The official name of our organization was Nuevo Día del Cusco (NDDC), but we like to call it The Amigos Foundation. Within The Amigos Foundation, exists our Youth Program.
The Amigos Foundation was founded in April 2000, with the objective to give education, food, and host any students in emergency if necessary, as stated in our constitution. Jesus and his friend Finn Byrum, a Danish photojournalist who was immediately taken with the plight of the street children in Cusco agreed to help Jesús with his project. The two created an official Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) named Nuevo Dia del Cusco Foundation that would have its first project;
In 2002, the Amigos Foundation came into being. It began with a unique goal in mind; to become the first language school in Cusco to provide invaluable language skills, care and academic support to some of Cusco's most disadvantaged students.
We provide the students with much more than just English instruction. We feed them on daily basis, providing them on Wednesdays for instance, with our freshly baked whole-wheat bread, avocado salad and papaya juice with milk. We work to improve their interpersonal, physical and communication skills at all times, as well as in special Saturday workshops. We also provide tutoring assistance with their regular high school, and offer a private doctor when needed.
The children come from San Sebastián, Ticatica, Margen Derecha and other impoverished areas around Cusco. They range in age from 13 to 18, most come from single-parent homes or live with other relatives. All of them have an intense desire to learn. In addition to the educational program, they are learning how to share, compromise and voice their feelings in a more constructive ways. They are learning how to think ahead, how to plan for the future and how to dream. Most importantly, they are not working on the streets anymore.
The program offers youth a much better chance of entering the university system or the workforce in Cusco. English is one of the university's most difficult prerequisites to fulfill for Cusco's poor and many of the best job opportunities in Cusco require an advanced level of English. At the completion of the three-year program, assistance and counseling is provided to aid them in passing university tests. In addition, we assist in obtaining university funding. We also assist with vocational opportunities.
Finally, an important principle of The Amigos Foundation was that we did not believe in handouts, as they can have a negative effect on self-esteem. Therefore, we assigned small tasks to the students every day in order to improve their sense of responsibility and achievement, and empowering them to achieve success in their daily lives.
Youth Program Objectives:
- Daily English classes: Advanced, Intermediate, Beginners
- Weekly Saturday morning workshops to develop self-confidence and interpersonal skills
- Daily meal of fruit, a sandwich and a healthy drink
- Reinforcement in high school by providing weekly additional classes in mathematics, chemistry and physics, tutoring and counseling
- Student-Parent-Teacher Conferences
- Close parent or family contact
- Medical and health support
- Maintain a maximum student/teacher ratio of 11 students per teacher
How do we select the kids: The first group of our Youth Program was selected from different areas of Cusco. We invited kids for selection from shelters, orphanages, public schools, and we even went to the markets.
- Step one - In the year 2000, we had to witness that the kids were in need of support which was noticeable when you observed them working for many hours in the market, or when they went to a shelter to eat for free. With the orphanage and public schools we had to talk to the director of that organization to find out who were the kids who needed the most support.
- Step two - We invited the kids for a test which was based on social communication skills, and Spanish language. The reason for this is that we believe that before learning English, it is important to be competent in your own language.
- Step three - We selected a group of 30 young people with the highest points. In addition, we requested a meeting with their parents, uncles, or tutors. Most of them do not have two parents, and only a single mother, grandmother or an aunt or uncle who is their guardian(s). It was then their responsibility to sign a commitment letter to support them over the three years until his / her studies at Amigos was finished.
The extension of the Youth Program, the VIPs
In 2007, we decided to expand the Youth Program by creating a VIP program. Our reason for this is that we are willing to help more people of all ages improve their lives. In Cusco, learning English is the best way to relieve poverty as it creates work opportunities in tourism (which the most developed economic area) and other fields. This program offers the same benefits as the children of the YP, daily English classes, Saturday morning workshops, daily meal, medical support, and transport costs. But unlike the children of the Youth Program our VIP students, are selected via the Open Door Program filter process.
The Open Door Program
Amigos Open Door Program (ODP) is an educational program for disadvantaged young people from Cusco. The new program invites anyone in need wishing to learn English for free, to complete an intake interview to be considered. Amigos chooses its candidates for the ODP, based on need, motivation and discipline. Currently we have the capacity to teach 56 students, spread out into 7 classes of 8 students, who attend once per week for 3 months. At the end of those three months students will undertake an exam that will determine which students continue for another three months. At the 6 months stage, if they pass their exam, they will be invited to be a member of the VIP program, which allow them to attend daily English classes for one and a half years. The advantage of the ODP, is to give an opportunity to a new group of 56 youth every three months. Our system acts as a filter for the VIP program, as we expect only 10% of the original 56 students will be successful. The ODP policy is based on recipients' internal motivation (and support by caretakers) to learn. The expectation is that those with a strong motivation will display the discipline to attend classes regularly and in timely fashion. The addition of a point-system that favors those with perfect attendance rates will strengthen this motivation and discipline. Self-selection will put the responsibilities of education where it should be: with the student.
As our mission statement mentions, we aim to provide education to young people in Cusco who are in need of help. The open door policy applies to people who meet the following criteria:
- Recipients must be between 12 and 22 years of age.
- Be living in or around the Cusco area.
- Be able to prove that they or their caretakers are incapable of affording to get help in another way.
- Show strong motivation to learn.
- Show reasonable aptitude to learn (intelligence and Spanish level).
- Be respectful towards other people and property.
- Declare the intention to stay in Cusco for at least one year.
- Commit themselves to investing in our project 10% of the time we invest in them (for every 10 hours of class, they should work 1 hour for us).