Social and Cultural Integration through Youth Empowerment

Promoting and supporting refugee youth's meaningful participation.

Social and Cultural Integration through Youth Empowerment

Promoting and supporting refugee youth's meaningful participation.

The project in brief

Implemented by

RET Americas, RET International


Latin America - Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and Costa Rica


The project started in 2012. 

The RET regional Programme for LAC has ended, but RET continues operating in the Americas with the support of the same donor and others to address the needs and aspirations of displaced and crisis affected young people and their families. In the LAC region, RET is operating in Mexico, Belize, Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia and Peru.


One of RET’s transferable models of intervention is training youth to become more self-reliant actors for positive social change in their communities. This successful approach of Youth Empowerment has been adapted to several contexts and successfully implemented in several countries in Latin America.

The basic model is composed of a core training for youth on the following topics: concepts of good leadership; how to build successful strategies for youth and adult partnerships; understanding the causes of conflict and exploring ways to reduce and resolve conflict; Asset-Based Community Development, namely tapping on team’s and community’s assets so as to ensure sustainability. During the training, participants must design a project for positive social change, incorporating the principles explored in the training. The themes and scope of work for the projects must be their own decision. When projects are not a one off event and span a period of time youth are trained in management and monitoring of the project activities to deliver the desired outcomes.

By working together across divides of age, gender, nationality, religion and language the youth engaged in social change activities are building tolerance and understanding which ultimately promote and foster peace.

Project aims 

RET Programme was designed to address the needs of refugee, asylum seekers families, and the hosting communities through 5 main approaches:

  1. humanitarian assistance,
  2. institutional strengthening,
  3. protection services,
  4. socio-cultural integration, and
  5. livelihoods.

The good practice described here relates to the socio-cultural integration component under which RET has develop a strong youth empowerment/agency model by promoting and supporting youth meaningful participation in public spaces to look for the solutions to the issues affecting their lives. 

Resources used 

Elements that facilitated the implementation of the project include:

  • Funding by US Bureau of Population, Refugees & Migration
  • A very good relationship with the local, provincial and national authorities
  • A very good understanding of local socio-cultural dynamics, youth issues so as to provide relevant support to young people.
  • Adaptation of the programme activities to the availability of adolescents and youth (working regularly during weekends and after school/work hours)
  • The institutional expertise on adolescents and youth issues gained since RET inception in 2000, which contributed to apply good practices and address challenges in a timely and efficient manner
  • The support of different RET experts from HQ, regional and national levels at different moments of the implementation process.


  • The Red Cross
  • Costa Rica Directorate General of Migration and Foreign Nationals
  • Costa Rica Migration and Refugees Sub-committee of the National Commission for the Improvement of the Administration of Justice (CONAMA)
  • Ministry of Culture
  • The National University (UNA)
  • The Social Research Institute of the University of Costa Rica
  • San Judas Tadeo University of Costa Rica
  • Ecuador Office of Youth of the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion
  • Ecuador Municipality and House of Youth of San Lorenzo,
  • Venezuela National Refugees Commission, Identification, Migration and Foreign Affairs Service (SAIME),
  • Panama National Committee for Migrants and Refugees (MENAMIRE)
  • Child and Adolescent Rights Observatory in Panama (ODENA)
  • Panama’s Civil Society Committee for the Monitoring of the Brazil Action Plan
  • HRIT Group in Panama

Challenges and how they were overcome


  • Many of the youth targeted for RET’s programme were forced to flee their country of origin.
  • Arriving in a new country they faced multifaceted challenges to being self-reliant and achieving their dreams. Some faced obstacles to accessing education, employment as well as cultural and sports activities due to discrimination and prejudices.
  • Unfortunately, the majority of youth lacked the support and guidance needed to successfully manage the discrimination and prejudices in order to successfully integrate, become self-reliant, and pursue their dreams.

