Bryan Alegado was born in Parang, a coastal town in the southern region of the Philippines called Mindanao, where poverty, lack of opportunities and violence are at the root of pervasive instability.
Parang is just 45 miles away from Marawi City, where in May 2017, conflict broke out between armed groups and the Philippine government, displacing nearly 360,000 people and further destabilizing the region.
At age 2, Bryan’s father was gunned down in a neighboring town due to rido, feuding between families and clans that often involves retaliatory violence. In Mindanao, rido causes numerous casualties, cripples the economy and displaces families.
Although Bryan was just old enough to walk, it seemed his life path already lay before him.
As Bryan grew older, he wanted to become a soldier so that he could avenge his father’s death. Meanwhile, he filled his father’s shoes by caring for his mother and siblings. He worked at a sari-sari (small grocery) store and washed cars. At 15, he dropped out of school so that he could spend more time earning for his family.
While the economic hubs of Mindanao flourish, poverty rates can exceed 70 percent in some parts of the region, stamping out opportunities for young people and making way for rebel groups and extremists—including from other countries—to take root.
In some of the most poverty-stricken areas of Mindanao, one in six youth are out of school. These youth are targeted to fight for an extremist ideology, lured with cash incentives and the promise of steady pay.
In 2016, Bryan heard about a local program that offered free job training for young people like him. It was just the opportunity Bryan had been looking for to secure a better future for himself and his family.
The training was a part of USAID’s Mindanao Youth for Development project, which, in partnership with the Philippine government, has been improving the education, life skills and employability of out-of-school youth who live in the region’s conflict-affected areas since 2013.
“I needed reliable skills for a more stable job,” Bryan recalls.
He chose a course in welding. While in training, Bryan participated in life skills workshops that steer youth toward productive adulthood. He learned skills like leadership, teamwork, financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
As a part of their civic engagement, Bryan and his classmates planted mangroves, which protect communities from storm surges and provide habitat to important marine life.
After four months of perfect attendance, Bryan graduated and received his national competency certificate from the Philippine Technical Education and Skills Authority.
“Completing this course gave me the best feeling,” recalls Bryan.
Bryan and eight classmates formed a welder’s guild and registered their organization at the Department of Labor and Employment. USAID helped the group purchase equipment while the local government donated supplies and a space near town hall for the youth to establish their shop and access electricity.
Today, Bryan is the leader of the guild. His team has been commissioned to make metal road signs, school gates, window grills and fencing—projects that make their community safer.
Bryan also took up part-time work as a laborer at a construction site. While the tasks can be challenging, he relies on his trained hands to skillfully secure rivets of metal ceiling joists and weld links for iron railings and window grills.
Bryan finds this hard work fulfilling. He is building up his community and contributing to its development.
Bryan abandoned his boyhood dream of retribution for a path toward productive adulthood.
“I have only one memory of my father. He was driving a service truck and he smiled at me,” Bryan said.
“This memory gives me hope as I reach for my dream. Wherever he is, I know that he’s smiling at me, and I want to make him proud.”
USAID’s Mindanao Youth for Development project has helped nearly 16,000 youth across Mindanao complete life and technical skills training since its start in July 2013, reaching one-third of the conflict-affected areas where the out-of-school youth incidence is highest.
USAID also established out-of-school youth development alliances in eight communities, convening local governments, academia, the private sector and national government agencies to address issues important to out-of-school youth and link them to employment.
These alliances have raised nearly $550,000 to provide scholarships, tools and support for community service projects.