This could be an X-ray of what people who decide to migrate from the Northern Triangle of Central America to the United States go through. Arriving alive is the first wish, the second is to get a better life. In pursuit of those goals, many things are learned: among them is that there is no "American dream" as they say, at least not for the majority of irregular migrants; the other thing is that those who return to their countries of origin bring back more challenges than they left with, but they will have more opportunities to apply their acquired knowledge in order to further their new life plan.
If we had a bird's eye view of the San Vicente municipal market in El Salvador, we would witness a fervent hustle and bustle like nowhere else. That is how these markets are in Central American cities, a lot of comings and goings every day. William Díaz Reyes has his business (and his home) in this "strategic place," as he himself calls it. It is located right where everything happens: transactions, exchanges, meetings, thousands of people moving around, buying and selling. Although the hustle and bustle is an everyday occurrence, the positive aspect of being located right in the market is that a large number of customers frequent the place every day. It is a place full of movement, life, smells, flavors and workers who, like him, are looking for opportunities.
William speaks with determination, he has clear ideas and is a very kind person. When you walk into his house, you are surrounded by all sorts of appliances, loud music, a fan and comfortable inviting armchairs which are perfect for long conversations. William has the facility to communicate with people and speaks very confidently about his venture, which —although recently launched—looks as if it will be successful.
"I started this business a year ago. The initial investment wasn’t that big, and I already have about 30 regular customers."
However, this picture was not the same as a few years ago. Although it may not seem like it, William's story is that of millions of Central American migrants detained and deported from the United States without having committed any crime other than being in an irregular situation. Unlike the trip north that took a month by land, the way back home only took three hours. He had no time to take any of his belongings other than what he was wearing. He did bring back an intangible asset, though: his knowledge and experience.
“I had a dream of a better economic future, I wanted to give my children more opportunities. In El Salvador, given my economic situation, I could not give them a good education, a quality education. On top of that, we also have a big problem with delinquency,” says William.
In the United States, he worked in a drywall manufacturing company. He began hauling materials from one place to another until he was promoted to the role of group leader thanks to an industrial bachelor's degree in electronics and some unfinished studies in electronic engineering he took up in El Salvador. "I always wanted to go to college," he says, "but I could never realize that dream because I had children at a very young age and my family was very poor."
During his years abroad, he became a professional welder, learned about the drywall installation system that allowed him to work for several companies and about automobile mechanics. “When I arrived in El Salvador, I wanted to have proof that I had acquired all that knowledge. I entered the New Opportunities (Nuevas Oportunidades) competency program and obtained an official certification as a drywall installer through the Salvadoran Chamber of Construction Industry (CASALCO), Swisscontact and the Salvadoran Vocational Training Institute (INSAFORP)”, which are the institutions the project works with.
“Like everybody else, we want to go to the United States to change our life story and it is very hard to come back with nothing. There is a lot of frustration and discouragement.”
Even though it is hard to leave everything behind, it is even more difficult to come back feeling that everything is lost. “As part of the program's support, we were able to improve our life skills and receive psychological therapy to get motivated again, to understand that the world did not end when we returned, to put aside the feeling that life is over,” says William. This kind of psychological support allows returnees to reintegrate emotionally into their communities and families, which makes it easier for them to get a job or to create a business.
Nonetheless, the support does not end there; after the certification, people can also participate in life skills workshops, get psychosocial and medical care as well as legal assistance. At the same time, they are registered with an employment agency where they have the opportunity to get a job; those who want to work on their own can choose to get further training in order to strengthen their entrepreneurial skills, seek advice for small entrepreneurs or obtain seed capital for their business, as William is doing. William is also one of those who were officially accredited so that he can work as an electrician in his country, El Salvador.
It seems that William is unstoppable. He has as many ideas as appliances to repair, and he understands the business well. "There is a lot of potential," he says. “There are people who can’t afford to spend 80 dollars on a new appliance, so they come here and I repair it for 10 dollars.” It was crucial for William to obtain the official electrician's license. This greatly expanded his business prospects as he is also able to perform installations for private households as well as for companies.
Certification, psychological support and entrepreneurship training are the key for the reintegration of returnees in their countries of origin.
The New Opportunities program offers a fresh start for people like William who gained experience abroad, be it as construction workers, electricians, cooks or other roles in the service industry such as hotel receptionists. Spaces were created for them where they can demonstrate their knowledge in a practical way. Through an official certification system based on established standards, they can obtain a certificate issued by INSAFORP, which is endorsed by the chamber of construction or tourism, depending on the trade. To date, more than 200 certificates have been issued and support to find employment or to start their own business has been given to over 150 returnees.
The project is funded by the Avina Foundation, Medicor Foundation and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).