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Alejandra, 16, learned the skills to work in a restaurant at Sueniños, a training program for young people in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. Jobs are scarce here, so the Sueniños training is a lifeline for young people with few other options. Marissa Revilla, GPJ Mexico
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In Mexico’s Poorest State, Training Program Helps Youth Make the Most of Few Options

Mexico

In Chiapas, the state with Mexico’s highest childhood poverty rate, many children quit school early to work instead. These youth have few options, but a training program strives to put opportunity within reach.

SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO — Alejandra is 16 years old, but she doesn’t attend school. Instead, she spends her days as a street vendor at a local market.

“Studies take a long time, and people like us don’t have the opportunity to spend a long time studying,” she says. “We need the money.”

Alejandra, who asked that only her first name be used, is now old enough to get a job at a restaurant. When that happens, she’ll be prepared. Alejandra graduated from a program called Sueniños, which offers job training to young people – even those who would ordinarily be in school.

“Here we serve young people at the periphery, who don’t have opportunities because they have limited resources,” says Ivonne Velasco Montoya, a coordinator at Sueniños.

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Maxim Rubí, 15, learned woodworking at Sueniños. She’s one of three young women who participated in a recent woodworking program.

Marissa Revilla, GPJ Mexico

Young people in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, often struggle to find formal jobs, because they don’t have any training. At Sueniños, they earn certificates that prepare them to work hard – a reality in a state where poverty is high and upward mobility is limited.

Sueniños offers long-term workshops in carpentry and gastronomy. The carpentry program, for example, requires six-hour sessions each weekday for 14 months. Sixty young people have earned certificates in carpentry since 2012. The gastronomy workshop began in 2015 and has since trained 42 people – 90 percent of whom now have formal jobs in the sector.

Alberto Ángel Guillén Gómez, 20, says he had a job contract before he even finished the workshop at Sueniños. Before he joined the program, he says, “I didn’t know what it meant to work.”

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Alberto Ángel Guillén Gómez, 20, trained in a gastronomy program at Sueniños. He went on to work for more than a year in a restaurant and now has a leadership role.

Marissa Revilla, GPJ Mexico

The state of Chiapas has the highest childhood poverty rate – 82 percent – in the country, according to UNICEF and the Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Desarrollo Social, a national council that evaluates social development policy.

On average, children here end their education after the first year of secondary school. In the rest of the country, most students complete secondary school.

Sueniños focuses on realistic goals for this region’s youth: The skills offered match the jobs available in the area.

The organization also offers recreational options, including painting and martial arts. For children who tend to go to work early, before they’re legally supposed to, those opportunities help them develop well-rounded lifestyles, Velasco Montoya says.

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Rodrigo López, 22, graduated from a Sueniños program that teaches baking skills.

Marissa Revilla, GPJ Mexico

Once ready to choose a profession, Sueniños graduates exhibit passion for their trades.

“My greatest dream was to be a doctor, but for economic reasons it wasn’t possible,” says Rodrigo López, 22, a graduate of a Sueniños program. “Today I am a bakery chef.”

One dream died, he says, but “another was born, and I didn’t let it go.”

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