Honduran volunteers “vaccinate” families against violence

By Jillian Slutzker

February 23, 2016

Forty-five-year-old Jose Lopez was surprised when he answered a knock at his door in the Zapote Norte neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. Often, in this crime-affected community, a knock on the door can mean bad news.

But this time, Jose was greeted by young volunteers who were prepared to give him and his family a “dose of happiness”—and a quick education in how to prevent violence at home and in the community.

As part of the “Virtues in My Home Vaccine Prevention” campaign—an initiative of the Honduran government and Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID—200 volunteers across seven cities delivered anti-violence messages and “shots” of happiness door-to-door to 5,000 households.

Volunteers in the Zapote Norte community in Tegucigalpa walk door-to-door to “vaccinate” neighbors against violence. More than 200 volunteers participated in the campaign. Photo by Emanuel Rodriguez.

“The Virtues in My Home Vaccine Prevention campaign was designed to prevent violence that often occurs within households,” says David Medina, Deputy Director of the Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International.

To prevent a cycle of domestic violence within families, USAID and the Honduran government funded the campaign “to reach households and shine a light on this issue with positive messages shared with families,” Medina says.
Through its more than 45 neighborhood Outreach Centers in at-risk communities in seven cities, Alianza-Joven Honduras-USAID provides youth with access to safe spaces off the streets and away from violence and opportunities for recreation, tutoring, vocational training, mentoring and more.

The two-week campaign is a way to extend support to families in these communities, where domestic violence rates are above average, organizers say. In addition to the door-to-door efforts, Outreach Centers will hold family activities centered on virtues like respect and honesty to continue reinforcing the campaign’s violence prevention message.

Volunteers shift community attitudes

Campaigners educated their neighbors on how to bring virtues into their homes and live healthy, violence-free lives. Photo by Emanuel Rodriguez.

After completing trainings in the “Virtues in my Home” methodology and effective communication, volunteers set off in teams to deliver these messages to their neighbors, along with happiness “shots” to help vaccinate against violence. They also hand each household a Virtues calendar, which features a virtue such as love, respect or honesty each month so families remember them year-round.

Neighbors who are used to witnessing violence have taken note of these young people walking the streets spreading positive messages about violence prevention.

“I think it’s important that the neighborhood kids are participating in these activities,” says 42-year-old Doris Gutierrez in the Estados Unidos community of Tegucigalpa. “Sometimes we see young people as the problem, but now they are the solution.”

For their part, the campaigners, who are also volunteers at their local Outreach Centers, know that their mission is critical.

“We have a duty to try to change these attitudes in the families of our neighborhoods. We witness the violence and if we do nothing it will never change,” says Hilda Rivera Yobely, a volunteer in Zapote Norte.

Yobely says her visits to vaccinate households against violence have been greeted with surprise and smiles. “They are not used to visits with positive message,” she says. “It is something new for them.”

But after just two weeks of campaigning, these positive messages are already sticking. The “vaccinations” against violence might prove to be the medicine people need to change their behavior and alleviate some of the violence afflicting youth and families.

“I think these activities are helping people in the neighborhood and making us wonder if we are doing the right things for our children in our homes,” says Marcio Turcios, who was visited by campaigners in the 21 de Febrero community in Tegucigalpa.

Cesar Palma, a campaign volunteer in the same community and a fitness instructor at an Outreach Center, says people are picking up on the message. For example, Palma spoke to one man in the street about how to prevent violence at home. The man then told Palma he planned to share the message with his family and practice these virtues in his own life.

Palma believes these lessons will keep spreading across communities and ultimately the country well after the campaign itself has ended.

“Love, tolerance and respect,” Palma declares. “That is what can transform Honduras.”

With reporting by Emanuel Rodriguez

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