More than 100,000 teens dressed in football jerseys came out onto the streets of Asunción to clean the streets in September 2000. The cleaning was symbolic; youth were demanding a Paraguay clean of corruption and apathy. That non-violent demonstration gave rise to Juventud que se Mueve (Youth on the Move), a group that has evolved from organizing direct actions to creating programs that build young people’s capacity to produce lasting change in the country.
Today, Juventud que se Mueve (JQM) is led by 23-year-old Cristian Sosa. He works alongside a talented team of accomplished democracy practitioners, also in their 20s, to promote civic education and participation initiatives for Paraguay’s youth. Through leadership trainings, human rights workshops and government collaborations, Cristian and his team have had a wide range of success supporting youth, who make up 60 percent of the population. With funding and support from NED, they have been able to further expand their role in Paraguay’s civil society.
“Through our programs, youth leaders have strengthened their own initiatives or gone on to support other important causes,” he said. Essentially, JQM acts as an incubator for young leaders and their ventures, providing them with the capacity and resources to make substantial and positive changes in the country.
Cristian says his vision for the next five years is “to build a youth network that is capable of developing new participation mechanisms and development models.” He is also coordinating the Youth Institute Project, a historic initiative that aims to establish a formal process of youth democratic education in Paraguay, drawing upon the expertise of prominent advisors from several disciplines. Ultimately, JQM aspires to expand its youth democratic education and participation model to Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay.
“We imagine JQM becoming an important youth movement with regional influence,” he said.
Within Paraguay, the organization has made a considerable impact on policy. One of its biggest successes last year was bringing together participants of JQM’s Youth Leadership Program with popular media figures, educators and civil society leaders. The coalition worked to convince the Paraguayan Congress to approve the creation of a billion dollar public trust fund. The money—which was approved—is being used to finance a number of public educational initiatives around the country over the next ten years.
Cristian will undoubtedly continue to be a strong and outspoken advocate for democracy and youth participation in Paraguay. His national television appearances have built upon JQM’s efforts and encouraged youth around the country to get involved in their communities. In a country that is often overshadowed by its neighbors, Cristian’s story provides an encouraging and successful example of leadership for both Paraguay and the larger region.