President Obama commends Honduran champion against violence
By Jillian Slutzker
September 26, 2014
As dignitaries and diplomatic motorcades packed the hotels and clogged the streets of Midtown Manhattan for the U.N. General Assembly, another very important person arrived in New York City for special recognition by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Speaking at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York on Sept. 23, President Obama praised and pledged to continue supporting the efforts of civil society activists around the world fighting for positive change in their communities and countries.
In a crowd of nearly 1,000 world leaders and activists—including actor Matt Damon, World Bank President Jim Kim and philanthropist Melinda Gates—one person stood out for him: Miriam Canales, a Youth Outreach Center coordinator in San Pedro Sula and Choloma, Honduras, who works with Creative Associates International.
“We stand with humanitarians like Miriam Canales,” said Obama, pointing out the Honduran coordinator. “In communities that are wracked at times by horrific violence, children are so terrified to walk the streets that many begin that dangerous and often deadly march north. And Miriam’s outreach centers give them a safe place to play and grow and learn. And she says her dream is ‘that people in Honduras can walk free’ and that young people will have ‘opportunities in their own country.’ We couldn’t be prouder of you, Miriam, and we stand with you.”
Through more than 190 Youth Outreach Centers across Central America, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and run by local partners, Creative has reached more than 43,000 young people in at-risk communities by addressing the factors that make them vulnerable to violence and giving them an alternative to the gang activity wreaking havoc on their communities.
In Canales’s country of Honduras, the murder rate is 79 homicides per 100,000 people, the highest in the world outside a war zone. In San Pedro Sula, an industrial city where she works with at-risk youth, the murder rate is even greater. The violence that Canales and the young people she works with in Alianza Joven Honduras (Youth Alliance Honduras) encounter daily is not only tearing communities apart but is also driving many young Hondurans to risk a very dangerous journey alone to the U.S. for a chance at a better life.
Although the auditorium at the Clinton Global Initiative was packed with prominent figures, Obama made it clear that he was there to spotlight and commend change-makers like Canales working relentlessly and, at times, facing grave threats.
“As leaders, we are not the most important people here today,” President Obama. “The most important title is not president or prime minister; the most important title is citizen…. men and women from around the world who devote their lives and, at times, risk their lives to lifting up their communities, and strengthening their nations, and claiming universal rights on behalf of their fellow citizens.”
Canales will return to Honduras to do just that—fight against violence and give the youth of her country an opportunity to grow, learn and become productive citizens who themselves might also one day become agents of positive change.