By Emma Halper, Associate Program Manager, Asia/LAC, PSI
18-year-old Gaby lives with her mom, dad and four brothers in the community of La Unión, Honduras. A soccer player and avid churchgoer, she’s also known for being rebellious, stubborn and independent.
“Being the only girl has been difficult,” Gaby shares. “My mom wakes me up early. But my brothers get to sleep all day.”
It’s tough to be a girl in Honduras. The statistics paint a bleak picture, which includes a high rate of violence against women, few job prospects and lack of access to secondary education and basic health services. All these factors contribute to unplanned pregnancies in Honduras, which has one of the highest rates in Central America. The road to accessing higher education and climbing out of poverty is long and uncertain for adolescent girls, who must balance their dreams against pressures from their peers, family and society. Despite these challenges, girls in Honduras also represent a powerful force for change, and teaching girls about their health and wellbeing has been proven as a critical link to ending poverty.
While she faces hardships at home, Gaby finds acceptance within her community from the Chicas en Conexión project, run by the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO), PSI’s network member in Latin America. Funded by the Summit Foundation, this project targeted girls aged 10 to 19 and aimed to disseminate important information related to gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, self-esteem and life planning—allowing them to take the reins of their own lives.
“The opportunity to surround myself with other girls and the chance to continue learning motivated me to participate in [Chicas en Conexión],” Gaby explained. “I wasn’t able to do this before.”
Gaby’s formal education ended at the sixth grade, which is typical for young people in rural areas of Honduras; there were no opportunities for secondary education in her community and other options outside the community were prohibitively expensive. Chicas en Conexión gave Gaby the educational opportunity she had lost and a chance to gain independence.
Gaby attended the educational sessions offered through the project, and when PASMO implemented EDUCATODOS, a Honduran national education program, through Chicas en Conexión, she was quick to join. EDUCATODOS teaches the national curriculum with a series of recorded tapes so that young people like Gaby can continue learning past the sixth grade. 306 girls in Honduras were able to continue their seventh and eighth-grade studies through the program.
Gaby used the skills she learned through Chicas en Conexión and EDUCATODOS to become a leader amongst her peers and was chosen to become a Group Mentor for Chicas en Conexión. The program trained her to teach girls how to gain control over their own lives and provide them with access to sexual and reproductive health information. 1200 adolescents in 11 communities have received sexual and reproductive health information from the Chicas en Conexión Group Mentors.
“I was attracted to the work of a mentor because I can advise other girls and help them with anything they need,” Gaby emphasized. “The ability to help girls in my community is now in my hands.”
As a Group Mentor, Gaby learned to lead group of 15 to 19-year-old girls. It wasn’t easy at first. However, tackling this challenge taught Gaby about the patience it takes to work with adolescents. She used this experience to form meaningful and lasting bonds with the girls in her group.
Gaby’s experiences as a Group Mentor have given her the skills to plan for her future. “I aim to continue with my studies and get a good job that allows me to support myself and be independent,” she asserts.
Gaby continues, “Before I found Chicas en Conexión, I had no intention of returning to school, and lacked the ambition that I have now. I want to be a motivator for girls in my community to keep trying, despite the many obstacles that life brings. I hope that I can convince them to get involved with Chicas en Conexión, and that it will have the same impact on their lives as it did for me.”
Watch this video to learn more about Chicas en Conexión and the girls it has impacted.
Banner image: Peer educators trained by the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO) speak with students about Zika prevention at an educational fair in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. © 2017 Brendan Bannon/USAID, Courtesy of Photoshare