Kevin spent his adolescence in an institution. On graduating from it, he realized that his experience could be useful to others. Together with his peers at Guía Egreso, a group of youth which arose from Doncel NGO, Kevin is transforming the lives of 15,000 young people from Argentina who, just like him, are forced to leave the care system when they turn 18.
The 27th of June, 2017 was a historic day for young people in Argentinian child-care institutions. Traditionally, they were meant to leave these homes at 18, without any preparation for the chaotic lives they would face outside them. But on the 27th of June, Argentina passed the Law of Graduation, which indicates that the transition of young people from the care system must be supported economically by the Government, allowing them to have a home, study and find a job. The law also implies that the State provides emotional support to the young people since the age of 13, so that they have the resilience to deal with the world once they leave the care system at 18. This law came about through the sustained efforts of many, and one group pushing tooth and nail for this-- the youth from Doncel’s Guia Egreso team.
Kevin Ochi was part of the movement that brought this essential law into effect - a movement where the collective Guia Egreso is transforming the lives of more than 15,000 young people who are exiting the care-system throughout the country. Kevin graduated from the same system that he’s now fighting to change. "I can not quit. Because I was abandoned myself", he says. Kevin entered a residential care unit with his little siblings as a teenager after facing repeated situations of abandonment. Faced with this, he set out to deal with the necessary challenges to be someone different from all the evil he saw in other people while growing up in his neighbourhood and in the care system. "I wanted to be the good one," he recalls.
Today, almost 10 years later, Kevin’s dream of being a changemaker has come true.
Kevin remembers being a shy, introverted 14-year-old with low-self esteem when he entered the care system. He was scared to death. He had to leave his friends, his school, his neighborhood and his mother in southern Buenos Aires, to enter a care home in San Isidro, two hours away. It was then that he decided to take advantage of all the tools and resources in his reach. In face of this adversity, Kevin says that the support and recognition from others was critical to this growth. "Obviously I was not alone. I had a key person in my teens”. Kevin´s conversations with El Indio, an operator at the second home where he lived - there were three homes in total - forged a great friendship with him, and "moved a couple of cables in his head" that helped him believe he could aim to be his best self. "His way of working was different, but effective" argues Kevin. This mentor wasn’t just "fulfilling his tasks" towards the kids in the home- he was guiding young people like Kevin to fulfill their potential. Kevin, who visits him till date, describes El Indio as a very intelligent man, who studied diverse disciplines: psychology, sociology, anthropology. “Half of my life in the care home was spent chatting with him” he highlights.
This early intervention by a supportive adult helped Kevin become someone that today "has no shame at all" and who cannot imagine a life that is not dedicated to helping others. Another pillar of strength during his adolescence was the scouts group where he discovered that he was a great recreational leader. In one year, he trained himself as a facilitator and then became chief of the group. "I realized I was useful for something. And I enjoyed it". When they moved him from one care unit that was 3 hours away, he didn’t let that interrupt the path he had started on. Every week for three years, he traveled a long distance to take a "Community Recreation Leaders" course with other teenagers like him.
The graduation from the residential care unit was not easy. When Kevin turned 18, he had to go back to his mother's house without any preparation for his adult life and the autonomy he was gaining. His mother’s house that he’d left as a young child, was in no condition to receive him as an adult. Instead of being defeated by his circumstances, decided to fix his mother´s home and worked 12 hours a day with that goal, which he finally achieved.
Today, Kevin is dedicated to his passion and has managed to rent an apartment to live with a friend. He is the Youth Club’s recreation leader at Doncel, an organization led by Ashoka Fellow Mariana Incarnato, which helps to strengthen young people transiting from a protective care-system, into active and productive citizens. There, Kevin carries out activities for young people who live in residential care units and are preparing to graduate from the system. Through workshops on relaxation and play, he invites teens to connect with themselves, with others and with the environment. Recreation acts as a method of education and aims for social transformation. "The idea of the Youth Club is that they practice changemaking. But to be changemakers they need to work on themselves first", Kevin says. Since last year, Kevin has managed to get 5 new recruits from his workshops to join the Guía Egreso.
These young changemakers, with their peers in the Guía Egreso movement, are transforming the lives of thousands of young people in the country. The key to the success of the initiative, Kevin says, is the peer-to-peer system, adding, "The children are used to professionals coming and telling them "life is like this, you have to do this". They don’t realise that the children, on the other hand, are thinking, "you don’t understand what is happening with me". But if someone who understands what you are going through, and what is going to happen to you, shares guidelines and tips, it’s different. Because we were in the same hole. We know what it is like to live in a residential home. And it's up to us helping each other to get out of there."
Despite these early victories, much remains to be done in terms of social inclusion and employment, to secure the future of young people coming out of the system. Kevin’s staunch belief is that young people, like him, can actually help transform their own lives. "Whatever you dream, you can achieve it," Kevin concludes. "I want to tell all the young people to not let anybody tell them they cannot. Capture, study, assert your rights and always help others to do the same".