Like any adolescent, José Gregorio has a head full of dreams, but growing up in the crowded neighbourhood of El Cementerio, in the Santa Rosalía Parish of southern Caracas, he knows his chances of achieving them aren’t good. People there know all too well the struggle to survive when armed violence is extreme and opportunities to get ahead are few – when muggings, robberies and shootings are part of daily life.
José Gregorio lives with his grandparents, aunts and uncles and spends most of his time with them and Sarahit, a local community leader. He says he often feels alone, especially since his mother left Venezuela. But despite the obstacles he's faced in his 15 years, José Gregorio is still in school and plays sports. Now he's also receiving training to become a baker, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC is providing the ingredients and cooking utensils he needs for his training.
"I've had a lot of doubts about my future, but this training has helped me overcome that uncertainty and I'm a lot happier now," he explains. At first his tone is subdued but he gets gradually more enthusiastic as he tells us what he's learning and how he'll have an occupation that will soon allow him to start earning a living. "I always liked bread and pastries, but I didn't know how to make them. When I heard about this training, I did everything I could to be admitted," he tells us as he begins kneading his first batch of dough.
José Gregorio would like his friends to get to be bakers too, because he's seen how learning a vocation can help people provide for themselves and their families and act as their ticket away from the violence. The woman José Gregorio works with, Sarahit, has become a role model for the young people in the area because she helps keep them motivated to do cultural activities and training, like the training in baking. "I've always said that I wanted them to be able to get instruction so that they could pass on their knowledge to others. I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping them transform their lives through learning opportunities like these."
In all, 24 young people from El Cementerio are receiving the training, finding in pastry making the opportunity to learn, grow and set new goals for themselves. "We're learning to make Swiss meringue, pound cake, pies and a lot else besides," says Ler, a friend of José Gregorio. At just 20 years old, Ler is proud to have already worked as a shoemaker and barber. Now he's learning to be a pastry chef: "With what I'm learning I'll be able to work in a bakery or open a shop of my own." He's already very happy to be able to teach his nephews to make sweets. His dream is to own a home, have his own business and work very hard to buy a house for his older sister, who has supported and taken care of him since he was little.
Together with Sarahit, these young people are out to prove that they can take full advantage of opportunities to improve their lives. "At the end of the day," Sarahit says proudly, "each young person receiving training in baking is one fewer involved in a gang. The community has seen the difference it makes, because now they believe in us and the ability to bring about change."
In recent weeks, episodes of armed violence have altered the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of Cota 905, El Cementerio and neighbouring communities. We at the ICRC have remained in constant dialogue with them to understand and help them meet their needs, whether related to earning a basic living, health care or protection. In all our activities, we abide by the principles of neutrality and impartiality to help those most in need.