Volunteering to spotlight youth in Honduras

Creative Associates International

December 5, 2013


When Eli Pineda began taking psychology classes at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, the homicide rate in neighborhoods a short walk beyond campus was at a record high. By the time he enrolled as a senior this year, it had surged another 30 percent.

Tegucigalpa remains one of the most crime-ridden cities in the world, a designation that mars the daily lives of its residents with fear and loss.

Young people are the most common perpetrators—and victims—of the violence. For 23-year-old Pineda, they’re also the best hope of turning it around.

To do his part in leading positive change in his own community and country, he volunteers with the Youth Against Violence movement that is active in Honduras and six other Central American countries.

The movement is working on the issue of violence prevention, and putting pressure on decision-makers to make changes for the country. Creative Associates International, with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, was instrumental in launching the movements in the seven Central American countries.

On this International Volunteer Day 2013, Creative presents a conversation with Pineda about what drives him to volunteer, what the youth movement is doing in Honduras, and what it’s like to be a young person there.

All seven country coordinators from the Youth Against Violence Movement in Central America will be in Washington, D.C. to present their efforts at an event hosted by Creative, USAID, and the World Bank on December 11. 

Creative: What motivates you to volunteer with the Youth Against Violence movement?

Pineda: I have pretty ingrained moral values, such as love, respect, and responsibility. It’s a part of my personality to generate support and help people, to have that drive toward social service.

Volunteering with Youth Against Violence also opens the world. Sometimes, we find ourselves insulated within our own homes, lives or families. We don’t see the reality that other people are living.

When I visited the Outreach Centers, which work with the Youth Alliance Honduras, it’s real. It is raw. Seeing that is all the motivation I need.

Last year the murder rates (in Honduras) only decreased by 1 percentage point. That’s quite worrying, because it means not enough work is getting done.

But we have a great deal of confidence that we can change the situation. Young people are more than 68 percent of the Honduran population.

Creative: What are the goals of the movement in Honduras?

Pineda: The objectives of the organization are clear given the problems currently facing the Honduran population. We are all committed to advocacy. From that, we design and carry out awareness campaigns both for the general population, and for decision-makers.

If we don’t sensitize decision-makers, they are not going to change the laws, they will not be able to legislate, not be able to promote new initiatives for real change. So our activities, all our movements go directly to influencing these decision-makers in a strategic way.

We are in Tegucigalpa but we also have chapters that are in the country; in Choloma, La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula and a recently-opened chapter in El Progreso, a city with a high degree of violence.

We draw our information from the Violence Observatory, which is administered by the National Autonomous University of Honduras, as well as doing our own investigations based on reliable neutral sources.

Creative: What is it like to be a young person in Honduras?

Pineda: Here in Honduras you go out and you do not know what can happen. The statistics are chilling. And it’s something you live every day.

Many young people have family problems and try to create a sense of belonging for themselves. They live in communities that are highly vulnerable to violence. And the government does not always succeed in creating spaces for young people to get involved.

The lack of jobs is a major issue. Many young people are poor, live in run-down communities –where just around the corner they find drugs and weapons. The quality of education is low, and children are passed through the system just to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Many young people drop out of the educational system and resort to crime.

Children in Honduras are even used as mules in schools—reputable private schools, too—they carry drugs amidst their notebooks.

Then the problem becomes even worse, because kids who steal or sell drugs are sent to detention centers with the kids who have committed murder. They don’t learn a trade, or get rehabilitated in any way. So, if I was sentenced for stealing a wallet and Linda came in for killing a person and we’re both in the same cell, Linda will learn to steal, and I will learn to kill.

In this punitive environment, kids learn everything. And when they complete their sentence, they leave resentful, and they leave as experts.

Creative: How have you made people pay attention to what’s going on in Honduras today?

Pineda: We created a campaign called “Ojo con la Juventud, Antes que un Ataúd” (“Beware Now Before You’re in a Coffin”).  It was a campaign that raised a lot of awareness—for young people and for public officials and decision-makers.

We did a pre-launch campaign and then officially presented it for the launch of the Year of Violence Prevention at a very, very formal event. The entire government cabinet was there—the president, international partners—all of civil society, the media, etc. And what we did was set out a coffin, as if we were at a wake.

It was shocking to come in and see a casket. Nobody expected it because it was a very formal event.

It was open, just as when you go to a funeral and can look in to see the person who has died. What we did was remove the transparent glass and replace it with a mirror. So when we sent people to go see who was in the coffin, the person would see a reflection of themselves.

That’s what we wanted to convey. We wanted to remind people that violence does not discriminate. Violence can attack any of us. And to show that, there was a sign on the door that read, “You could be the next victim.”

Even President Porfirio Lobo Sosa looked into the casket, and said: “I do not want to see myself in there.” 

Creative: What else has been effective in getting your message out?

Pineda: After the initial launch, we made 10, actual-size coffins. We put them out in the street, in places that are very crowded at peak hours where nobody could pass without seeing the message.

All the volunteers had banners calling for more education, not more weapons. We distributed flyers and also had a survey that more than two thousand people filled out. We asked all people who answered, “What do you think about the fact that in Honduras, you can carry five weapons legally?” The majority of respondents did not even realize that was the case.

Creative: Tell us how you’re using the media to get out the message?

Pineda: We also produce a TV program that has the same objective that the organization does, which is to make the issues visible, raise awareness and advocate. We promote national identity in Honduras.

The presenters on the show have shown that they really want to change the country, and they have shown enough responsibility and commitment to the organization.

The program targets children, youth and adults. It’s a pretty comprehensive program, since the first half hour we cover a topic according to the risk factors that have been identified, and which also connects with Creative’s Alianza Joven (Youth Alliance) Honduras—topics like easy access to guns, unemployment, lack of education and violence prevention policies in the country.

These are often issues that the mainstream media in the country will not touch.

Creative: Do you promote positive stories?

Pineda: The point is also to highlight positive social action. For example, people saw an old woman with a dilapidated home and rebuilt it. They have worked a lot with the mayor, the Red Cross, they paint bridges and work on reforestation. T

hese are all positive news stories that we want to get out there, because you turn on the TV and the news and it’s all negative.

The show airs two Saturdays a month on Channel 8, Honduras national television, and is also webcast at www.tnh.gob.hn so that anyone in the world can see the program.

Creative: What has really touched you during your time as a volunteer?

Pineda: Bullying was not a well-understood issue in Honduras, but it’s a huge problem for kids. We wanted to talk about it on our TV show.

After we aired a program about it, we got a call from the mother of a 12-year-old girl who had stopped speaking. She was traumatized but her mother could not get her to talk about it. When she watched the show, she started crying and told her mother, “That’s what’s happening to me at school.” The mother called in to thank us, and we gave her tips on how to help her daughter.

Young people strongly identify with what we present, and what we are working to do.

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