Santiago Andrade is motivating youth volunteerism by creating alternative spaces which allow young people to organize for the benefit and service of their communities, assume roles as citizens and leaders, and commit to productive projects which help their communities confront the conditions of poverty.
The New Idea
Santiago is creating spaces for youth dialogue on themes which are important to them, enabling young people to be protagonists and not only spectators in solving society's problems. His programs support national and international debate between youth, giving them an opportunity to formulate innovative ideas for social betterment. These alternative spaces include a national network of youth volunteers and the New Generation foundation. Objectives of this organization, created for and by youth, include generating mechanisms for youth participation and expression, supporting youth social and productive initiatives in their communities, training volunteers in projects for community development, and combating poverty and improving the quality of life of marginalized sectors. Santiago hopes to consolidate a true "school of youth volunteerism," linking the youth with projects for the development of their communities through activities which they enjoy. The participating young people receive constant training by professionals and other youth with more experience.The church has historically been the primary institution which summons youth, but always along a religious line. Santiago's network has no religious or political affiliations and seeks only to capture the authentic values of youth, as defined by young people themselves. By incorporating all denominations and providing an array of activities which young people find interesting, he attracts a far wider audience of young people to his programs than church and political organizations have traditionally been able to do.
As 59.1% of the population of Ecuador is under 25 years of age, young people represent the country's largest social force. Yet this important social group is not recognized but, instead, is excluded by the state. National policies limit their capacity and potential, evidenced by the lack of programs that promote the participation of youth in activities which would allow them to grow as people and develop their communities. Youth represent a large and important human resource yet lack permanent spaces which allow them to debate specific national problems and negotiate with the state and civil society on behalf of their interests. These same youth are threatened by a process of acculturation generated by the media and imitative effects imposed by a society based on consumption that frequently disregards the country's cultural and social richness.Additionally, 79% of Ecuador's population live below the poverty line, are malnourished, lack education, training and job opportunities, and are excluded from participation in political life. 55% of the population is under-employed. A central element of development required to escape these problems is the participation and will of the people themselves. Santiago describes two types of poverty. One is a temporary state based on external factors which can be overcome. The other is a mental state of poverty which is more difficult to surmount. His project seeks to empower young people to overcome both types.
The New Generation foundation centers on four foci for the development of youth, linking them with community service. The different areas of the organization are managed by youth members themselves. The first program area is social volunteerism where young people participate in volunteer activities in prisons, homes for the elderly, and hospitals. Santiago has created a national network of youth volunteers to achieve this commitment of youth service. In the cultural area, youth participate in national poetry competitions, publish short stories, make audiovisuals, and work in graphic design. The New Generation foundation publishes the Tintalabra magazine, has sponsored annual poetry contests for the past six years, published a book by 29 youth poets, and creates educational comics showing themes of interest to young people. The economic component to Santiago's model provides work opportunities to youth in marginal areas and financial sustenance to the organization through micro-enterprises in cement block production and carpentry. Santiago has established agreements with local businesses to donate services and materials at low cost and volunteers to provide poor communities needed services and constructions. The Hope Fund which Santiago is creating will allow businesses, NGOs, and communities to invest in his idea.Under the educational focus, the organization creates student networks that travel around the country giving workshops on leadership, how to run a youth organization, and project proposal development. Through the Youth Forum, which Santiago founded, 15,000 youth and 2,000 youth organizations from all over Ecuador participated in these workshops. Trainers include youth with more than four years of experience with New Generation, many of whom have received scholarships to continue their university studies. Other professionals from outside the institution volunteer to give community presentations on specific themes such as service, leadership, youth, and identity. Santiago founded the National Agreement on Youth to negotiate spaces for youth participation before NGOs and the national government, to propose national policies for youth development, and to concretize a national Law on Youth which has already been presented to the Constituent Assembly. His participation in round-tables with the new government has motivated government authorities to include policies for youth in the national agenda. Other youth groups have been springing up across Ecuador as counterparts to Santiago's organization; Santiago hopes to consolidate them in strategic cities of Guayaquil, Cuenca, Riobamba, and Ambato during the next two years, expanding his methodology to include indigenous youth and smaller cities. He has contacted numerous international organizations as well to replicate his model. A church youth group invited him to Honduras, where, using Santiago's model, the youth later formed their own association. Colombia's Pereira University has also expressed interest in membership in the network and a group of English youth created a New Generation organization in England. The New Generation foundation is a member of Partners of the Americas of the United States, Colombia's American Network for the Promotion of Democracy, France's Planett Society, the World Youth Assembly, and Spain's Solidarity for Development. With these various contacts, Santiago will create a database of a national and international network of youth organizations.
Since the young age of 14 years Santiago has had a clear awareness of the discrimination suffered by young people who are marginalized and viewed as a disease to be cured with the passage of time. Santiago and his friends witnessed institutional repression in which they were unable to express themselves in their schools and in their families. They lived in a country with great natural wealth, but were at the same time surrounded by poverty. During his high school years, when threatened by another youth group Santiago wrote a letter declaring peace, asking other youth to work with him in community projects instead of competing. Santiago and this new group of friends created a space for youth participation and expression called New Generation Club, an organization which has been functioning and expanding ever since.Santiago has received lucrative offers of work in other areas, yet, in spite of family financial difficulties, he always rejected them due to his dedication to this idea. He has spent the past 12 years working for the same ideals and his commitment has only been strengthened over the years. He comments, "I love this" and will continue doing it forever.