The Elim Student Center's food processing training program generates an entrepreneurial mindset among the center's youth.
"No doy fiado (I do not take late payments)," says the adamant 13-year-old, her eyes flashing.
Cesia Margarita Espinosas is speaking to customers who ask to pay her later for the delicious preserves, fruits and vegetables she cans and sells.
"Once I sell my products, I give the money to my parents to help them," says the confident ninth-grader. "They are so proud of me!"
Like the majority of residents in the fertile, agricultural region of Mazatenango, Cesia and her parents live in abject poverty. Most families in this community, several hours north of Guatemala City, are farm laborers who have to work for wealthy families that own most of the area's land. Yet, despite her family's bleak circumstances, Cesia is confident of improving their lot because of the business acumen she's learning at the local Compassion-assisted Elim Student Center (GU-823).
A Bright Idea
For some years, those in the Elim Center and the Nazareth Student Center (GU-871), both located in Mazatenango, knew they had a problem. Students at their centers were dropping out of school to work and support their families. Realizing they needed a centralized, vocational training program that would create new job opportunities and enable students taking the training to earn some money, they came up with a plan.
Seeing Mazatenango's agricultural bounty but its lack of food processing plants, project workers at the Elim center and the Nazareth Student Center collaborated with nearby San Carlos University, which offers a degree in food processing, and began a vocational training partnership for their students.
In 2003, armed with funding from a special Compassion grant, the projects began their new food processing training program.
A "Juicy" Job Training Program
Housed at the Elim center, the new training program serves youth ages 12-18. Compassion grant monies underwrite all of the course's equipment and uniforms, as well as the salaries of the San Carlos University's food processing engineers who train the projects' youth.
Students learn about proper food hygiene, canning and bottling processes, quality control, budget management, marketing and how to start a profitable food business. Many students, like Cesia, can fruit and make strawberry and mango jellies at home to sell in the community. One of the most popular items they sell is "Cebollas Endiabladas" (the Devil's Onions), a name given to the product by students because it is hot and spicy.
Prices for the professionally packaged items are approximately U.S.$2 a jar. Students use the profits to help their families as well as to buy additional jars and supplies.
"The Best Job Training Workshop We've Ever Had!"
Several Elim students hope to attend San Carlos University to obtain a degree in food engineering. Others are excited about continuing with their own food processing businesses. Best of all, the training has opened students' eyes to the real opportunity to help their families break free from the cycle of generational poverty.
Eliu Teo, Program Training Coordinator, couldn't be happier with the course's outcome. The program is so successful that he and his staff plan to expand the training to include all seven Compassion-assisted centers in the area and eventually serve 350 youth.
"All of the students in this training are using so much creativity. None of them wants to miss a single day," Eliu says. "This is one of the most successful job training workshops that we've ever taught!"
No one knows this better than Cesia. "My family now calls me 'little entrepreneur,'" she says.
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