How they were overcome

  • RET’s regional programme started in 2008 and was completed in 2016.
  • The first steps were taken in 2008 and 2009, with the first interventions in support for refugee families and persons in situations of vulnerability in Latin America & the Caribbean, always emphasising the protection of the youth through education. The following years were an evolution and consolidation of a vision to strengthen the participation and organisation of young people onto groups, strengthening their capacities to meet their aspirations as agents of social change.
  • During 2010-2015 a regional vision was consolidated in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama and Venezuela where RET was implementing a multi-sectoral service approach to target youth families. Within this framework, youth participation and youth agency through local youth-led groups was promoted.
  • A comprehensive approach was employed successfully promoting participation, learning, and youth leadership which included: workshops on topics such as violence (in its multiple forms), discrimination and xenophobia; recovery of historical memory; processes for the development of teamwork capabilities, organisation and leadership; the development of life skills through theatre, music and sports; and preparation for access to employment and the support for the development of sustainable income-generating activities.

Results of the Good Practice 

  • Participants state they acquired the knowledge and tools to manage their emotions to constructively confront situations involving discrimination and xenophobia, generating cohesive communities based on values of respect of diversity and tolerance.
  • Participants improved levels of self-esteem and motivation and are assuming positive leadership roles amongst their peers and within their communities.
  • Perception that host community respect participants’ identity and culture increased from 54% to 70%.

We are doing something good for ourselves and society. We are learning about lots of different issues and educating others in order to have an equal world without discrimination and without borders. - Member-Madiba Youth Group


How the project meets the GCR Objectives

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

In Latin America, RET’s regional programme promoting successful social integration of refugee youth into local communities helped form youth networks to promote and support youth meaningful participation in public spaces to look for the solutions to the issues affecting their lives. These youth networks, some more formal than others, committed to continuing activities for inter-community understanding and peaceful co-existence after RET project ended.

Particularly, during 2012-15 all young people from the 4 countries actively work to design, implement and lead a regional campaign aiming  ‘to end xenophobia and discrimination’ across four countries. These youth networks have organised their own local campaigns under the slogan ‘All that unites us!’ Young people who are members of the socio-cultural networks have taken on leadership and the mobilization of their communities. They have been innovative in their use of social media fora, street theatre and artwork, alongside more traditional awareness-raising mechanisms. They have taken advantage of public spaces and coordinating with humanitarian organizations, public entities and youth networks.

One outstanding example of this RET project results is the Youth Network “Jovenes Madiba” in Costa Rica.  Jovenes Madiba is the result of young people’s efforts and accompaniment provided by RET. It consists of young men and women, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from all over Latin America, as well as local Costa Ricans. Most of the members are between 14 and 24 years of age. The group has been progressively getting stronger, acquiring more autonomy, developing participation capacities, and increasingly involved within the community,

RET’s leadership, trainings, and various activities helped them recognize their individual capacities and break through several social-economic barriers and fears allowing them to develop the self-confidence and leadership skills into enter different social spaces and strategically and positively engage the community.  

After 2 years of hands on support, mentorship, and trainings from RET, the youth group decided to start their own journey and become more autonomous. They named themselves” Jóvenes Madiba”. Their mission is to “promote the human rights of young people who are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica.

We aim to build a new citizenry through socio-educational processes that understand diversity based on respect and non-discrimination. We look to generate changes in communities of this country by searching for opportunities to promote social equity.


To achieve their mission Jóvenes Madiba planned, organized, and implemented three campaigns in the past years:

  1. No to discrimination, Yes to Integration: An initiative to prevent violence and xenophobia.
  2. Community theater: to create social bonds and promote a culture of peace, and promote the social cultural integration of young migrants and refugees in their host communities.
  3. Gender and sexuality: to promote equal relationships between both sexes by analyzing gender roles, reflect on structures that promote inequality and provide basic learning on risk-free sexuality.

The group continues participating and leading different initiatives at community level. They obtained a legal status allowing them to operate as an independent entity, managing funding and projects on their own.

By providing youth with trainings, mentorship, and the space to be creative, RET proved that empowering youth quickly demonstrates their capacity to be self-reliant and leaders for positive social change.

Next steps 

In LAC, RET continues working with and for young under different modalities and projects. This project has set up the methodology, the strategies and scope of work with regard to displaced and crisis affected young people.

Certainly, RET expects to expand this type of intervention in other localities and countries upon reception of funding.


Submitted by: 

Lauren Burns, Knowledge Management Manager, RET Americas