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'Get going': In the Dominican Republic, FHI 360 helps young adults prepare for career success

April 28, 2022

Although the economy of the Dominican Republic has become one of the fastest-growing in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, about a third of the country’s 10 million residents live in poverty. Moreover, young people between the ages of 15 and 24, who comprise 20% of the population, face high unemployment rates and poor access to quality education and skills training.

Through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Advance LAC Regional Workforce Development Program — known locally as Avanza (“get going” in Spanish) — FHI 360 has teamed up with four local partners to analyze trends in the labor market and perceptions of technical training programs; identify promising career paths; strengthen training curricula for in-demand jobs; and expand instructors’ skills in social-emotional learning and positive youth development. FHI 360 also offers scholarships to students from disadvantaged communities and, working with Dominican companies and its university partners, helps to connect graduates to good jobs in such fields as medical device manufacturing, software development, gastronomy and nursing.

“The student who comes here is a student with low economic resources. ... They live in very vulnerable areas,” says Bessie Nino, coordinator for the nursing program at one of FHI 360’s university partners, Instituto Técnico Superior Comunitario in Santo Domingo. “The FHI 360 program gives many young people the opportunity they didn’t have to study for a degree and really be able to progress and make a change in their lives, their communities, their population and the country they live in.”

When schools closed and classes went online during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FHI 360 scholarships proved to be the lifeline that allowed students to complete their studies and training on time. In addition to tuition, the scholarships covered the costs of laptops, internet access, uniforms and other necessary equipment.

Since 2020, FHI 360 has awarded scholarships to 51 students. Meet four of them who are laying the foundation for a successful career and a bright future.

Meet Darío Rubén Vásquez Contreras, medical device manufacturing student

Left image: Looking over Darío's shoulder while he holds a dial and examines readouts on a medical manufacturing device with an instructor. Right image: Darío poses for a photo in a red t-shirt while standing in front of medical manufacturing equipment

I chose this career because I like to design and manufacture medical equipment.

There is a lot of job opportunity.

Before I did not think about studying for a technical qualification, nor did I think much about the jobs and opportunities that exist for a person who is qualified to have a better salary, let’s say, at a company, or being able to set up a company. My mindset has changed now because [the teachers] have taught me about developing business or managing companies.

[The teachers] have helped me to improve my attitude toward what I am doing … with the way of thinking about how I am going in life. ... I have developed many, many aspects in both my personal and professional life.

Meet Diljhairis Disla, gastronomy student

Right image: Diljhairis wearing a chef's coat and hat while using her right hand to mix ingredients in a stainless steel bowl. Right image: Diljhairis laughing and clapping at something off camera while wearing a chef's and and coat.

Cooking is my passion. It’s in the kitchen that family and people gather, and it’s part of our day to day. … It’s where we all spend a lot of time.

This program teaches us correct kitchen management … how to use the tools, all that is used in an industrial kitchen, in addition to where the food comes from.

FHI 360 came into my life at a time of vulnerability, a time when the whole world was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and many people were left unemployed, me among them. So it seemed a little impossible to me to keep coming here and practice [my skills].

[I hope to] set up my own gastronomy business, a restaurant. Also, a little more on the social side, I would like to open a gastronomy school for people who, like me, at some point feel vulnerable because they can’t afford to pay for a specific gastronomy course that they like and is their passion.

Meet Richard Rivas Mercedes, nursing student

Left image: Richard wearing his nursing school uniform and holding a stethoscope while posing in front of an anatomy model. Right image: Richard putting latex gloves on his hands while instructors watch from behind

I like the fact that the attention is so close to the patient, I mean, knowing the emotional state of the patient, their progress, following them closely, asking them how they are. Seeing their reaction. Seeing how they improve. All that is what I appreciate the most [about nursing.]

Each teacher has marked me on a personal level, has taught me something that I know will help me in my professional career. What I see for my future is not being just another nurse, but being someone who is capable of using their work as a nurse to contribute to my society — so that when I see a patient, I am able to give my all for that person.

Meet Johanny (Scarlet) Tavares, software development student

Left image: Scarlet Tavares posing for a photo inside the software development classroom wearing a black t-shirt and yellow flowers in her hair. Right image: Scarlet Tavares speaking to an instructor while looking at code on a laptop computer.

We’re in a super tech world, and when I researched a career in software development, I saw all the things I can create, all the tools that can solve problems. This is my thing.

If I wasn’t in this program, my pace of studies would probably be slower, because I would have to be working to be able to afford my studies.

I like to plan my life — and in 10 years I see myself as a systems engineer, being a great software developer. I imagine myself in 10 years with economic freedom.

The support [from FHI 360] has allowed me to fulfill dreams that I had, and I did not know if they could really be fulfilled. … It really was, is, a wonderful opportunity and I am deeply grateful.

All photos are credited to Gabriela Rancier/Productora Comando for FHI 360