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Community YouthMapping helps youth chart a course to the future

December 03, 2012 —

Franklin Roosevelt once said, "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future." To this end, FHI 360 uses an innovative method of training young people to build a better future for themselves and their communities.

By participating in Community YouthMapping (CYM) activities, young people learn how to canvass their neighborhoods to find and map local resources and opportunities. Youth can identify gaps in local services, promote community resources that are not widely known and help build relationships between ethnic groups. While mapping their communities, young people develop or strengthen skills such as public speaking, writing, conflict resolution, critical thinking, data collection and presentation.

"CYM is a gateway to creating connections between young people and their community," said Raul Ratcliffe, FHI 360's director of CYM. "In addition, the workforce skills and new relationships they develop are life-changing experiences that give them the foundation and self-confidence they need to be highly active in their communities."

Ratcliffe and his colleagues work closely with national and local partners to plan CYM activities, recruit young people and conduct the mapping. FHI 360 provides participant training, survey forms, materials for promoting the mapping activity and web-based data storage.

Confidence, Inspiration, Support

CYM has been used in 150 locations around the world — from New York City's Harlem to Egypt to Kosovo — covering a wide range of issues.

In Newark, NJ, young people mapped resources for teenagers such as a computer store offering free Internet access to students doing homework and a youth center helping out-of-school youth earn a general equivalency diploma.

The Newark youth also hosted a CYM group from Chad who were visiting the area through an exchange program, an experience many said helped expand their view of their community and the world.

"The kids realized that the world doesn't revolve around Newark," said Nelson Rodriguez, who ran the Newark program from 2008 to 2010. "This inspired them to believe they can do more."

One participant in the Newark program said CYM helped him build critical social skills. "I learned how to approach people from all nationalities," said Juan Lorenzo, who is now studying psychology in college. "We're really supportive of one another," he said, adding that many of them are still friends.

In Harlem, youth mappers surveyed the community to find businesses that sell healthy foods. Partly as a result of this work, some local businesses partnered with farms to increase the amount of fresh produce available in Harlem. Delaware youth mappers explored how food is marketed to children.

In Egypt, youth collected information on employment opportunities and used that data to help their schools adjust the curriculum so that graduates would have more marketable skills. The effort in Egypt helped build confidence, particularly for the girls, who took the lead in their groups. Youth in Rwanda and Jordan also gathered data they could use to increase their employability.

CYM is a useful tool for communities facing challenges such as conflict and human trafficking. In Chad and Niger, youth mapping gave many young people an alternative to joining rebels or resorting to violence. Youth in Kosovo polled their communities to uncover gaps in information about human trafficking and to find out what resources are available to counter it.

"CYM works great in Newark and New York but also in Thailand, Switzerland and Brazil," said Rodriguez. "It works in any setting where kids want to help out and want to be heard but don't have a venue to do that."

For more information about Community Youth Mapping, contact Raul Ratcliffe at rratclif@fhi360.org.