Veronica Colondam founded the nonprofit Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa (YCAB) to promote a healthy lifestyle, including drug prevention and HIV/Aids awareness, among adolescents in Indonesia. When she launched her first campaign in 1999, she targeted children in school.
"It's hard to say no to your friends. So we started by teaching kids to be assertive and develop communication and decision making skills," she said.
Since its inception, YCAB's anti-drug and HIV/Aids prevention program has reached one and a half million school children through their Healthy Lifestyle Promotion (HeLP) program.
Despite this success, Veronica realized her message wasn't reaching a large and vulnerable population of children: dropouts. Education in Indonesia is free -- although students often have to pay for books and other small fees -- and compulsory for nine years, but after that, the government starts charging. According to YCAB, an estimated one to three million children drop out of school in Indonesia every year. A major reason is it's too expensive.
"We're talking about $20 dollars a month or less for government-run high schools. But even that, a lot of people cannot afford," Veronica said.
Many families are forced to sacrifice their children's education to meet more immediate needs. "Parents would rather have them work in the streets and bring home food," Veronica said.
If she was going to successfully promote a healthy lifestyle among these children, Veronica decided that she would have to create a more holistic approach to youth development that included access to education and financial stability programs.
"We wanted them to get proactive about their life because when they do, they engage in a healthy lifestyle," she said.
In the past decade, YCAB has expanded from an early focus on drug-prevention and HIV/Aids awareness in schools. In addition to project HeLP, YCAB has launched HoLD, House of Learning and Development, and HOpE, Hands-on Operation for Entrepreneurship.
Project HoLD has currently given more than 8,000 dropouts a second chance at education. The program is a vocational school, teaching children basics like computer skills and English, as well as offering them electives that lead to employment in the hospitality industry, as a mechanic, a seamstress or beautician.
Veronica stays motivated by the changes she sees in the children enrolled in these programs.
"If you work with at risk children you see that they don't look at you in the eye, they feel left out and maybe feel lower than people in general so they don't have that confidence. Their body language shows that they're inferior," she said
She remembers Kemal, one of the students who graduated from HoLD, who not only has a job now, but also the confidence to succeed. "He has become very ambitious and the company is so inspired," she said.
Another student learned to cut hair at HoLD a few years ago and is now benefiting from YCAB's third initiative, HOpE, which has provided seed capital to 1,650 entrepreneurs.
"She graduated and worked in a salon and built her portfolio," Veronica said. "Now a microloan from HoPE is helping her finance her education to become an instructor for one of the beautician courses at HoLD."
In the coming year, Veronica plans to take YCAB international and hopes to operate multiple youth development programs in countries throughout Asia.
"There's a benefit to society, but at the same time it gives me a fulfillment and satisfaction. I feel like I am living the purpose of my being here on earth," she said.