Stories of Change: From Gang Member to Police Officer

Ericson Casimero’s life could have turned out very differently. Gang violence, drugs, and unemployment were rife in his community in Manila, Philippines. As a teenager, he joined a gang and drank every night. And he had little faith that things would change. Then Zone One Tondo Organisation (ZOTO), a former EMpower grantee partner, entered the picture. And slowly, things started looking up. 

A federation of underserved community groups in Manila, ZOTO is the oldest organisation serving urban, under-resourced communities in the Philippines. The organisation aims to improve the economic prospects of marginalised youth and adults through education and vocational training and gender equity initiatives, as well as by fostering leadership skills. In a partnership that spanned over 10 years, EMpower’s grants to ZOTO supported young people in developing promising livelihoods through job readiness training and coaching. And our support helped strengthen young people’s awareness of sexual and reproductive health, human rights, violence prevention, and the reduction of the risks associated with natural disasters like typhoons—which are very common in the region. Over the years, thousands of marginalised young people attended ZOTO trainings and forums, learning skills that set them on a different path.

In 2017, ZOTO’s Livelihoods Coordinator visited Ericson’s home to tell him about the organisation’s Job Readiness and Computer Literacy course, hoping he would see the value in signing up. Initially, Ericson wasn’t keen to enroll. But after learning that some of his friends were going, he changed his mind. Not only did he complete the two-month course, he aced its computer module. After graduating, ZOTO and EMpower helped Ericson apply for work. He managed to secure a paid internship as a coder with the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD). Ericson had always wanted to study criminology, and shortly after being employed by DSWD, the Livelihoods Coordinator was able to find a school offering a course in criminology without a tuition fee. 

Fast forward to today: Ericson just graduated college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology from the City of Malabon University, on his way to fulfilling his dream of becoming a policeman. “I will continue to train until I become a policeman,” he said. “I have experienced hardship before I changed myself. I hope that one day I can pay back the people who have helped me, by helping other youth in return. I want to show my fellow youth from urban poor communities that we have a bright future waiting for us if we strive for success.” 

Though now a “sunsetted” grantee partner of EMpower, ZOTO continues to have long-lasting impact on young people's lives.

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