The following are answers from a panel discussion in El Progreso, Yoro on March 12, 2012. Please note that these opinions are individual and are not a reflection of the Organization for Youth Empowerment.
What is the biggest problem facing the youth of Honduras?
“Abandonment. So many youth are simply abandoned by their families, with some parents taking off for the United States and leaving them behind. Others are abandoned by their own families here in Honduras. How can you expect a child to grow up normally if they don’t know what family is?” -Maria, Volunteer Teacher
“Drug-trafficking. Honduras has become a state ruled by drug lords, whether it acknowledges it or not. The government can’t do anything about it because it’s funded by drug lords. Journalists can’t write about it or else they’ll get killed. And youth are drawn to it because they feel like there is no other alternative. It’s the reason why Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.” -Saul, Secondary School Teacher
“I have worked to help teenagers recover from drug use. Many unemployed youth are using drugs, and they have to find the money to support their addictions in some way. They join youth gangs not only to defend their territory but also to distribute. They steal, kill people, fight, and do everything they have to do to get the money to buy drugs.” –Christian, psychologist
What is the Honduran government doing to invest in educational reform?
“How can we possibly think about educational reform when we’re barely just getting by? In many Honduran schools, we still have teachers who are giving classes without a roof, without desks, or under a tree. Many teach at locations that are too far away from the children’s homes. And dropout rates are through the roof.” -Christian, psychologist
“We have to look at the root causes, one of which was the signing of 1990 Washington Consensus that transformed Honduras into a neoliberal, market-based economy. The policies that strengthened the market reduced the chances for country to offer services like education, health, etc. Instead, we invested in things to favor the market, like street infrastructure. And where are we now? It is difficult to find employment. Public services aren’t available. Access to hospitals is limited. Schools don’t have enough teachers. All of this is caused by policies that have been around for 20 years.” -Luis, sociologist
What are the conditions like in your school?
“Imagine teaching 73 kindergarteners. Now imagine teaching 73 kindergarteners underneath a tree in the blazing sun. That’s what I do every day, and the government only pays me $100 per year.” -Maria, volunteer teacher
At what age is education compulsory?
“The law…HA! The law says that all children must go to school up to 6th grade. But in Honduras, what the law says is one thing. What actually happens is another. Here the law is just paper…meaningless.” -Maria, volunteer teacher
“We live in country that doesn’t respect human rights, including the right to education. Even more violations, particularly to the right to life, happen as the result of drug trafficking. In Honduras, trafficking and consumption of drugs have increased to tremendous levels, and the population that is most affected are teenagers.” -Saul, Secondary School Teacher
Is there an association of teachers that tries to reach out to youth in remote areas?
“There is no association of teachers that tries to reach out to youth in Honduras’s more remote locations. The work is only done informally by volunteers like Maria who see a need in the community. There are not enough volunteers who give time to these causes since they don’t receive just compensation for all of the work that goes into educating a child.” -Saul, Secondary School Teacher
Does the freedom of expression exist in Honduras?
“Last year 17 journalists were murdered, and in December 2011 a well-known journalist, Alfredo Landaverde, was killed for his coverage of drug trafficking in the country. People don’t have the liberty to express themselves about these issues or say things about the government. The police here aren’t the CSI or FBI you see on TV – they’re just as corrupt as the drug traffickers and are involved in organized crime. They’re the ones who killed Landaverde.” –Christian, psychologist
How does the Honduran government respond to the problems confronting its youth?
“The Government doesn’t have the funds to help these teenagers. There are no resources. Honduras depends on the help of other countries and non-government organizations to do what the State can’t.” –Christian, psychologist
“The government can’t speak out against the drug lords because they are financed by drug money! The government has to pay the political favor or else they get killed. Middlemen get paid a lot when they sell drugs like cocaine, but when one drug seller gets killed, there is a line of young kids who are waiting to take his place. It’s a vicious cycle.” –Luis, sociologist
“It hurts me so much because this is our country. What is most important to me are the kids. I am proud that my students who graduated in 2006 from 6th grade are now in their careers. I have to keep doing this. Everything I do, I do with my heart.” –Maria, volunteer teacher