Invest in the future – empower the kids.
Let’s introduce you to a passionate young man who makes sure that the kids in his city are able to create their own future. Mario Raimondi is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of El Desafio Foundation, an Argentinian organisation (based in the city of Rosario) that “defies poverty through social innovation”.
Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg has attracted global attention with her message to the world’s leaders that they must act now, to address climate change. Her efforts have garnered so much attention that Time magazine recently recognized her as the Person of the Year 2020. But Thunberg’s recognition is bittersweet in the opinion of Mario:
“I feel there’s something contradictory about youth around the world getting involved with important issues, such as Greta Thunberg with the climate emergency or as we’ve seen in the U.S., with young people demonstrating against gun violence,” he says.
Mario, who will be presenting on the topic of youth development at the 2020 Urban Future Global Conference in Lisbon, feels that on the one hand “I think we should support those movements (based on their merit).” But on the other,
“it’s a very different thing to celebrate (these actions), because kids shouldn’t have to be doing these things. As adults, we should be the responsible ones that take care of these problems.”
Rather than allow kids to grow up too fast to fill the void left by adults, Mario’s work as a founding member of El Desafio (Spanish for “The Challenge”) has been to empower youth through a variety of after school personal development programs tied to activities ranging from sports to a celebration of the arts to computer programming.
“So, my main message (in Lisbon) is that we are neglecting youth and we have to help unleash their power in order to help create positive societal change,” he says.
El Desafio’s ambitious goal, is to help kids to realize their true potential, getting them off the streets, back in school and over the long term, better positioned to live healthier, more rewarding lives. So, in direct contrast to the fate of many of Rosario’s youth, many of whom get caught up in a downward spiral of poverty, drugs and crime.
More than just numbers
To truly appreciate the seemingly overwhelming challenges El Desafio faces in achieving its goals, consider that Rosario has the highest crime rate in Argentina, due to ongoing drug wars. Between 2011 and 2014 alone over 570 people were killed, a murder rate that’s more than triple the national average. As for the youth there, 60 percent live below the poverty line, making them particularly vulnerable to getting involved in crimes such as drug dealing.
Remarkably, against such a daunting backdrop, Raimondi says that of the more than 900 kids who have gone through their program to date, over 98 percent have stayed in the program, 63 percent have gone back to school and between 80 and 85 percent have acquired such valuable life skills as conflict resolution, managing frustration and communicating more effectively. Skills that he feels are sadly lacking not just within Argentina’s educational system, but everywhere.
An issue around the world
Prior to helping establish El Desafio, Mario spent several years as a field hockey coach in the Netherlands where he says “I could see kids were lacking self esteem because the parents and society in general were putting too much pressure on them, either because of competition (in sports) or getting good grades in school.”
“So, it makes you realize, the need kids have for soft skills is something that applies around the world.”
In response to those needs, El Desafio has developed a sophisticated program whereby facilitators… “we don’t call them teachers” Mario emphasizes, engage the kids in two-hour sessions three times a week in programs that cater to their specific interests as diverse as football, dance, coding and robotics. And what sets these programs apart from other after school programs you might find virtually anywhere, is that the program curriculum is secondary to the overarching goal of building life skills.
“The kids may be there to play football and it’s not like we tell them that while you’re playing, we’re going to develop your communication skills, but that’s what they’re getting,” says Mario. On the surface, the kids probably are just there to play football, but the main reason El Desafio has organized that football game in the first place, is to help these kids to build their social skills.
As Mario sees it, the challenges kids face today have never been greater. “We are living in a historic moment for humanity because we’ve never faced the challenges that we are facing right now with everything from political unrest to climate change. And because of this, for the youth, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We don’t know what is going to happen to them in five to ten years.”
Which is why Mario says, the adults of the world rather than the youth, need to take ownership of the problems we face. “We know what we need to do to resolve many of these issues.”
“So, we just need to be very good at making change happen.”
El Desafio was created to … fight structural poverty in Argentina, where there’s a lot of corruption and instability.
We focus on … youth development and citizen participation.
My main message is … we are neglecting youth and we have to unleash their power in order to create social change.
We need to equip our kids with … soft skills like emotional intelligence, empathy or collaboration skills in schools anywhere.
What bothers me most is … that we have the knowledge and technology that’s needed to resolve most of the issues we are facing today, but we are simply not resolving them.
About El Desafio:
El Desafio focuses on youth development and citizen participation through art, urban planning, social innovation, sports and creativity.