The village of El Jicarito, in the municipality of San Antonio de Oriente, in Honduras, is a community of 4,000 inhabitants that faces problems common to many small settlements in Latin America. Public services are inadequate, there is no sewer system and the population receives little counsel on topics such as preventative healthcare and waste management. Among the youngsters, the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and alcohol and drug abuse is high.
In an attempt to redress these problems and promote local development, the youth group ROCA in 2003 created the Healthy Neighborhood project, with the support of the Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School, the institution responsible for the Comprehensive Cluster of Projects financed by the Kellogg Foundation in Honduras. The idea was to choose a neighborhood in El Jicarito and, working in close liaison with local government, families and other social actors, turn the neighborhood into an example for others, thereby prompting the development of the whole community.
The chosen neighborhood was San José. The ROCA group, made up of 60 youngsters between the ages of 7 and 30, began performing volunteer work, such as street cleaning and maintenance, reforestation of spoiled areas and organizing debates on sexuality, drugs and other subjects geared towards the town’s youngsters. Staff from Zamorano advised he group on the planning and application of the project. It also provided the financial backing and helped seal alliances with other institutions.
As soon as the first results began to show, the project won over the confidence of the adults in El Jicarito and also the local town council, which began to contribute resources to the project and assist with some of the actions. This positive repercussion enabled the ROCA group to achieve one of its primary goals: today various sectors of the community are involved in the initiative. “What’s important is that we have cleared the way for development and the combat of poverty in our village,” says 28-year-old Reiniery Ortiz, president of the ROCA group.
According to Carlos Ardón, a teacher at Zamorano who supervises the Comprehensive Cluster of Projects supported by the Kellogg Foundation, the Healthy Neighborhood project highlights the need to unlock the potential of youth. “Normally, development projects are run by adults, since people don’t think youngsters are interested in participating,” he comments. “The project of the ROCA group demonstrates that youngsters are concerned with the problems in their communities, they have many good ideas on how to tackle them and, if permitted, they are genuinely disposed to do some interesting work.”
Besides lending support for youth organizations such as ROCA, another focus of attention of the Zamorano Comprehensive Cluster of Projects is the strengthening of municipal governments. The Zamorano Agricultural School helped consolidate a commonwealth of the 11 municipal councils in its micro-region, called the Commonwealth of Municipalities from the Yeguare Region. The association formulates strategic plans for the region and has its own intermunicipal technical office, responsible for administering joint funds, establishing partnerships with other institutions and advising the participants on specific topics. Zamorano operates as a facilitator for this entire process, and also provides technical advice.
One of the association’s initiatives was the elaboration of a document defining youth as a priority in the micro-region and securing a commitment from municipal councils to implement joint programs for the benefit of the young population. This is the context in which the ROCA group’s Healthy Neighborhood project has been receiving support in El Jicarito. Also benefiting from this policy are youth groups from five other towns.