Although the entire experience of being a Rotary Peace Fellow has been exciting and rewarding, I found the Applied Field Experience (AFE) to be one of the most remarkable stages of the fellowship. During this summer, I have had the honor of collaborating with The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Honduras. Coming from the non-profit sector and working with at-risk children and youth gave me the aspiration of working with a multilateral agency focused on children’s rights. In this regard, there is nothing better than UNICEF. UNICEF’s mandate is a striking commitment and the greatest foundation of humanitarian work.
I am working on a situational analysis of out of school adolescents in Honduras, a developing country with significant challenges, such as high levels of poverty, inequality, underemployment, violence and crime. In 2013, UNODC released the Global Study on Homicide where Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world (90.4 rate per 100,000 population). However, recent studies from The National University of Honduras revealed that the homicide rate has decreased to 68 per 100,000. The highest concentration of violence remains in the biggest cities; in 2014, the capital city of Tegucigalpa was considered the sixth most violent city in the world and San Pedro Sula was listed as the first, with the highest homicide rate.
These factors impact the living conditions of children who represent 43.9% of the country´s population, therefore making them the group most affected by violence. In 2014, 3,000 children and youth died, victims of violence and crime. Moreover, the homicide rate in adolescents is more than twice the national homicide rate. Children and adolescents must have safe environments where they can be protected, most of all their home, school and community.
Despite the fact that school should be one of the protective entities for children and adolescents, a significant amount of them abandon their studies, which increases their vulnerability and puts them at greater risk. According to governmental sources, the highest rate of school drop out is between ages 11 to 14 years old. By knowing the factors that are excluding these adolescents from their right to education, it is possible to develop alternative solutions that are capable of adapting to their needs. Moreover, education for all, is a key factor for constructing a culture of peace.
This summer, I have been researching the causes and determinants of school drop out of adolescents in order to develop policy recommendations that aim to bring back to school more than 128,000 adolescents whose living conditions have forced them into informal jobs, becoming parents at an early age, drug abuse, joining a gang or a crime group, or to emigrate.
In order to have a participative research, I have worked closely with the Ministry of Education and have consulted with adolescents (in school and out of school), teachers, parents, local authorities and education experts. I visited schools in both urban and rural areas, with the highest concentration of school drop out where there was a generalized image: overcrowded classrooms with very little equipment, limited access to water and sanitation, poorly trained teachers and school violence inside and outside.
Children and adolescents must have the conditions that can allow them to access school as well as be able to stay in and complete their education. Furthermore, they have the right to quality education where they can learn and develop competencies to participate and become responsible members of their communities.
During a school visit I asked a 12 year old girl from a vulnerable rural area: Why do you come to school? and she replied: “I am in school to have a better life… if you study you know where you can go, you can see your goal”. Through effective public policies we can realize the goals of children and youth.
I feel very privileged to collaborate with UNICEF Honduras. My commitment to advocate for children’s rights is stronger after this experience. I am very grateful for this opportunity where I have learned from the specialists, officers and staff whose kindness and support have been remarkable. My special thanks to Hernán Torres, Education Specialist and José Vélez, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist whose guidance has made a significant impact in my understanding of Education for Development.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the leading humanitarian and development agency working globally for the rights of every child. Child rights begin with safe shelter, nutrition, protection from disaster and conflict and traverse the life cycle: pre-natal care for healthy births, clean water and sanitation, health care and education.
 UNAH-IUDPAS (2015): http://iudpas.org/pdf/Boletines/Nacional/NEd36EneDic2014.pdf
 Seguridad, Justicia y Paz (2014): http://www.seguridadjusticiaypaz.org.mx/biblioteca/prensa/send/6-prensa/199-the-50-most-violent-cities-in-the-world-2014
 INE (2014): http://www.ine.gob.hn/Documentos/Hogares%202013/resumen%20ejecutivo%20mayo%202013.pdf