Alberto Croce has spent more than fifteen years working with poor and at-risk adolescents. He is now using that expertise to help communities develop local solutions to reintegrate indigent youth back into formal and non-formal educational programs.
The New Idea
Alberto is coordinating a nation-wide network that enables youth organizations to share information about local projects. Whereas in the past these groups have worked in isolation, the new system encourages dialogue about successful programs. Organizations then modify the program to fit local needs, and a team of national education and youth experts reinforce the process by providing feedback and support.
For economically disadvantaged adolescents, the future is decidedly tenuous. Of Argentina's 5.5 million adolescents, 1.1 million neither work nor attend school. The problem extends to both large and small communities; in metropolitan Buenos Aires, for example, only 44 out of 100 "structurally impoverished" youth complete primary school, and in the poor northern province of Santiago del Estero the number drops to 20 out of 100. Community organizations and government authorities are aware of the situation, but few groups work directly with this "forgotten" population. Those that have introduced solutions have done so in a veritable vacuum, and there is no attempt to transfer experiences between communities. Moreover, many community-based organizations are unaware that public and private resources do exist to finance their work. The result is a series of disparate efforts that fail to successfully address the multiple social challenges posed by a growing number of non-working, non-studying youth.
Alberto's efforts began with a national campaign he designed called "Study: It's Worth It!." The study spanned three years and included 50 poor, outlying neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Rosario. After interviewing some 7,000 adolescents between the ages of 14 and 19, Alberto was convinced that the needs of youth differ greatly depending on the community and the individual.
With that in mind, Alberto initiated a process to assist local leaders and citizen organizations while they design programs specific to their own local youth. First, community leaders identifiy their concerns and initiate a forum to dialogue with a broad array of social groups about possible solutions. In the past, however, it was at this point that many community organizations came to a standstill. To motivate them toward taking action once ideas have been solicited, Alberto created a national umbrella organization called the Sustainability, Education and Solidarity (SES) program. One of SES's tasks is to expand the growing network of community organizations by forming alliances with groups in cities with populations between 20,000 and 80,000. SES then supports those organizations by providing resources, information, feedback, and leadership training as they begin their own problem-solving process.
During high school, Alberto organized his peers to participate in community service activities in poor areas throughout Argentina. On those trips, he saw extreme rural poverty in far-off provinces such as Neuquén and Santiago del Estero. Back in Buenos Aires, he saw abandoned teenagers living on the streets. With these impressions always in mind, years later Alberto discovered an outlet for his interest in education for the poor. He spent three years in seminary, and worked as a teacher within the formal education system before focusing his efforts at the community level. In 1987, while coordinating a group that worked with youth in a Buenos Aires neighborhood, Alberto's work took on a new perspective when he moved into the slum community of Malaver-Villarte. He originally planned to stay just a year or two, but is still living there today.
Alberto's efforts have gone beyond education. Between 1995 and 1998, he led negotiations with a large company planning to build a new highway across a poor community. In an unprecedented compromise, he convinced the company to build new homes for more than 350 relocated families. Alberto then asked the company to contribute to community development programs. He secured financial support for his new program called "Community Study Groups," which provides tutorial support to high school students in three poor neighborhoods in northern Buenos Aires. The program has had excellent results, at a cost much lower than most state-sponsored initiatives.
In recognition of his years of working with disadvantaged youth, Alberto was called upon in 1997 by the Secretary of Social Development of Argentina to design and implement a program in response to the growing number of children neither working nor studying. That project led Alberto to his current efforts to help the at-risk youth population.