“Miss Stefanie.” I turned around to see who had just called my name.  “Can I practice my English with you?” asked Eddie, one of the two Honduran youth moderators who would be leading the following day’s event to officially launch the USAID “A Ganar” (To Win) program in Central America.

Since 2005, the A Ganar program has reached over 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24, 7,000 of which have graduated from the program. Photo Credit: USAID

Eddie explained that he had been practicing his English skills while participating in the A Ganar program, a youth workforce development program which teaches life and employability skills to at-risk youth through sports.  He was proud of his progress and motivated by the chance to speak in front of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and United States Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske (not to mention a few hundred of his fellow A Ganar participants).

I listened to him intently, impressed by his thoughtful and well-written remarks in English.  The next day, I watched him stand on stage, exuding confidence, as he addressed his country’s President and the U.S. Ambassador.

Eddie is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the most dangerous city in the most dangerous country in the world.  Those odds put him at-risk of falling victim to a life of crime, drugs, or gang violence.  The program provided Eddie with an alternate path; one that has helped lead him toward a positive and productive future.

A growing number of young people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean continue to leave school without basic literacy and life skills, contributing to alarming youth unemployment rates and rising gang violence. Oftentimes a lack of basic skills, combined with challenging and dangerous circumstances, makes it difficult for young people to break from this cycle of violence in their communities.

Through the A Ganar program, USAID targets at-risk youth like Eddie in fifteen countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, using soccer as a powerful motivator and tool to teach young people important values like respect and responsibility, as well as other vital skills that will help them achieve success as they enter the workforce, pursue their education further, or start their own business.

Sports-based activities, such as playing soccer while holding hands with a teammate, are used to facilitate lessons about teamwork and communication.  The field-based A Ganar curriculum is reinforced in the classroom where youth strengthen their basic reading, writing, math and technical skills, and gain the self-confidence and motivation they need to help them succeed.

Since 2005, the A Ganar program has reached over 11,000 youth between the ages of 16-24, 7,000 of which have graduated from the program.  Over 70% of graduates have gone on to find formal employment, start their own business, or return to school.