_Like many Cuso International volunteers who arrive to Peru, Agata Stomal had plans to complete a one-year volunteer placement when she first landed in the country in 2012. Her role: working as an employment advisor at the community-based Youth Employment Center (YEC) in San Juan de Miraflores, a pueblo joven (young town) in the south of Lima. That’s where she found her calling. Now, in 2016, Agata is now on her third volunteer placement with the YEC, where she is leading the drive to develop accessible employment and entrepreneurship programs for individuals with disabilities. Agata tells us her story:_
Hi, I’m Agata Stomal from Montreal, Canada and I began my journey as a Cuso International volunteer in 2012. Fast forward to 2016 and I am currently working on my third volunteer placement with the Youth Employment Center in San Juan de Miraflores, a district of Lima, Peru! You could say I found my calling here in Peru, as well as a strong community of youth and volunteers of which I am proud to be a part.
At the YEC, we offer a helping hand to youth living in a disadvantaged area of the city, allowing them to gain economic independence, either through meaningful employment or entrepreneurship. Over 30 youth are attending the 11th edition of our 70-hour entrepreneurship course, where they are using a hands-on approach to develop their business plan for a new enterprise or working to improve their existing business. In our most recent class, after instruction on how to design and carry out a survey of potential customers, youth and volunteers took to the streets to try it out for themselves!
At the conclusion of the course, youth have the opportunity to participate in a business plan competition judged by a panel of experienced entrepreneurs from the community. Eight winners are selected who then have access to the YEC’s start-up incubator – including working space, mentoring, and access to internet and computers – for a period of one year.
_(Photo courtesy of author)_
My recent work with the YEC has involved making our service offerings more inclusive for individuals with disabilities, people who often do not have access to the same employment opportunities as others in society. We now have three budding entrepreneurs with visual impairment who are participating in the entrepreneurship course. It’s great to see how our youth have welcomed them into the course with open arms and we plan to receive additional participants with disabilities in the coming months.
In the years that I’ve worked with the YEC, it has been an inspiration to see youth develop in their careers and as individuals. A number of the young women and men with whom I’ve worked personally are now running their own successful businesses and many have returned to the YEC as youth volunteers to support their peers. The project is something in which I’m extremely proud to say I’ve played a part. My volunteer placements with Cuso International have been an incredible period of learning and personal growth and I would encourage anyone who is thinking of volunteering to just go for it. It will change your life!
Read all about Agata Stomal’s journey to Peru and how a one-year volunteer opportunity turned into three.