First CYCC Cohort, 2022. CYCC students and instructors at Rio Blanco Reserve, after the CYCC 2022 Closing Activities. Photo by: Andrea Arias, Communication Specialist, USFS Colombia Program.

Newfound confidence. Real life skills. A focus on the future. That’s what some of the 57 recent graduates of the Colombia Youth Conservation Corps (CYCC) report after completion of the eight-month program.

Recent university enrollee Daniela Grajales says she now understands why natural resources and the environment should be valued and conserved.

Carlos Rios says the experience rescued him from a difficult childhood and has helped him live more presently.

“Thanks to the CYCC, I am now a person who is forward thinking and focused on the future while living in the present. The CYCC not only taught me about natural resources, but it also helped me to be more human. The CYCC rescued me from an unwanted childhood and now I live a more peaceful life,” the 21-year-old Carlos said.

Daniela and Carlos are from rural villages in western Colombia. Daniela grew up among the coffee fields that Colombia is famous for. In fact, her father is a coffee bean picker. And while the coffee landscape is serene, Daniela was full of anxiety. She didn’t see much opportunity in her 150-person village, and she didn’t feel prepared to find a job or life as an adult.

“The difficulties I have faced in my life have been many, but one that has marked me the most has been anxiety, since I was 17 years old. It has been a complex process, but thanks to CYCC, which strengthened me with a variety of tools and knowledge, today I have confidence in myself,” the 22-year-old said.

Carlos was born even farther west of the village where he currently resides. He and his family fled his birthplace because of violence.

Carlos and Daniela are typical CYCC participants. The program caters to at-risk youth who could use a little support – education and confidence – in becoming a productive adulthood and valued community member.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds CYCC, and the Forest Service implements it. Like YCC in the United States, participants of CYCC gain technical skills to manage forests, protect watersheds, and conserve nature, but they also learn life skills. The CYCC program emphasizes empowerment and community leadership.

Participants like Daniela and Carlos spend six months in a residential program that includes classroom studies, field work exercises, community service, educational outings, healthy living habits, and life plan development.

Following the six-month residential program, all CYCC participants put their learning to use in a two-month internship with one of the 16 environmental organizations with which CYCC partners. For some participants, internships lead to jobs; for others, the internships inspire them to go back to school to become even more competitive in the job market or better prepared to take on an environmental challenge.

Daniela is now studying social sciences at Caldas University. She is also a representative of several rural communities to her municipality’s Council of Culture. She wants to improve the quality of life of residents in rural villages of Colombia.

Carlos is enrolling in the next offering of Technology in Natural Resources Management at the National Learning Service in Colombia. He wants to work with Raisal, Palanquero, and Afro-Colombian communities.

The desire to give back and become more involved in their communities is a common sentiment of CYCC graduates, as is the feeling of empowerment they feel upon completing the CYCC.

CYCC is in its second year of implementation. Fifty-seven youth have found new perspectives, new skills, and motivation to improve their lives and the lives of others. They are already making a difference in their communities.

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