Opening Career Opportunities for Youth in Colombia
Workforce Training Links Barranquilla Youth to Health Care Jobs
Juana Karina Erazo may not be a doctor yet, but with a bright smile and upbeat personality, the 24-year-old Barranquilla resident already has the bedside manner of the trained medical professional she hopes to become.
Dreams Put on Hold
For Erazo, these ambitions were always there, but they were put on hold five years ago, when her mother, the head of the family, passed away from cancer. Since then, Erazo and her three brothers have kept their mother’s memory alive by maintaining the family car wash business, named in her honor.
All four siblings have designated roles within the business. As the youngest, Erazo is responsible for logistics and general management. She arrives early in the morning to make sure everything is in order before opening for business hours.
Though she takes her commitment to her family seriously, Erazo does not see her future ending at the car wash. She has wanted to study medicine ever since she was young, but her mother’s death left the siblings with little money, and her help was needed to run the shop and provide for her siblings.
Erazo learned about the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program through a friend. The program is funded by USAID and implemented by ACDI/VOCA to help Afro-Colombians become empowered economically, socially, and politically.
Erazo’s friend helped her with the initial application and sign-up process. She passed all the requirements and began training in April 2013, giving her another opportunity to pursue her childhood dream.
“I feel very fortunate, and very grateful, for passing all the requirements and being able to enter this program,” Erazo said. “I think God chose me [to succeed] out of so many people, because I have always wanted to study medicine. Since I began this program, it has already changed my life.”
Project Helps Youth Pursue Career Goals
Erazo is one of 300 youth beneficiaries participating in the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program’s workforce development training and job placement project in Barranquilla, Colombia. The training is implemented in partnership with the Africa Mía social foundation.
The initiative connects Afro-Colombian youth from low-income neighborhoods with hands-on, practical training that prepares them for jobs in the city’s growing medical services industries. At the end of the training process, the program aims for 100 percent of the trainees to be hired within Barranquilla’s health care sector.
Beyond Job Training
Africa Mía Vice President Martín Pérez Cassiani says the goal goes far beyond simply providing job skills.
“This isn’t just a training project—the goal is formal labor market insertion,” said Pérez. “Thanks to [the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program] and USAID, the quality of life for these youth is changing. Before, they had nothing. A promising future didn’t exist for them, but now they have great ambitions, thanks to this project.”
Erazo is thrilled at the opportunity to pursue her dream.
“I’ve always wanted to help people in need, in any way I can, with lots of love,” she said. “I want to help them in all senses—not just economically, but also as human beings. Every time you interact with someone in that kind of situation, you grow as a person.”
Erazo intends to continue working her way up in the health care field, aiming for a better income, always with the goal of helping her family. Her three-year-old son is one of her biggest supporters, making sure she goes to class and follows through on her promise to continue studying medicine.
“This program has already changed my life,” said Erazo. “It’s changed my way of being, of thinking, of acting. I’m more of an entrepreneur now, and a more decisive woman.”
Learn more Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program.