400 Honduran volunteers ramp up violence prevention efforts

By Jillian Slutzker

November 30, 2015



For youth in Honduras’ most violent neighborhoods, volunteers with Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID are a lifeline to opportunity and hope. At a volunteer retreat, volunteers discuss what inspires them, how they support each other and the change they hope to create.

More than 400 volunteers with Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID are bringing renewed energy and lessons learned back to the youth they serve in some of the country’s most high-risk, crime-affected areas.

In four retreats held in cities across the country, the volunteers participated in trainings and exercises in leadership development, entrepreneurship, teambuilding and more to improve their implementation of violence prevention activities for at-risk youth at more than 46 neighborhood Outreach Centers.

Volunteers from the San Pedro Sula region work on a puzzle game at a volunteer retreat. Perseverance and problem-solving are key components of volunteer training. Photo by Alejandro Rodriguez.

These Outreach Centers are part of the Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID program, which supports community-based violence prevention initiatives from youth outreach centers to municipal violence prevention committees in partnership with local communities, the Honduran government and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

By bringing volunteers together and sharpening their skills, the program, which is implemented by Creative Associates International, helps to bolster a cadre of local leaders to reach thousands of youth in high-risk areas with mentorship and positive messages of nonviolent conflict resolution and youth empowerment.

“Volunteering is the backbone of the Outreach Centers, as it is an indispensable and valuable element of this violence prevention model. To operate adequately, all Outreach Centers must have the right people leading the different components, ensuring that a wide range of prevention services are offered to youth in these communities,” says Yolanda Torres, who works for Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID as a coordinator of volunteers.

The retreats also coincide with the launch of the program’s 5-Star Volunteer system—designed to recognize volunteers for outstanding contributions to youth crime and violence prevention and showcase the skills and competencies they have gained through their volunteerism.

For at-risk youth, volunteers provide a lifeline to alternative opportunities for education, recreation, personal growth and job skills training, off the streets and away from gang violence. Collectively, they are helping to expand opportunity and hope to young people in Honduras’ most violent neighborhoods.

“My neighborhood was known as one of the most dangerous in the city. I believe that has changed because of my volunteering and also because of my fellow volunteers,” says, Gerson Garcia, a volunteer at the Primero de Mayo Outreach Center in La Ceiba. “We’ve helped many young people to discover a lifestyle far away from the gangs. It’s possible.”

To see a slideshow from the volunteer retreats, please click here.

Joining a national volunteer movement

Emanuel Rodriguez, Communications Coordinator for Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID, interviews volunteers as part of a media training at a volunteer retreat in Tegucigalpa. Many volunteers are the public face of the Outreach Centers and public speaking is a critical skills for attracting new youth and community partners to the efforts. Photo by Alejandro Rodriguez.

Since the passage of the Honduran Volunteering Law in 2011, there has been growing recognition on a national scale of the value of volunteerism to address social challenges, like crime and violence.  At the four retreats, volunteers participated in workshops to learn more about their right and duties under the law.

There is also a burgeoning national coalition working to strengthen volunteer-based organizations as a means of sustainable development in Honduras, called the Honduras Volunteer Network. As a program supported by thousands of volunteers in dozens of communities, the Alianza Joven Honduras Outreach Center network recently joined the coalition, which includes more than 40 organizations.

Renewed inspiration for volunteers

Working in some of the country’s most crime-affected and impoverished communities, Outreach Center volunteers face an untold number of challenges.

The volunteers, most of whom hail from the same communities as the youth they serve, know the difficulties of life there well—poverty, violence, peer pressure, a transnational family and more. For many, their own experiences have propelled them to take action.

“I decided to become an Outreach Center volunteer because I wish to see a change for my community. As an adult, I reflect on how my life would have turned out if Outreach Centers worked in my community when I was 11 or 12” years old, says Maura Rivas, a volunteer at the El Bufalo Outreach Center in La Ceiba. “An Outreach Center gives the opportunity for development both to volunteers and beneficiaries. Volunteers can share the gifts that God has granted them, while beneficiaries can discover a new lifestyle.”

For Rivas and her fellow volunteers, these retreats provide a much-needed space to step beyond their own communities, and share stories and lessons learned with volunteers from other areas.

Volunteers from Outreach Centers in La Ceiba pledge to work together for a more secure La Ceiba and a stronger Honduras. Photo by David Medina.

While volunteers may face similar challenges across communities, their approaches to overcoming these may vary and can provide valuable new insights, as Yerlin Banegas, a volunteer at the San Jose Outreach Center in San Pedro Sula, explains.

“My favorite part of attending these meetings is getting to know what volunteers in other communities go through because it may show us a new solution that we can do in our Outreach Center. It’s a very enriching experience,” she says.

For example, volunteers may learn new approaches for reaching out to at-risk youth who have not yet visited the Outreach Center. Recruitment can be one of the biggest challenges for volunteers, explains David Medina, Deputy Chief of Party for Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID.

“Through these retreats volunteers share their own ways to get new beneficiaries using creative methods and social media,” he says. “After the retreats volunteers apply those good practices and keep sharing information.”

For other volunteers, hearing about the successes of other Outreach Centers has provided the inspiration and encouragement they needed to ramp up violence prevention efforts in their neighborhoods.

“When there was a possibility to open an Outreach Center in my community, I thought it wouldn’t work,” says Karla Barnica, who has been volunteering at the Lopez Arellano Outreach Center in Choloma since it opened in 2010.

Barnica says that after her first volunteer retreat in 2011, her perspective changed.

“I went to meetings like this, talked to other volunteers and realized that Outreach Centers changed lives in other communities and it could happen in mine.”

As volunteers return to their communities from the retreats, they are eager to impart the knowledge they gained and apply fresh perspectives and techniques to their interactions with at-risk youth.

“I plan to open myself more with the youth, to share the difficult experiences I went through to give them an idea of what life on the streets is like. We need to show them virtues such as love, understanding and friendship. We leave this meeting more prepared and informed to develop a better role in our communities,” says Banegas.

To see the special multimedia report, Honduras: Young Lives in the Balance, click here.

With reporting by Emanuel Rodriguez



For youth in Honduras’ most violent neighborhoods, volunteers with Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID are a lifeline to opportunity and hope. At a volunteer retreat, volunteers discuss what inspires them, how they support each other and the change they hope to create.

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