Helping Disadvantaged Youth in Honduras (11-15-13)

In Honduras, where 60 percent of children never finish grade school, the Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE) offers hope to motivated youths. Justin Eldridge-Otero, 31, who is working on his M.A. in International Relations at Columbia University, co-founded OYE after living in the impoverished, crime-ridden country for 15 years.

According to Eldridge-Otero, one quarter of the population is malnourished, and a family of four lives on only $1,200 a year. Only 4% of young people graduate from high school. Since a destabilizing coup in 2009, violent crime has skyrocketed, particularly in the north near the Amazon jungle and, heavy drug traffic has increased. Against this backdrop OYE was created with education as its focus. “ We needed to do something long term,” he told adult ed on Nov. 3.
OYE’s budget of $150,000 to $175,000 a year pays for academic scholarships for youths 14 and older. The monthly stipends mean the students will not have to drop out of school to help their families. In OYE’s first year, seven youths won scholarships; this year, 90 young people received the honor. OYE youths launch, manage, and promote programs ranging from street art to a magazine called Jovenes to soccer, football, and volleyball teams. A student-run radio program using a homemade recording booth reaches as many as 5,000 high-school students a day featuring topics not taught at school. OYE’s street art can be seen in murals all over the towns of San Pedro Sula and Progresso. “Race for OYE” has raised $20,000.   
One Dumbartonian asked about job prospects for OYE graduates.That’s tough,” said Eldridge-Otero. “We’ve placed some graduates in a Call Center internship program, and we’ll increase these efforts.” Someone else in the audience wondered about possible cultural resistance to OYE’s progressive programs.  No, the Internet has changed everything,” he said.
Could  OYE be replicated elsewhere? Eldridge was confident of the answer.“The OYE model could be taken from Bolivia to Ghana,” he said. “Everything’s on paper.”

--By Ginny Finch (Photo by Alan Mayers)