Does a Bright Future Exist for Young Women in Honduras?
Amy Haroff journeyed with Orphan Outreach to Central America as a short-term missionary, and her passion for the children she met transformed her life. She now serves full-time at Jubilee School in Honduras. We asked Amy to share what the future holds for young women in this poverty-stricken land. In a country with a 60-70% poverty rate, a corrupt government, an inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of systems to manage resources, it comes as no surprise that the state of education in Honduras is shaky at best. Statistics boast an 85-95% literacy rate, but digging deeper reveals how meaningless these numbers are. Being that Honduras is a patriarchal society, it would be easy to assume that the education of men is favored over that of women. However, when I sat down to platicar with a group of women from various backgrounds, I learned otherwise.Literacy simply means the ability to read and write, but in a country where education is only required through age 12, and is only free through age 15, I have to wonder how educated the average Honduran really is. Here in Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital, I have watched news reports depicting the horrible learning conditions in some of the public schools. Teachers are underpaid ($8-12 per day), and under-educated; they are not even required to have a teaching certificate as long as they are in the process of earning one. Public school classrooms may be nothing more than brick walls: no desks, no chalkboards, no materials. How are students supposed to learn in conditions such as these?What’s more, despite the requirement to attend school, many students are unable to attend because their family cannot afford to buy school uniforms or supplies. Instead of growing up learning to read and write, do math, and study history, geography, languages, and science, these kids grow up learning how to survive in the harsh environments in which they were born. This might mean selling gum or candy on the streets, collecting bus fares, or learning how to make and sell tortillas.Based on the group of women I was privileged to converse with, the determining factors when it comes to accessing education are financial resources and geographical location. My house mom is 65, grew up in a moderate-sized city, and only completed the required level of schooling. However, in order to help support her family, she studied sewing at a trade school. I also spoke with two sisters who are in their 50s. They grew up in el campo, two out of eight children, and they are currently working as live-in housekeepers. The older sister was able to attend school through the first grade, and she is very proud of the fact that she has been able to teach herself how to read a little bit. The younger sister, however, was not able to attend school at all, and is completely illiterate. Before I knew this, I invited her to play a game of Uno, and I was saddened to see her struggling to match colors and numbers. On the other hand, she can tell you everything you need to know about cooking Honduran food and managing a house and garden!The sisters report that as they were growing up, their brothers were given priority when it came to choosing whose education could be paid for. The thinking at the time was that women belonged in the home which allowed the men to be out earning income. Gradually, this mode of thinking is shifting. I next visited with a group of women in their 30s who grew up in Tegucigalpa and who all have some degree of college education. They all had what so many young people in Honduras don’t have, and that is someone at home encouraging them to pursue their educational goals. What they had to say is more in keeping with current statistics. They report that because there is an increase in the number of single mothers, there are now more women receiving secondary education than men (52.4% of women vs. 43% of men). A single mother anywhere operates out of survival mode, and the women I spoke with state that a single mother is going to want a better life for her children; she’s going to teach her sons that they need to help out in the home, and her daughters that they, too, need to and deserve to receive a good education. The role of the mother and what she teaches her daughters they are capable of is an enormous contributing factor in regards to the educational pursuits of a young woman. Conversely, a single mother raising a son may be anxious to have him out in the workforce to help provide for the family, or he may get caught up in gang activity; perhaps for these reasons, the number of males receiving secondary education is lower. Men are anxious to fulfill their traditional role of financial provider, and sometimes the quickest way to do this is by getting a job or joining a gang.As in other areas of the world, in Honduras it is more and more necessary to have two incomes to provide for the needs of a family, and this is another reason more women are continuing with their education. Miraculously, some women are working full time, taking care of their families, AND going to school. There are others, however, who are choosing their careers ahead of getting married or having children, and these are the ones who are most likely to complete their degrees.The state of education for women in Honduras definitely seems to be in transition, and I was pleasantly surprised that it seems to be moving in a favorable direction. The downside is that even women who complete their degrees are less likely to find a job especially if there are men seeking out the same position. The level of respect for women is growing, but is still lagging far behind where it should be. As one young woman I spoke with so powerfully stated, “whether or not a woman is respected depends on if she commands it or not. I feel I am respected because I will not tolerate being treated otherwise.”I am thankful for her strong voice and her involvement with the youth in her church; with more voices like hers, more and more Honduran women will be raised up to believe what they are capable of and will learn to command the respect that they very much deserve. Another part of aiding this transition toward better education and greater respect for women comes from quality Christian schools like Jubilee Centers International, an organization that partners with Orphan Outreach. Because the state of public schools is so poor, families who are able to afford it send their children to private schools. Attending a private school carries an air of prestige but does not necessarily guarantee a better education. Jubilee Centers International is an exception. They provide quality, affordable, Christ-centered education in the heart of one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.Thanks to support from Orphan Outreach and their child sponsorship program, they are able to offer scholarships to needy students, opening up the possibility of attending a private school to those who otherwise could not afford it. Beyond just teaching basic academics, Jubilee Centers International also provides English, music, and Bible classes. Christian principles are integrated into their curriculum, vision, values, and procedures. As a result of their presence in the community, after five years, they are already seeing transformation occurring in the lives of the students and their parents. The students are being set free to dream big dreams of becoming doctors, accountants, and engineers. No longer do they feel trapped and held down by their circumstances. They love learning about and worshipping God, and the light of his living hope shines brightly on their faces! Please prayerfully consider sponsoring a student from Jubilee Centers International! More information is available here.