Monday, October 11, 2010

UCRES Scholarship Students

Meet José Neftaly Valencia, participant in the SHARE-UCRES High School Scholarship and Integral Youth Development Program in Northern San Salvador. Thanks to SHARE’s accompaniment and the support of our US Grassroots base, Neftaly is able to continue his studies and work for community development.

Neftaly is from the community La Joya, a community repopulated by people who fled their homes during the brutal civil war in El Salvador. He lives with both his parents and two sisters in this small, rural community. Neftaly is currently in his third year of technical high school, studying accounting at the National Institute of El Paisnal, the final resting place of Father Rutilio Grande. He is a very dynamic young man that makes one feel immediately at ease and in confianza. Neftaly is the President of the youth committee and in addition to his studies and work as a youth leader, he loves soccer.

Neftaly identifies to two main benefits of his involvement in the youth program: the financial support he and his family receive so he can continue his studies at the high school level, a feat only the minority in El Salvador are able to achieve (the average Salvadoran is able to complete the sixth grade); and having the opportunity to be more involved in regional organization, being organized as a young person, and in participating in youth development.

Neftaly receives a monthly scholarship that covers the costs of transportation to and from class every day, school materials, and a uniform. The program he participates in places emphasis on integral youth development and provides active support and guidance for his youth organizing work in his community. To make all of this possible, SHARE provides a mere $375 per year per student.

As the President of the youth committee, Neftaly helps in the organization of many community activities. One example: the youth committee organizes community movie nights, and uses the proceeds to hold Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations. Neftaly emphasizes that the funds the youth committee raises are not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the community.

As an evolving leader, Neftaly was invited to participate in an intense three-day training to become a Culture of Peace facilitator. With a focus on youth development, the main objective of these workshops is to prevent violence in the zone. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, an epidemic according to World Health Organization’s standards. In a country where youth have few options—migrate to the United States in search of work or join the gangs—youth working together to seek alternatives is a powerful statement.

Culture of Peace workshops, true to their name, focus on building skills for conflict resolution and peace building, taking the place of anger and violence. These popular education circles also deal with issues relevant and of interest to youth, including sexual and reproductive rights, STDs, youth organizing. Neftaly now leads youth groups in twelve communities in his municipality through this transformative process.

Because of his work in community and regional development and organizing, Neftaly has been selected to participate in a Catholic Youth Exchange in Austria this November. This has motivated him to continue his work and help others realize their potential. His dream? To study medicine at the university level and work in his community as a health promoter, to provide this basic service to those who need it but cannot offer financial remuneration.

When we ask Neftaly what he likes to do in his free time, he smiles and hesitates. “It’s really hard for me sometimes,” he says. “With my studies, sometimes the clock hits one in the morning and I still haven’t gone to bed.” But despite his own sacrifice and the many challenges he faces as a youth leader, he likes working in organization and supporting others: “so that young people learn, and are able to share their own perspectives, to see that there are benefits to being organized, and that we have no limits as youth.”

With your support, SHARE is able to accompany this amazing young leader, who in turn is able to accompany dozens of other young people as they develop and grow. Please continue to help us make this work possible, which is changing the future of El Salvador and the lives of thousands of people!

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