Iliasa van Geenen of Paramaribo, Suriname, dropped out of school at 17 to take care of her children. She had trouble keeping a steady job. Her story is not uncommon: Only half of the children in Suriname complete grade school and one quarter of the youth are unemployed. A new program of USAID and PADF—our first in Suriname—is beginning to change that.
The Suriname Youth Development and Juvenile Justice Program, known locally as Kari Yu!, gives young people the resources and support they need to succeed in life. PADF partners with the Suriname government and local NGOs to provide youth with basic life skills, job training and job placement. A Youth 2 Youth component of the program empowers young people with the confidence and skills to go back to their communities and train their peers. The project also focuses on reforming the juvenile justice system and assisting offenders in reintegrating into society when they are released.
As a program participant, Iliasa received job training and a personal coach to keep her on track. Now 24, she works as a housekeeper in a local hotel. “You have no idea how it feels when at the end of the month I have my own money and I don’t have to hold up my hand and accept all sorts of abasements,” she says.
So far, more than 340 youths have received support and skills training through the program, resulting in more than 200 internships and 61 new jobs. For young people like Iliasa, earning a steady income and supporting her family has made a huge impact. Now, she is raising her sights.
“I will keep on working hard,” she says. “I see the benefits for myself and my children.”