Working at IYF has given me the privilege to travel to various cities in Mexico, with the aim of training local partners to implement our Órale youth employability model. With every new place I visit, I find a new and stimulating team of young professionals who will be trained as youth-to-youth facilitators, mentors, and counselors. And with every new team, the same faces come to my mind: the young people that started it all, back in 2011 in Ciudad Juarez.

When the initiative was known as Youth:Work Mexico (YWM), which was funded by USAID, I worked as Office Manager, and that’s how I got to know our team of peer-to-peer leaders. Those youth were special. They were young people who took upon themselves the responsibility to transform their community. Besides being one of the country's most violent and crime-ridden cities, Ciudad Juarez offers limited opportunities for young people to reach their full potential.

“When I joined Youth:Work as a youth mentor, I felt like I was part of something big, a big force,” says Daniel, now 24. He used to spend his free time volunteering at our office. He would fix printers or organize materials, and he used to help me with logistics for special events like graduation ceremonies, job fairs, or team meetings. 

Since the project ended, we’ve kept in touch via Facebook, and we’ve also met through community activities around the city. I remember one day at the office Daniel told me he wanted to buy a used bike, because he was thinking about not using his car anymore. He has gone on to help found La City Ride, which promotes cycling in the Ciudad Juarez/El Paso border area by organizing bike rides where participants learn about social issues. 

“Before Youth:Work, most of us were young, restless people with isolated efforts to make a change in our city,” Daniel says, “Now I see that everyone has reached a professional development that amazes me.”

I also have kept in contact with Abigail, 26, a former YWM counselor. I remember her being the kind of team member who always had something to share with me about the young people she was working with. She took the experiences of her youth groups as her own; their challenges, their life stories were hers too.  

After the initiative ended, she worked for our local partner Empréndete Juárez, who adopted the YWM model, and I had the opportunity to keep working her in my role as Program Officer. Abigail now works as Entrepreneurship Coordinator for the Community Foundation of the Northern Border. She continues to work with disadvantaged youth of Ciudad Juarez, supporting and empowering them to start and successfully manage their own businesses.

Through her job, she’s using the tools she learned as a YWM counselor, such as developing cooperative networks, facilitating, and especially how to interact with at-risk youth. Her plans include focusing her master’s degree thesis on social entrepreneurship, so that in the future she can have her own socially responsible business.

“Before Youth:Work, I didn't have any experience working with youth nor in the social sector, but I was empathetic to the challenges of unemployed youth,” she says. YWM, Abigail adds, was “the best thing that has happened to my professional career. I found my career path. I found my vocation.”

Andrea Padilla is an IYF Program Officer in Mexico.