MARKHAM, ON, May 7, 2018 - At 14-years-old, Carlos faced a future with daily threats of violence just outside his door, little hope for job opportunities in his native Nicaragua, and feared a life of poverty. It's a common scenario for many youths in Central America, an issue Christian Children's Fund of Canada (CCFC) understands well and is taking action to reverse the trend to keep children safe, with a chance to succeed in their home community.
Carlos (not his real name), is home today. But he risked his life to reach his father in the United States, before eventually deciding to return to his homeland. Now 17 and living with his mother again, he has a warning for others who might think of taking the same risk he once did.
"Leaving your country on your own as a youth to travel to a place where nobody knows you is not a good idea if you are looking for work," says Carlos. "Traveling like this is very dangerous. There are bad people and some will take advantage of you. Being alone in a place that you do not know, anything can happen to you. It's better to stay in your own country instead, to seek out opportunities."
Carlos is among the 30,000 young girls and boys in Central America who leave home every year seeking a better life. This is because they face limited access to education programs, or cannot find sustainable employment, experience social exclusion and often lack information on the dangers of irregular migration. Most don't get far in their journey, let alone make it home safe. He was among the lucky ones. And CCFC is working to turn things around for these children.
"There are many young migrants risking a variety of dangers on the journey to find employment to support their struggling families or simply create a better future for themselves," says CCFC's CEO, Patrick Canagasingham. "In trying to leave their country many fall prey to trafficking, kidnapping or worse. Our goal, and we have the plan to make it happen, is to help them find hope at home."
Youth and families in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, are being educated and trained so that they have hope at home, and don't need to risk attempting to reach another country to improve their lives. Working in Central America with ChildFund International and Educo, CCFC is implementing the four-year $15.2-million Preventing Irregular Child Migration in Central America(PICMCA) project, with $12.6 million in support from the Government of Canada.
As head of CCFC, Canagasingham has been in Nicaragua for the development and implementation of PICMCA and suggests to Canadians that they try to picture living in this situation, to understand why the need is so great.
"Imagine one of these children were a part of your own family, be it a son, a daughter, a niece or a nephew," says Canagasingham. "We are teaching vulnerable youth that they can overcome the challenges they face without risking their safety, or even their lives, in an attempt to leave their community."
Until December 2020, PICMCA is providing children and families with child-protection and violence-prevention programs in safe spaces, boosting employment skills and career opportunities. The project will help 230,000 people, 130,000 of which are children and youth. They will be educated and encouraged to become leaders in their community, empowered by a youth-helping-youth model, with opportunities to influence decision-makers about the issues impacting their lives.
The program addresses the root causes for children and youth to leave their homeland. It identifies key factors such as high levels of crime and violence, limited employment and educational opportunities, social exclusion, and a lack of understanding of the dangers of migrating without following legal processes.
About Christian Children's Fund of Canada:
Christian Children's Fund of Canada (CCFC) is a child-centred international development organization and a member of ChildFund Alliance. For nearly 60 years, CCFC has worked with children, communities, supporters and other partners — changing lives through improved health, education and clean water. CCFC works in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas, to support more than 700,000 children, youth and community members.