Afghan & Honduran share a common mission & U.S. State Department honor

By Jillian Slutzker

April 21, 2016

Hailing from different corners of the globe, Honduran skater Jessel Recinos Fernandez and Afghan online campaigner Ahmad Shakib Mohsanyar have at least two things in common—a drive to create positive change in their communities and the recognition of the U.S. State Department.

For their efforts to create positive social change, Fernandez and Mohsanyar were selected to receive the State Department’s 2016 Emerging Young Leaders Award. They are two of only 10 young people from around the world between the ages of 16 to 24 to receive the honor.

“They represent the power of young people to launch grass-roots initiatives to improve their communities,” said Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, speaking at the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., April 20.

The Emerging Young Leaders Award and Exchange Program brings leaders like Fernandez and Mohsanyar together with other young leaders and experts in their fields from the U.S. and other countries to share best practices, sharpen their leadership skills and form invaluable networks that will help amplify the results of their projects.

From gang member to role model in Honduras

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Jessel Recinos Fernandez at the Emerging Young Leaders Awards ceremony on April 20 in Washington, D.C. Photo by U.S. Department of State.

Fernandez is being honored for his role as the founder and leader of the Skate Brothers Club, a club for at–risk youth to learn rollerblading, skateboarding, BMX, and breakdancing, and gain a sense of belonging and direction to keep them off the streets and away from gang violence.

Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world, suffering from a nationwide gang violence epidemic. Its capital city, San Pedro Sula, has earned the unenviable moniker “the murder capital of the world.”

Fernandez’s Skate Brothers is one of nearly 40 youth activity clubs run out of 46 youth Outreach Centers across the Honduras as part of the Alianza Joven Honduras project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International.

The Outreach Centers provide a haven for at-risk youth like Fernandez and safe spaces for recreation, tutoring, music lessons, life skills, vocational training, volunteering and more.

For a younger Fernandez, growing up in the violence-plagued town of Cofradia just outside of San Pedro Sula, a violence-free future—let alone an honor from the State Department—was unimaginable. Like many other youth in his neighborhood, Fernandez became involved in gang life.

But after being shot, Fernandez realized he needed to change course.

“When I got to the hospital the doctors couldn’t believe it,” he said at the awards ceremony. “They thought I should have been dead. Then I realized that perhaps life was giving me another chance to do something else with it.”

He became involved in his neighborhood Outreach Center and discovered a path to a different kind of life, one with a brighter future. In 2011, he founded the Skate Brothers Club and has not turned back since.

Fernandez views the club as a platform to not only teach at-risk youth new sporting skills, but to help them avoid going down the same perilous road he did.

“We want to prevent these young people from getting lost,” he said in a 2014 video about the club. “We are not only teaching skating, but giving them moral values, giving them the respect they deserve and teaching them new things.”

Giving Afghan youth a reason to stay

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Ahmad Shakib Mohsanyar at the Emerging Young Leaders Awards ceremony on April 20 in Washington, D.C. Photo by U.S. Department of State.

Mohsanyar is being honored for founding and leading the “Afghanistan Needs You” social media campaign to encourage young Afghans to stay in the country and build their futures at home.

In recent years, emigration has drained the country of young educated Afghans, which has had negative implications for the country’s economy as it recovers from years of conflict.

“Afghanistan has changed a lot since 2001, and the youth should stay in the country and help their future or to make their future,” said Mohsanyar.

To date, the Afghanistan Needs You campaign has garnered more than 26,000 likes on Facebook and international media coverage from the BBC and Deustche Welle, among others.

Mohsanyar says the award is not only an honor for him but also offers more motivation to Afghans of his generation to stay in their country and find success there.

“This award will open the door to new opportunities that can further help my country and the youth. It will increase my commitment, and I hope this can be an inspiration for other youth of my country to be part of this development and not leave their country,” he says.

Offline as well, Mohsanyar has done his part to keep his peers in the country.

As a Job Development Officer and Training and Placement Expert with the Afghanistan Holding Group, he organized training courses to equip young job seekers and workers with the workforce skills that companies need and then helped to match them with available positions or to secure promotions. Rather than fleeing the country for work, his peers can find a path to economic independence and a stable income at home.

The group is a grantee of the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative.

Through grantees like the Afghanistan Holding Group, the program has trained more than 27,000 young Afghans with in-demand job skills. More than 17,000 of these graduates have found work, received promotions and/or increased their wages.

All photos by the U.S. Department of State.

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