Our Home-Grown Effort to Help Honduran Youth

OYE“It all started right here in (Dumbarton UMC) Sunday School.” So says Justin Eldridge Otero, the co-founder of Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE), the nonprofit organization created to help the youth of Honduras overcome poverty and violence. On Tuesday, OYE received the US President’s Arts and Humanities award, the only international organization so honored this year. Youth leaders of the organization will accept the award at a special White House ceremony, hosted by Michelle Obama on Thursday.

In the 10 years since its birth, OYE has expanded from a scholarship program to an organization that provides safe space, mentors for youth, job training, peer group discussions, recreational activities, a radio station, and a wide range of life skills training to over 100 youth.

Justin and Ana Luisa Ahern were just teens when they first visited Honduras on a mission trip. Honduras has been identified as one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world, and El Progreso is just 30 minutes from San Pedro Sula, currently identified as the most violent city. El Progreso, a city of approximately 300,000 people, is located along the northern border where Mexican drug cartels routinely ply their wares and target youth as both workers and victims

As volunteers in mission, Justin and Ana supported the work of COPPROME orphanage where they lived among the children served, heard their stories, and shared about their own lives with the children that they met. They discovered that when the children reached the age of majority (16 years), they were turned out on their own, usually without any training for what they would encounter in the real world. Many of the girls ended up on the streets, easy targets for drug warlords.

Returning to the US, the stories and memories continued to haunt the young teens. They began to think about ways to make a change for the children they met. They decided to ask their church family for help. One Sunday morning during sharing they asked for donations to fund scholarships that would allow five young women to go on to school rather than to the streets. They easily raised the modest sum, but pulled by their yearning to help and encouraged by Christ’s teachings of helping the poor and seeking justice for the marginalized, they returned to El Progreso after college to spend a year volunteering.

Ana and Justin continued to collect information, interview students, and find out more about Honduran life. They realized that access to education was one of the biggest roadblocks to overcoming the cylces of poverty and violence. But more than scholarships, they knew that the youth needed training in basic life skills, leadership, public speaking, managing money. They envisioned a program that would empower the young people to help themselves. They thought that a non-profit organization might be the way to carry out that dream. OYE was born.

OYE means “listen up!” and stands for Organization for Youth Empowerment. Over the years, it has changed the lives of hundreds of young people. This year OYE awarded 75 scholarships that allowed more students to go to college. Moving into the future, OYE is working to engage businesses and the government to support its mission and hopes to award 95 scholarships next year. Its latest campaign, #stayhome, encourages young Hondurans to plan a future in Honduras rather than head north, working to turn the negative cycles around. Find out more about OYE at www.oyehonduras.org Find out what your $600 can do to change the life of a young Honduran student.

--By Mittie Quinn