COLOMBIA: Food for All Program Trains Disadvantaged Youth for Work as Kitchen Assistants
(MissionNewswire) The Food for All program operated at the Don Bosco Training Center in Santiago de Cali, the capital city of the Valle del Cauca department in Southwestern Colombia, provides a training program for students who wish to find work in the food service industry. The program was started in 2008 by the Gases de Occidente Foundation and is run by chefs Vicky Acosta and Jainer Grisales in collaboration with the Don Bosco Center.
The program is designed for poor and at-risk youth from Santiago de Cali who wish to train as kitchen assistants, work that is highly desirable given the current employment situation in the area. More than 230 youth have graduated from the program with nearly 80 percent of graduates finding employment directly after graduation. The program is 100 percent donor funded and made possible through financial support from the private sector, Colombia’s National Learning Service (SENA), the Governor of Valle del Cauca and the restaurant industry.
Through the Food for All program, students learn a variety of kitchen skills to prepare them for employment while gaining access to life skills training as well as interviewing and resume assistance. An emphasis is placed on building relationships with students from different backgrounds and parts of the region.
“Years ago it was almost impossible to imagine that a young person from a poor rural area could find work in one of the Colombia’s urban centers and now this happens every day,” says Father Germán Londoño, director of the Don Bosco Center. “This program works to develop a sense of trust between students and in turn they begin to trust their communities and their communities trust them. A lot of young people who have gone through this program have set up their own businesses and have reformed their lives. If you learn how to cook well, life is good, and it elevates the spirit.”
In 2008, Rosa Inés Naranjo, then 42 years of age, had lost her job and felt like she had lost everything. After becoming aware of the Food for All program, she decided to explore the idea of turning her love of cooking into a career, something she had dreamed of but never imagined could become a reality.
“The kitchen is a joy,” says Naranjo. “In the kitchen we laugh a lot, learn a lot, get to know each other and discover many things. The kitchen gives peace and happiness, and it’s a place where we forget our problems and focus on the food we are offering to people. If someone says that what you have prepared is delicious, it gives us great satisfaction.”
Many youth enrolled in the Food for All program lacked the education and skills to find viable employment and had nowhere else to turn. Some had previously turned to life on the streets, violence or criminal activity. Through this program and others operated by the Don Bosco Center, participants are given a second chance.
“Youth in Colombia struggle to gain an education and lead productive lives,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Because of conditions of poverty, youth are vulnerable to exploitation and criminal activity. Education provides a path out of poverty and helps youth gain the jobs skills necessary to find meaningfully livable wage employment.”
Close to 33 percent of Colombians live in poverty, according to the World Bank. One in five children in the country have no access to education and 800,000 children reside in refugee camps. The number of street children has reached epidemic proportions and thousands of at-risk youth have been recruited as child soldiers.
In addition, many orphaned youth in Colombia live in poverty and have lost their parents to natural disasters, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other diseases, war or domestic issues. Some children remain living with a single parent, struggling to survive and are often pulled out of school to earn income for the remaining family. Other youth live in shelters or on the streets.
World Bank – Colombia