Movimiento Mi Cometa began as a group of parents who simply wanted a wholesome activity to connect with their kids building and flying cometas (kites). It quickly grew into a community movement that in 1990 began to push for inclusion and better opportunities in communities on the outsides of Guayaquil. Several early projects emphasized work with children and adolescents, including a project to collect their comments in 21 cities. Those responses were included in the Childhood and Adolescence Code. Mi Cometa ultimately became a nongovernment organization and in 2006 sought and received IAF funding for a project that created a leadership school to head into the new millennium. The IAF-funded, two-year project involved Mi Cometa establishing seven teams, each with a coordinator and five facilitators. The plan called for working with 180 young leaders from community organizations in seven cities throughout Ecuador (Guayaquil, Quito, Loja, Pedro Carbo, Ambato, Riobamba, and San Lorenzo).
Almost 60 percent of Ecuador’s population is younger than 29, according to the 2010 census. Underemployment and unemployment rates for young people are triple the rates of adults. At least 15 percent of that age group does not work or attend school. The participants in the project lived in marginal urban neighborhoods that were in economic and social crisis, exacerbated by high levels of corruption and a dearth of quality leaders. Undeterred, Mi Cometa set out to train potential young leaders, provide more public meeting places, and advocate for the rights of adolescents in Ecuador.
Funding included $157,170 from the IAF, $63,840 committed by Mi Cometa, and another $37,300 from its partners and community organizations. The project’s goals included training 180 young people between the ages of 13 and 25 using seven models: strategic planning, leadership and group management, fundraising, creativity, human rights legislation, democratic values, and writing and communication skills. The aim of the training, much of which is hands-on, was to create better young community leaders and advocates.
Results were collected and analyzed using the Grassroots Development Framework, which measures results at three levels: the individual or family, the organization or grantee partner, and the society or community. Young people who took part in the project now public speaking and group organizing skills into practice. Many lead civil and community organizations and have earned university degrees. Mi Cometa expanded its relations with institutions in 26 cities and gained recognition for its leadership role working with young people. The participation by youth leaders in the constitutional assembly was a historic first for the country.
During the project, Mi Cometa expanded the age limits for project candidates from 13-25 to 10-35 as a result of growing interest shown by young people in leadership positions. The average age of leaders of organizations was 17, and 89 percent of the students attended educational institutions.
Additional findings regarding the project included the following:
• Of the 204 young participants, 39 percent were women, and 23 facilitators were trained by Mi Cometa in five models of leadership.
• Currently, 94 percent of participants have found paid employment and 59 percent are self-employed.
• School rates increased due to the life planning skills learned. Of those interviewed in the study, 50 percent continued with university studies and 44 percent were working while completing their higher education.
• Fifty percent of those interviewed said the highlight of the project was the utility of what was taught and the models and methodology used to teach it.
• Seventeen percent of participants said visiting 26 other cities and interviewing other young people was a highlight of their experience with the project. The interviews gave them a chance to hear other viewpoints and see many other areas of Ecuador.
• The young people took part in this Montecristi Express in preparation for drawing up a national juvenile agenda in 2008 aimed at developing a law to guarantee the right of young people to participate in all arenas, particularly the public sector.
• Thirty-three percent commented that they valued activities related to obtaining the approval of this law, Article 39 of the Constitution.
Mi Cometa’s civic activities included the formation of networks such as the Third National Meeting of Leaders (which continues today) and the organization of the Second Latin American Meeting of Leaders.
Responsibility: Young people actively participated in the project and led efforts to mobilize funds for community activities. They also took part in meetings with fellow young people, the press, government, and educational institutions, and presented a proposal that was included in the Ecuadorian Constitution.
Contribution: Volunteerism is the foundation of Mi Cometa. The organization added a model on human rights laws to foster civic-mindedness among youth. The young people took part in community work groups known as mingas. At schools and in communities, they advocated for pregnant teens, children, childcare centers, and the incorporation of women in traditionally male-dominated activities. In Quito, youth-led organizations worked in alliance with the municipality to donate scholarships that enabled five young people to complete their studies.
