U.S. Embassy hosts Hector Verdugo, ex-gang member, for motivational speech Print
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Thursday, 26 October 2017 00:00

Given the surge of crime and youth gang activity going on in our country, the United States Embassy along with the Bureau of International Information Programs have embarked on a task to implement a program that focuses on those problem areas. On Monday, October 23, 2017 at the Bliss Center for Performing Arts, Hector Verdugo spoke to several Belizean high school students as a part of the program.

Verdugo, Executive Director, Homeboy Industries, spoke very intently of his early life and getting mixed up with a gang in Los Angeles. His life came to a screeching halt, after so many years of affiliating with the wrong people and ending up in juvenile detention, when he was taken under the wings of those at Homeboy Industries. Beyond sharing personally with the youths over a three-day tour, October 23, 25, and 27, Verdugo will engage with the Youth Apprenticeship Programme and other stakeholders to share pertinent information on youth participation in criminal and gang activity.

The message in Verdugo’s delivery was to discourage at-risk youths while giving them real-life experiences and warnings to deter similar behavior. According to him, the street life is a trap- a death trap- and by giving your life to the street, you’re also giving away your freedom.

Dianne Finnegan, Coordinator, Youth Apprenticeship Program, shared the same sentiments. “What you think the streets are saying to you- it is a myth”: this is the most important message for the at-risk youth to understand. The Youth Apprenticeship Programme functions to strengthen this understanding in the minds of those involved in the program and even people outside of the program.

According to Finnegan, the two programs are so similar and where the Youth Apprenticeship Programme is lacking, they strive to emulate beneficial characteristics. Both programs focus on mentoring and while Homeboy Industries only targets those who were previously incarcerated, the Belize Youth Apprenticeship Programme centers on the at-risk youth before they become affected.

Elroy Carcamo, Inspector of Police, Community Policing, was also present and expressed the importance of a talk of such a nature. The work of the police is more powerful when the young and at-risk persons have the ability to see and listen for themselves. Community Policing focuses on the at-risk youth but the G.R.E.A.T. program involves younger persons (Std. 2 to First form) and according to Carcamo, it is never too early to teach empathy and it ties in with programs such as this.

There was representation from some of the participants of the Youth Apprenticeship Programme but that type of mentorship is something they are used to hearing. Apart from members of the program, there was also student participation from Wesley College, Anglican Cathedral College, Gwendolyn Lizarraga High School, Sadie Vernon High School, Edward P. Yorke High School, and Maud Williams High School.