VM Foundation, USAID impact youth in vulnerable communities through crime prevention and entrepreneurship project
Samantha Charles (right), chief executive officer of the VM Foundation, listens as Morana Smodlaka Krajnovic (2nd right), chief of party for the USAID's Local Partner Development programme, engages in conversation with (from left) Marilyn Wright, community liaison officer, and Kemoy Fraser and Demar Fraser, participants in Project IMPACT.

THE VM Foundation has partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Local Partner Development (LPD) programme, to execute a crime prevention and entrepreneurship training programme for youth in vulnerable communities in Kingston.

The programme, dubbed Project IMPACT, engages 15 individuals in entrepreneurship and business development training, conflict resolution and behaviour modification activities, as well as financial literacy education and positive money management practices.

CEO of the VM Foundation, Samantha Charles notes that while the foundation has had a legacy of working with young persons to help transform their lives, there was a deliberate focus on adding a psychosocial component to this particular project.

"We want the impact to be purposeful and tangible. We see the struggles that our country faces with crime and violence and its impact on our youth. What we hope to do is to change their mindset and be able to provide opportunities for them so that we can reduce the risk of criminal activity. Through this project the young people will gain the necessary skill set and financial support to own, operate, and sustain their own businesses. They will learn strategies to improve in their interpersonal interactions and professional behaviour; and they will leave with a better understanding of key financial principles surrounding savings, investing and managing debt."

Martina Allen (standing), acting manager, business banking at VMBS Mortgage and Lending Centre and VM Foundation volunteer, speaks with participants in Project IMPACT about financial management during a recent training session..

Natalie Wheatle, programme specialist for the LPD programme, says the opportunity to partner in this way will no doubt help in steering more youth in a positive direction.

She disclosed, "The purpose of the LPD programme is to work with organisations like VM Foundation to build their capacity and skill set in understanding interventions that work and make a difference in the lives of young people. Crime and violence in Jamaica are multifaceted but it starts at an individual level and is micro before it becomes macro, and usually involves youth between a particular age group exhibiting certain risk factors that will predispose them to crime and violence. The objectives of programmes like this is to work with youth to empower them as we help to provide protective factors such as getting them attached to schools, to jobs, and to businesses, while we also work on their emotional and mental intelligence."

Participants have hailed the project as a worthwhile investment and share that they have already started to see tangible results, and would recommend similar initiatives to their peers.

Omario Clarke, a beneficiary of the programme, said, "I joined as I saw it as an opportunity to improve my life standard. I have been exposed to information that I did not have access to before, which I can use in developing my business as well as in everyday life. For example, I had issues with poor money management and I have learnt a lot about savings, so now I think differently about how I use any money I might have and try to use it wisely."

Fellow participant Fabian Roberts agreed and disclosed that he has also benefited tremendously from the conflict resolution and stress management sessions. "Learning about respect was the biggest thing for me because I was always arguing with my passengers as I am a bus conductor. Now I know that if I respect myself and others, I don't always have to answer or, even if I answer, I learn how to better address them. I can understand if my answer will be coming from a place of anger and adjust how I respond to others."

Another participant, Kemoy Fraser, shared her experience saying, "Usually I would be sitting home doing nothing, however I have learnt so many things to benefit my life — and I like how the people mesh and communicate with you. You don't always get people who approach you nicely and seem to genuinely care about you, so it feels good — and I would recommend this programme to other persons if it were to happen again."

Chief of party for the USAID's LPD programme, Morana Smodlaka Krajnovic,reinforced the fact that youth in these vulnerable communities need more targeted solutions to help transform their lives, and said she is pleased with the results of the partnership so far.

She summed up her assessment by sharing, "Success for me is seeing the pride and confidence exhibited by the participants, and knowing that at least one life has been changed. There is more confidence in how they speak; there is more hope, more assurance that they can do something. I have heard the story of a young man who has already opened a shop in his community and is already seeing progress. Another gentleman was telling me about what he has learnt about the risks of starting a new business and how he is now more careful in planning his future meat shop that he wants to run. I am also seeing young men and women who are willing to go back to school and willing to put that extra effort into changing their lives."

While Project IMPACT is scheduled to end in March, the foundation will continue to spearhead and be a part of similar projects as it executes its mandate to transform lives.

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