Colombia is on the frontier of a new future. The nation is nearing a major peace agreement, bringing an end to more than 50 years of conflict that claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced six million citizens. The economy is growing, particularly the hospitality industry, which welcomed 4.2 million tourists in 2014—more than twice as many as in 2010. And the country boasts the third largest population in Latin America with nearly 50 million residents, half under the age of 30.
These dynamics present an opportunity for Colombia to build a future that is stronger and more prosperous than ever before. And programs like the Acceso Training Center in Cartagena are helping Colombians do just that. Launched by the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership in 2013, Acceso has provided nearly 3,000 young Colombians living in low-income communities with the education, training, and support they need to be active participants in the workforce. Situated in the country’s most notable tourist destination, Cartagena, the training center is ensuring the hospitality industry has the human talent it needs to continue to flourish, young people have the skills they need to thrive, and all Colombians can participate in and prosper from the nation’s economic growth.
I had the chance to visit Acceso when I was in Cartagena last month. The director explained Acceso’s holistic approach, which focuses not just on the hard skills needed for successful careers, but also invests in the emotional and psychological development of the young participants, who range in age from 18-30. The Colombian government has supported nearly 500 Acceso students who were directly impacted by conflict. And more than seventy percent of participants are young women, many of whom have children of their own and have faced pressure from their families not to pursue their careers. One of the young women told us it was her daughter and the hopes that she has for her future that inspired her to participate and continue in the initiative.
The year-long program is divided into two parts. Students spend the first six months in the classroom, developing the skills that will serve as a foundation for their personal and professional growth. In the second six months, students work in an internship that Acceso secures through a collective of industry partners. The students participate in “labs” that present real-world environments, such as banquet halls or restaurant kitchens where students can test and refine their skills. Aware of the challenges participants have faced and the potential they possess, this hands-on learning equips students with the experience and confidence they’ll need as they graduate and transition into careers at the end of the program.
At the end of our visit, one of the students brilliantly and beautifully summed up his experience. Speaking on behalf of his class, the young man Luis Carlos told us the Acceso program had “taken the dust out of our dreams.”
The Clinton Foundation and its partners have “taken the dust out of the dreams” for millions of people like Luis Carlos all over the world. Meeting the people whose lives have been forever changed by the work is inspiring. Something as small as taking one speck of dust out of one person’s dream can change a small community, a growing country, and the whole world.