Guatemala Youth Learns Leadership Amid Turmoil
At 22, Fernando Antonio Lopez possesses a quiet confidence that makes him seem wise beyond his years. With a successful job at an automotive repair company called LLanresa, Fernando’s life is one that many young men his age only dream of. Beneath his shy smile is someone determined to succeed no matter what obstacles lie ahead.
Fernando has already endured hardships among the most difficult one could possibly face in life. Growing up in one of Guatemala City’s red zones, areas notorious for high crime rates and gang influence, life was difficult. He had started using drugs and alcohol by age 11 and by age 15, he had an addiction problem. After he finished high school, he put himself through a detox program.
Being from a red zone carries intense stigma and makes finding a job difficult. But the majority of youth today are living in impoverished areas and, like Fernando, have limited opportunity to develop technical skills. As a result, many end up working in the informal sector, where they often receive low or no pay and are exposed to dangerous working conditions. Fernando found work as a bricklayer for only $7 a day—well below the cost of living in Guatemala City.
One day, while on the job, Fernando injured his eye. His aunt, who had heard about YouthBuild through a local CRS partner in Guatemala, encouraged him to apply.
Fernando Antonio participated in CRS’ YouthBuild program in Guatemala and found work at an automotive repair company.
Photo by Ivan Palma/CRS
“My aunt told me that it was going to help me in matters of emotional intelligence and self-esteem,” says Fernando. “There are groups of good people, so that's what encouraged me to participate.”
The YouthBuild program helps unemployed and out of school youth ages 16-24 go back to school, get a job or start their own business. CRS offers this program in Central America to 15,000 youth who, like Fernando, need opportunities to grow professionally and personally.
For five months, Fernando took classes. He gained the skills he needed for better employment and he learned how to become a leader in his community. He also learned the importance of self-care—a skill that was put to the test when he faced tragedy in the middle of the program.
While walking home one afternoon, Fernando witnessed three of his friends get murdered by a masked gunman on a motorcycle. Such a horrific experience could have derailed him, but Fernando remained strong. He stayed sober, completed the program and fought for a better future.
When the time came to apply for a job with Llanresa, Fernando’s YouthBuild advisors helped him to prepare. He felt confident during his interview and was offered a position.
“It's like my leadership woke up, especially in the personal areas of my life,” he says. “I have been able to participate in activities with social groups, and most of all with my family. So, I am a leader in my life, my family, my community and currently my work.”
The skills that Fernando learned in the YouthBuild program have carried him far. Six months after being hired at Llanresa, he was promoted to fleet coordinator and received a raise from $384 to $480, plus benefits—far beyond what he was earning as a bricklayer. In fact, Llanresa has been so impressed with Fernando that they’ve hired two more graduates of the YouthBuild program.
Fernando is not only doing better financially, he has become actively involved in his church and several local environmental initiatives.
Looking toward the future, Fernando sees opportunity for upward growth within Llanresa. To prepare for those opportunities, he has enrolled in classes at the Universidad Panamericana to pursue a degree in business administration.
“I think this career is going to open many doors for me. Not only here, but in other places that there may be new opportunities, but my goal is to grow within the company and the company is showing me the opportunities available for me,” he says with a smile.