By: Diana Pando
In a time when youth violence is on the rise in Chicago, most youth don’t have opportunities to travel into other neighborhoods much less travel out of the country. Empowering Youth Through Travel (EYTT) is an organization working to change that by providing a yearlong educational program for low-income students to travel abroad. Their goal is also to show youth that there is a world beyond their neighborhoods.
Currently, 16 year-old Dushan Burrell from the Austin neighborhood is enrolled in the program. He has never been on a plane before and will be the first person in his family to travel abroad. “It was awesome getting my passport,” says Burrell. Since he began the program in January he has been learning about sustainability issues in Costa Rica and has started recycling.
The program includes a mandatory supplemental educational component exploring global topics. Once students complete the first phase of the educational component they move into phase two which is traveling to the country they have been learning about. As part of the program, the students stay with a host family and are required to volunteer on a conservation initiative.
According to Jessica Mann, founder of ETTY, “growing up, travel wasn’t something we invested time and money into.” It wasn’t until college that Mann started thinking about traveling abroad. Her desire to travel was put on hold sophomore year when she got pregnant with her daughter. As a result, she was unable to participate in a study abroad program.
Despite this, Mann then decided to find ways to give low-income youth the opportunity to travel and get out of their neighborhoods and that’s how Empowering Youth Through Travel was born. Her hope is that students participating in the program will venture beyond their neighborhoods and gain new experiences by being able to travel to other countries.
In order to qualify for the program the student must be part of a participating school and must undergo an interview process and meet all of the requirements to participate. According to Mann, the next round of applications for the program will occur in the fall. Parents are expected to be part of the process as much as possible so that they feel comfortable about the idea of their children traveling.
Yael Ramirez is also a student participating in the program. “The farthest I’ve traveled is Oklahoma,” she says smiling. While Ramirez has never been away from her parents for a long period of time her family is supportive of her going abroad because they understand the value of such a program. What Ramirez hopes to learn on her first trip abroad is to find out how Costa Ricans get their neighbors to buy into the idea of sustainability and hopes to apply what she learns about sustainability to her community.
The Empowering Youth Through Travel project has also recently partnered with the Passport Party Project sponsored by Expedia. The partnership will provide ten girls in Chicago their first passport. “For young women, traveling builds confidence, encourage decision making and gives them the opportunity to learn and absorb other cultures,” says Mann.
After the completion of the program these students become global ambassadors in their communities with new skills and perspectives. Students feel the program will impact their friends and family because, “when people see me going overseas that’s going to inspire them to travel and learn about sustainability and if you’ve never been overseas join the program. It’s going to be a great experience!” says Burrell. For more information on Empowering Youth Through Travel contact Jessica Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.eytt.org.