Microsoft Lends a Helping Hand to At-Risk Teens in Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Jan. 2, 2001 — It all started in September 1999 with 168 teens — 59 girls and 109 boys aged 12 to 18 — who aimed for a better life.

All were from at-risk communities in the San Jos
é
metropolitan area of Costa Rica. Several had dropped out of school. They became the first group of young people to receive life-changing help from Youth @ Its Best, a program established by Fundaci
ó
n Paniamors Center for Youth Alternatives.

“I never thought of my future, because I used to think that I was not going to get anywhere,” said Kimberly Fern
á
ndez V
á
squez, 15, from Los Guido. “Now, since I got to know computers, a door has opened for me.”



Teens at the Fundacin Paniamor’s Techno-Club for disadvantaged youths in San Jos, Costa Rica, get a chance at lifelong success with Microsoft’s help. Some teens, who had dropped out of school, are planning businesses and seeking jobs in the technology industry.

As a founding partner of Youth @ Its Best, Microsoft helped give the program a running start with a $50,000 grant from the companys International Community Affairs program. Youth @ Its Best used those funds to organize the “Techno-Club,” which features 20 PCs that are shared by pairs of teens for educational purposes, including five training sessions each day, seven days a week. The program focuses on academic performance, job-oriented skills development, and global- and local-awareness activities. According to foundation officials, the teens participating in the program are given opportunities they probably would not have found anywhere else.

Since its inception, more than 1,700 teens have participated in the program, which has 13 co-sponsors, including Cisco Systems, Intel, Universidad Latina, and UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“The partnership established with Microsoft to create and develop Youth @ Its Best allowed the foundation to enter the world of technology, to understand it and to appropriate it as a tool of success to be put to the service of our youngsters,” said Milena Grillo, executive director of Fundaci
ó
n Paniamor. “It is wonderful to serve their efforts and the courageous quest to break cycles of poverty and exclusion.”

Grillo started at Fundaci
ó
n Paniamor 15 years ago and has been instrumental in helping at-risk teens get a strong foothold in life.

The teens are finding a lot of value in the program.

Diego Alonso N
á
jera Uma
ñ
a, 16, a resident of the Moravia portion of San Jos
é
and a program participant, said: “I was always involved in fights, always mad. I think it was because I felt envious. I saw other people had talents, and I did not find mine, even if I tried. When I got here and found out that I am capable of using the equipment, my life changed. I came out of my own self and found my talent.

“Then I had the idea to open my own small business. I plan to offer typing, printing, and scanning texts. In my neighborhood, there is no such business, and I think it is necessary because there are a lot of university, elementary and high school students who need it.”

But that doesnt mean hes giving up on continuing the education he started at the Techno-Club.

“I am not going to quit studying,” he said. “My goal is to obtain my high school diploma.”

Kimberly Fern
á
ndez V
á
squez, 15, is also thankful she found the program.

“Besides attending the Techno-Clubs, I study to be a secretary at the vocational school; as part of that study, I had to work as an apprentice in a bank,”
she said.
“One of the managers had to make a presentation but did not know how to work the equipment. So I helped him. He asked me to come back next year for another apprenticeship and said he was going to help me find a job.”

She recalls going to a computer show with her newfound knowledge and passing by the Epson stand.

“I began talking to the person who was showing the computer equipment, and he explained to me how it worked. I stayed there and helped him, serving the customers and answering their questions.”

Joanna Demirian, program manager for International Community Affairs, met some of the teens on a trip to Costa Rica.

“Microsoft is very proud to support this project. The real credit belongs to the young people; what they do with a little encouragement and access to these resources is truly magical,”
Demirian said, recalling her visit.

“I met a 17-year-old single mother who had developed a Web site resource for other single mothers. The objective of her assignment was intended to promote technical expertise. To complete the task, she needed to do a lot of reading to research the topic, analysis to organize and select relevant data, and then master the technology to present a rich, user-friendly site. Her first objective was to find a way to help other single mothers.”

“Sometimes, a little magic is all thats needed,”
Demirian said.

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