Economic and Educational Opportunities: Forty percent of those in the project found employment in government, and 10 participants joined the Mi Cometa team. Others were encouraged to pursue education. Several earned money with art projects in Riobamba. Eighty-nine percent of the participants continued in school, and 100 percent finished their secondary schooling. That compares to a national rate of just 45 percent of students who complete that level of education. Forty-five percent of those interviewed said they had concluded their university studies. Another 33 percent are close to finishing, and the remaining 22 percent completed their secondary level studies and graduated high school. According to official statistics, university access is 25 percent nationwide.
Relationships: Project facilitators and coordinators emphasized incorporating an inclusive style of teaching that emphasized learning from one another. This was highlighted by focusing on selected youth as good examples of leadership. This bolstered self-esteem and encouraged them in their personal lives to become better leaders. In the Quito neighborhood of Santa Isabel, youth and adult leaders worked to create an annual festival for local families. The young people were empowered to speak and work with mayors and others in positions of authority, even at the national level.
Resiliency: One success story involved a young woman who was the only female in the university to major in mechanics. She is now a mechanical engineer and works in the automotive industry, pursuing post-graduate work after receiving a scholarship.
Unexpected Results: These included young people who started small businesses, some based in the arts, entertainment and theater, and who are earning incomes from these activities.
Some limitations occurred in communities due to violence. Young people were unable to work in one community of Guayaquil where neighborhood leaders monopolized power in the area.
The project provided violence prevention training to youth, who then passed that information on to their communities, including sharing information on sources of support for victims of violence.
While migration occurs regularly in Ecuador, particularly among women, no students in the project dropped out or moved. In fact, they said they preferred to remain in their neighborhoods and continue their education in order to become democratic leaders. The project’s models included activities to reestablish local identity and the value of community.
When IAF funding ended, Mi Cometa’s leadership school project closed. Mi Cometa committed to other civic activities, and facilitators and the young leaders moved on to jobs with local and national government entities. Only Mi Cometa’s principal location in Guayaquil continued as a center, focusing on health, education, and housing, including a self-sustaining music school.
A few participants in three communities still use the leadership models of the project as reference documents. Organizational ties between Mi Cometa and the provincial teams have also faltered, although some personal contacts still exist, mainly regarding work for youth and children.
Although Mi Cometa did not maintain contact with the young people, they and other community residents practice what they learned and have found their training to be useful in their workplaces and homes.
A particular achievement was the impact of the project on the students themselves. The positive changes in their behavior were evident and were a pleasant surprise to their families and communities. They asked: “How could this happen, the new interest in the local environment and valuing local life?”
The role of local trained facilitators, who ranged in age from 23 to 25, was critical. They were excellent role models and directly improved the project by adjusting the workshops and models to address local needs in terms of language and goals. One interviewee, Isaac Andrade of Guasmo Sur, stated: “The youth, we were the protagonists, but we were always accompanied and guided by the coordinators and facilitators.”
Students got hands-on experience with the inner workings of government. The students gathered the opinions of other young people and recommended new laws that eventually were presented in a constitutional assembly.
Visiting other parts of the country also proved educational. Meeting people in a wide variety of jobs opened the eyes of students to the importance of schooling.
The young people involved in the project worked on developing life plans. One young woman, Paulina Subía, who had aspired to be perhaps a domestic employee and her mother hoped maybe she could become a hairdresser, said: “The project changed my life. When I attended the strategic planning model, I made my life plan. I went to college, I dedicated myself to my studies, improved my grades, obtained a scholarship, and collaborated in training workshops with other young people. I finished my university studies and now I’m the owner/manager of my own training business.”
What Did Not Work?
Mi Cometa did not incorporate the facilitators’ adjustments into strategic leadership models in terms of language and youth-to-youth and fun activities. The organization did not continue using the models in its work. Those models were considered by the young leaders as a project strength, but they were adapted by only one group in two subsequent projects.
In spite of their impressive work with young democratic leaders, Mi Cometa did not fully or strategically address issues regarding the sustainability of the project.
Individuals and organizations participating enjoyed many successes. Young leaders gained insight into a new style of leadership, although more work is needed to help future generations. The project’s models improved and influenced many young people’s lives and benefited their communities. Mi Cometa garnered some benefit from collaboration with other organizations, sharing one another’s strengths. The project was a culmination of efforts that resulted in a new law guaranteeing the participation of young people.