Guatemala City (March 20, 2019) -- For the past three weeks, Gina Andrade has leaned on experiences from her childhood in one of the most exciting and challenging experiences of her young adult life. As a middle schooler, Andrade immigrated from Cali, Colombia to Elizabeth, N.J. Now a Monmouth University graduate student, Andrade is in Guatemala on an internship with Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. tackling hardships that lead families in the country to seek U.S. asylum.
YAP operates in more than 100 communities 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, providing community-based alternatives to youth incarceration and out-of-home placements. The nonprofit also applies its model of supporting individuals and families with complex needs in Ireland, Australia, Sweden, Sierra Leone and Guatemala, where YAP works with its Guatemala sister agency, Siembra Bien.
“Siembra Bien’s work has never been more important, and we are extremely grateful for YAP’s support,” said Siembra Bien Executive Director Gabriela Altman. “We are a very small organization serving hundreds of children and families in some of the most violent areas of Guatemala. Having the support from YAP intern Gina Andrade comes not only as a great help at a time when we need it, but also gives us the opportunity to learn about the different methods of teaching and social work outside the country.”
Using YAP’s innovative street soccer leadership training model, Siembra Bien has introduced mediation and peace-building to gang-affiliated and other vulnerable young people in Guatemala City’s notorious Zona 18.
“In Colombia, I grew up in a tough neighborhood. Street soccer was very much a part of my childhood; I’d play without shoes,” Andrade said. “I remember how we’d decide who’d be the goalie, who’d be in the front. Soccer was a good way for us to socialize with our friends and a way to keep us out of trouble.”
Andrade’s graduate studies and research at Monmouth’s School of Social Work focus on international development. As a YAP intern, she is supporting Siembra Bien’s leadership team, teaching parenting classes and youth workshops. She will also work with young people to expand YAP’s Street Soccer program.
“I look forward to using my YAP training to expand a program that is so rooted in positive cultural values to help Siembra Bien empower more youth, families and communities in Guatemala,” Andrade said.
Andrade will be in Guatemala another eight weeks. YAP will apply insights and data from her experiences to enhance its support of Siembra Bien.
“Gina is very forthright, and she makes great observations,” YAP International Programs Director Diana Matteson said. “When she comes back to the U.S., she will be able to give us a fresh perspective of the circumstances families are dealing with. Her view will give us good information on what’s working and what’s not.”
To increase their support of the nonprofit’s work in Guatemala, YAP employees are launching #YAPGuatemalaLove, a global social media campaign to raise awareness and funding to address the violence, extreme poverty, drug trafficking and unemployment that cause Guatemalan families to risk family separation and the lives of their children to seek asylum in the U.S.
“#YAPGuatemalaLove recognizes the urgent need to raise awareness of the threats young people and families in Guatemala are escaping and how our sister agency in the country is addressing those dangers,” Matteson said. “#YAPGuatemalaLove gives everyone an opportunity to help Guatemalan parents who seek what all families want -- peace, safety and the opportunity for their children to thrive.”
To learn more about #YAPGuatemalaLove and how you can support the effort, go to www.yapinc.org