By: Katia Gomez, Executive Director, Educate2Envision
According to UNESCO, only 28% of rural youth 15-25 years have completed a secondary school education compared with 60% of those from urban areas in Honduras. This truth is complicated by the fact that more than half of the secondary school age population resides in rural areas.
Aside from the average four hour walk round trip to reach the nearest secondary school and the total cost incurred by households to send their children to class equipped with all necessary supplies, the lack of opportunity for young people to gain practical leadership skills and play a direct role in developing their communities is a critical barrier to confronting generational poverty. This holds true especially for girls who must break free of the gender norms that are perpetuated daily in their isolated surroundings.
"Have children and take care of the house." This was the response by a woman in the community of Pajarillos in rural Honduras when asked why she wanted to enroll her daughter in secondary school. "These are the only skills I have and I want her to do more than me." In 2010 not a single person in this village of over 500 had studied beyond primary school and it was commonplace for girls who finished 6th grade to wed and give birth within one year. In 2014, Pajarillos held its first ever secondary school graduation and have seen its primary school enrollment double. This marks the third year in a row that 6th grade pregnancies have not occurred. But the story does not end with a diploma because Educate2Envision implements a unique program that places its students at the forefront of community development.
Now in 6 communities throughout Honduras, Educate2Envision has worked for 3 years to provide scholarships for first-generation secondary school students to attend alternative programs in their villages. In return for financial support, each student commits to 120 hours of community service every year amounting to a total of over 13,000 hours completed by all 110 students. The projects that students have chosen to spearhead are changing the future of their communities. Just this year alone, two new Kindergartens have opened as a result of the initiative taken by the secondary school girls in 2 communities. Students have led dengue prevention campaigns, tutored primary school students, taught literacy to adults, repaired roads for safer transportation, renovated school buildings, and held fundraisers to collect money for the school fees of incoming students. The distance between a student and a leader can easily be bridged to magnify the impact of education community-wide. Educate2Envision believes that education is only one part of the poverty-fighting puzzle and that we must invest in leadership as much as literacy for the highest return.
This year students have chosen to undertake two new community projects: One will identify the lowest income households which students will support by planting and overseeing vegetable gardens for the family's consumption. The second project will address the lack of medical clinics nearby by ensuring that schools are equipped with first aid kits and older students are trained to administer basic interventions.
While conducting household surveys last year, a 5th grade girl answered the question, "What has changed since E2E's programs began here?" She responded, "Before my friends and I used to just play house and pretend to be moms, but now when we play we pretend to be teachers and what we want to be when we grow up."
Girls in rural Honduras are too often robbed of the chance to do more than childbirth and household chores, but Educate2Envision has found a way of taking those most at risk of remaining in the background and instead placing them in the spotlight of development.