying Biotechnology Engineering in Mexico City, Cid reflects fondly on her experience with Jóvenes en Acción, and on the impact she and her team were able to have on the lives of those they worked with in their school.
“In those years that we were there, the dropout rate was a bit lower,” Cid says. “Also there was another generation of Jóvenes en Acción participants, and other people in school started doing projects like ours, so that was a measure of success for us.”