Casa de la Juventud (Casa) was founded in Asunción in 1995 by a group of young advocates as a venue where their peers could meet, talk and take advantage of cultural opportunities. Around that time, some 35 percent of Paraguayans were living in poverty, and job opportunities were few and far between. For young Paraguayans between the ages of 15 and 24, the unemployment rate was estimated at 24 percent. Even more were underemployed. At no level did government take the views of young people into account.
In 2003, Casa applied for IAF funding. Its members wanted to encourage young people to speak up, be heard and work to improve conditions in neighborhoods in and around Asunción and in the departments of Central, Concepción and Misiones.
Casa received $127,000 in 2004 and another $1,110 in 2006. It contributed $31,100 toward its efforts from its own resources and mobilized another $209,618 from Acción Ecuménica Sueca (Diakonia) and the Kellogg Foundation.
The results of Casa’s project were collected and analyzed using the Grassroots Development Framework (GDF). The GDF measures results on three levels: the individual or family level; the organization or grantee level, and the community or society level. At the lower level of the cone, the project positively impacted the lives of nearly 3,000 young people in Asunción and the department of Central as measured by indicators such as acquisition and application of new skills, creativity and communication. At the mid-level, Casa used the planning indicator to report adjustments to project activities. They also reported on resources leveraged from other funders as part of their sustainability strategy and tracked subgrants awarded to young people to pursue cultural and social projects. At the upper or community level, Casa reported on the effect of grant activities on sensitizing local authorities on youth oriented policies.
Casa intended to benefit 4,200 young Paraguayans from poor neighborhoods as well as 250 representatives of local government and other community leaders. By the end of the second year of the grant period, Casa had lowered its goal to 3,000 youths. Its training and forums reached 2,390; more than 2,700 received subgrants.
Facilities that became available to young people continue to function as places where they meet with each other and public officials to discuss proposals for community development identified during public hearings. In 2008, the Paraguayan president appointed Karina Rodríguez, who had coordinated Casa’s IAF project, his vice-minister for youth affairs. During her tenure, the government’s funding for the Secretaría Nacional de Juventud increased from $14,000 to $465,000. In 2014, its budget soared to $1.7 million. Karina Rodríguez was instrumental in demonstrating how public policy could be developed with input from the young Paraguayans whose lives it affected.
Participants in Casa’s training and workshops on young people’s rights age out of youth groups or leave as soon as they become gainfully employed and/or start a family. Newcomers take their place and require training, which increases Casa’s dependency on donors. Nonetheless, eight years after IAF funding ceased, Casa can point to the following accomplishments:
- Youth councils representing organized groups of young Paraguayans in policy deliberations with municipal authorities increased from five to 10 in the Central department. Casa is working toward forming nine more councils to cover all 19 municipalities in Central.
- Ten municipal governments have created youth departments to address young people’s concerns, five of them after the IAF’s funding ended.
- The subgrant program funded by the IAF award continues to enable 200 poor students from rural areas to prepare for admission to universities.
- Thirty of the young people who originally participated in Casa’s project were joined by others in Red Enrédate, a network that brings young people together to organize and advocate for their priorities.
Casa initially worked with 25 talented young Paraguayans to develop their mastery of democratic practices. As a result, these young men and women acquired the skills necessary to delegate responsibilities; to motivate and inspire other young people in their communities to express their ideas and concerns; and, equally important, to transmit the interests and demands of their peers to local authorities.
For the first time in Paraguay, organized youth groups and local authorities were able to discuss policies and programs affecting young people’s lives. Increasingly municipalities have created youth departments, which the Paraguayan government supports pursuant to the Ley Nacional de Juventud that provides for a National Youth Council.
The IAF-supported subgrant fund stimulated young people to develop skills, pursue cultural projects, improve social well-being and instill values such as teamwork, tolerance and respect.
What Did Not Work?
Lack of a meeting space in the communities complicated participation in youth councils.
In addition to the organized youth groups, Casa worked with incipient groups that were not well structured and withered away as soon as Casa’s technical and financial support ceased. An example was the youth group in Arroyito de Concepción.
Casa’s initiative gave young people a different perspective on the need to engage authorities in decisions that could affect their lives.
Participation is an antidote to paternalism because it reduces entrenched authoritarian practices and works to include more citizens in decision-making processes. The Casa project is proof that organized youths working together toward a common goal can achieve results more than they would individually.
After the IAF’s funding ended, Casa secured support from other donors. In 2014 it received a second grant from the IAF.