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Updates on the vocational training center in Don Juan, Ecuador

In the summer of 2023, the completion of the vocational training center in Don Juan, Ecuador marked a significant milestone for the community. This center, initiated by Fundación a Mano Manaba and funded by Acronis, has not only provided valuable vocational training but has also become a beacon of positive change for the residents of Don Juan.

Fundación a Mano Manaba’s training center supports local youth seeking diverse career paths, emerging from the needs of graduates supported during the pandemic. The coastal influx of vacation condos demands skilled workers like electricians, plumbers, and carpenters, creating ongoing job opportunities. So, construction of this vocational training center was a great benefit for the community. The four fundamental aspects that have derived most benefits are:

  • Having a specific space with an independent entrance for adult participants: Attendees at workshops or training sessions are separated from the bustling library, often filled with children and youth. This setup allows young mothers to engage in sessions without their children needing constant attention – an unexpected and novel experience for many. These sessions offer freedom to move, grab water, or relax during breaks in a serene, open, and welcoming environment.
  • The center’s design is inviting for everyone. A few years ago, there was concern about young men and women showing little interest in programs, with many leaving school long ago. Functional illiteracy became prevalent in an environment lacking literacy support and devoid of public signs or advertising. The new building provides young people with a more comfortable space, free from the overwhelming presence of numerous books.
  • The organization has expanded its volunteer lodging capacity, accommodating the teachers and trainers from the training center. This move significantly reduces their expenses.
  • The spacious surroundings of the new building are a perfect place for gardening and composting. All this activity occurs in front of the colorful mural that tells the story of the beginnings.

Students’ well-being

Students attending workshops and training sessions have greatly benefited from this extension of the Library. Not only do they enjoy the spacious deck, workshop storage, and all the equipment but mainly, they also feel empowered and have made this space their own since they actively participate in activity planning. This new space comes with new chores; not only do they have benefits, but young people have accepted the responsibilities of cleaning, maintenance, gardening, and composting of the training center.

Students’ population size

Amid a wave of drug-related violence unleashed upon young men in northern Manabí, the program is perceived by many young people and their families as a lifeline. Young people invest time and effort in a program that protects them and other endangered species while offering professional career prospects. Over the eight years of operation, the community library has received an average of 100 weekly visits. This number is composed of three age groups:

  • Ages 6-10: 80% attendees;
  • Ages 10-12: 15% attendees;
  • Ages 12-18: 5% attendees.

Since the beginning of this program, Group 3 (ages 12-18) has increased its assistance by 200%.

Each participant voluntarily enrolls in online courses or workshops and contributes a symbolic stipend for their training. The belief is that when individuals invest in a service, they value it more. While a $6 fee doesn’t cover the total expenses of a 20-hour course (including instructor fees, materials, transportation, refreshments, and office supplies), it signifies the student’s commitment to completing the educational challenge they’ve chosen to pursue.

Behavioral change in the participants

Most participants in hands-on training at the training center aren’t regular library visitors. These young individuals attending practical trade sessions might have experienced functional illiteracy after their early teenage school departure. Therefore, there’s a meticulous approach to designing activities, worksheets, and assessments tailored for these individuals who feel uncomfortable in a literacy-centric environment. The curriculum incorporates oral presentations, role-playing, games, and engaging challenges, rendering the course enjoyable, interactive, and accessible.

The students’ approach has shifted from passive participation, often enforced by the traditional school system, to a more active, hands-on engagement. This transformation impacts their learning attitudes, fostering outgoing personalities, enhancing social skills, and nurturing self-esteem and character development. Emotional skills are given equal importance alongside technical skills in our programs.

What a typical day looks like

On a typical day without workshops or training, Emma, a young German volunteer residing at the training center, begins her morning at 7 am amidst the sounds of roosters crowing and the arrival of the fruit and vegetable truck. She buys fresh produce for breakfast and lunch from the truck before leading a yoga session for a group of diverse women. This serene gathering, set against the backdrop of the bamboo building and vibrant mural, brings together women from varying social backgrounds for a peaceful yoga, stretching, and meditation session.

By 9 am, Emma and other volunteers open the library and welcome local schoolchildren for a remedial reading program. Some, as old as 10 or 12, haven’t received adequate help from the school system or their often illiterate parents. In this safe environment, these children work with mentors on a phonetic-phonological method, learning writing before reading. It’s a place where they feel secure, away from judgmental peers and adults, enabling them to progress quickly and integrate back into school activities.

By 2 pm, the library reopens, with younger children engaging in silent reading before moving to the training center deck for homework. Later, teenagers arrive for aquatic sports and marine conservation workshops, part of an educational program involving field trips to marine protected areas and communities. This initiative not only educates 15 teenagers but indirectly impacts 15 families, fostering skills in marine activities and conservation, aiming to protect threatened species like the hammerhead shark. These teens are being groomed as future guardians of the ocean.

Before each field trip, workshops, and educational activities are held at the training center to prepare students for the following field trips.

“My experience is threefold: I am a member of the community, I am part of the staff, and I have been a student in one of the courses at the training center . This place has made me and my family gain skills we didn’t know we had. My father took the bicycle repair workshop and now earns extra income from his little shop. Everyone in the community loves this place because it is an open space, visible to everyone. They feel safe and happy when they come. I registered for the painting workshop during my vacation and was very happy. I learned a lot about materials and techniques and gained confidence in my skills. I also laughed and enjoyed the neighbors who enrolled in that course. I think that the large esplanade of the training center contributes a lot to the success of the courses; it would not be the same if we had to lock ourselves in a room or a warehouse to paint. This is a bright, fresh, clean space…in this community, it is important to be visible; many women are not allowed to leave their house, so this is the perfect place because their husbands or fathers can see what they are doing and where they are. Everyone was so happy to be here! The training center exudes happiness.” – shared Adriana Vaca, a Mono Manaba member.

Future outlook of the project

The organization’s immediate next step involves constructing the Culinary Arts School/volunteer kitchen. This entails converting the existing kitchen area into a computer lab and constructing a new kitchen space for the Culinary Arts School. While the need for additional computers is evident, the primary focus initially is establishing a computer lab environment.

Acronis Cyber Foundation Program welcomes individuals, groups, and companies to partner with us to work side-by-side with underserved communities to bring them hope through education.

Contact us to find out more!

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