Features — 21 August 2015 — by Johnelle McKenzie
“Just Us” making a difference in at-risk young people’s lives

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 17, 2015–Just Us Inc., in collaboration with the U.S. Department, has established Just Us Belize/American Belizean Technology and Education Center.  This organization has been in Belize since January 2014. According to the director of the program, Gtoe S. Washington, Jr., “The program targets the at-risk youth population within Belize for the purpose of providing positive alternatives to gang, violent crime and drug trade.”

       The students first have to take job readiness training, which teaches them how to understand other people, how to deal with conflicts, and how to set goals. After taking that course, they can then enroll in one of the following courses: Graphic Design, Web Development, Programming, Basic Computer, Customer Service, Sales & Hospitality and Sewing.

       Washington went on to say that in the first year there were 109 graduates, and it is projected that 312 students will graduate by the end of the 2nd year, which ends on September 30, 2015.

    He further related that they have established relationships with a number of different businesses in Belize in order to find job placement for their graduates. These companies include IT Mind Reframing, Caribbean Treasures, Belize Signs, Transparent BPO, and San Pedro Belize Express, to name a few.  They have been successful at finding job placement for 60% of these graduates.

       One such person, who we will call “James,” has had his life transformed. James said, “I grew up in a single home with my mom and at the age of 14, I joined a gang.”

        He went on to say that a week before graduating from high school, he fought with a teacher and was expelled. This shattered his hopes for a brighter future.

       It now seemed that the gang life was all James could ever look forward to, but after a while, he came to realize it was not the life for him. He at that point had two children to live for and did not want his son to grow up and join the gang.

       James said, “I heard about the Just Us Belize/American Technology and Education Center through a friend.”

        He saw this as his way out of the gang life and a means to ensure a brighter future for his family. He enrolled in the basic computer course and web designing courses and excelled. He has just sat an interview and his prospects look far better than they did a few years ago.

       Just Us Belize/American Belizean Technology and Education Center is located at #40 Regent Street, Belize City. All their courses are free and the classes are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. While the courses were initially developed to target gang members, the program’s reach has been expanded to include anyone who has the time and is interested in bettering themselves.

       Washington also mentioned that, in addition to the classes and the job placement services they offer, they also gave a group from Sarteneja a micro-grant to help them open their own sewing shop.

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