Argentina's Power Youth

Article excerpt

Under a broiling February sun, twenty-five-year-old Beatriz Fernandez--donning a yellow hardhat and brown work gloves drives wire supports into the ground with specialized tools, then helps other construction workers lay bricks for an hour before heading to the water cooler for a quick break.

The sight of this young mother of two sweating it out with the men might raise eyebrows in some locales. But then again, the barrio known as 25 de Mayo isn't just any neighborhood. Through Proyecto Joven, Argentina's innovative, job-training network, Fernandez and her seven hundred neighbors in this dusty slum outside Mendoza are using recently acquired construction skills to build new homes--and new lives--for themselves.

"I like this program because it has permitted me to build my own house," says one resident, Liliana Colucci. "The important thing is that everyone has learned how to work together."

"Proyecto Joven isn't a jobs program, it's a training program," says program director Cecilia Navarrete. "We're working with poor kids who have little work experience and low educational levels."

"Despite rising unemployment, there's a demand in the private sector for skilled workers in construction, telecommunications, and tourist services," Navarrete continues. "We're detecting signs that businesses are maintaining their offer of training. At this moment, an average of 30 percent of participating youths are getting jobs in the same company where they did their apprenticeships. In some cases, it's 90 percent."

The cost of Proyecto Joven, which is supported by the United Nations Development Program, works out to around $1,500 per beneficiary; individual youths, however, pay nothing for the courses themselves. In fact, those who qualify receive a scholarship of four dollars a day to attend class, which doubles once the apprenticeship period begins. …