Michael, a 25-year-old former inmate of the Bordelais Correctional Facility in Saint Lucia, now has a steady job and feels hopeful about the future. He credits his new life to the job skills training he received through the Caribbean Youth Empowerment Program (CYEP), an initiative of the International Youth Foundation and USAID. Here’s his story. 

I grew up in a ghetto community in the city of Castries with my mother and three sisters. Ever since I was in primary school, I loved track and field. After seeing me race one day, a coach saw I had potential and invited me to train as a member of the Saint Lucia Road Busters, an elite running team. I raced in the regional junior championships in Mexico and placed in the Barbados 10K a year later. My career seemed limitless, but my life was catching up with me. The community where I was growing up was a rough place because of drugs and dealing firearms. I was out of the house a lot, and I began to hang out with older guys. I wanted to be part of the fast world and get fast money. I started dealing drugs even while I was in school. In Saint Lucia, young people get into trouble by following bad company. They become young mothers; get caught in gang warfare; and end up in prison, the hospital, or six feet under.

CYEP trainees in Saint Lucia take a break from their vocational classes.

I was serving a sentence in the Bordelais Correctional Facility when I heard about the Caribbean Youth Empowerment Program (CYEP). I had already passed my exams in reading and math, so I was accepted right away. For the CYEP training, I chose massage therapy. Because I was already into sports, I felt it would be a good skill and would prepare me to work at sports clubs. One of the sessions I remember most was work ethics, which is about working well with people in the workplace. I also learned about conflict management, like when there is a simple problem, you don’t need to make it a big issue. The program also taught me to stay out of trouble and focus on my sporting activities.

Today, I am a steward at a local restaurant and bar. I would like to find work in massage therapy, but it’s hard here because the tourism season is slow right now. I have a kid now, and I need to provide for him; I also want to set a good example for him. One of the CYEP instructors has contacts with the hotels in the area, and sometimes they call me to do massage treatments. I want to use my message therapy training to someday obtain a degree in kinesiology. With this education, I hope I can become a track coach. Look for me out on the track … I’ll be back!