First Lady Michelle Obama will welcome young Hondurans to the White House tomorrow to accept an International Spotlight Award on behalf of IAF grantee Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE). The award is a feature of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program. Each year the White House recognizes 12 outstanding youth programs in the arts and humanities from the U.S. and one from overseas. The prize includes $10,000 that each winner puts toward its respective mission.
OYE works in El Progreso, Yoro, Honduras, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, where gangs and drug trafficking thrive and both the perpetrators and victims are usually young. At the root of violence and crime is income inequality, with 60 percent of Hondurans struggling to get by on less than $2 a day, and a population of more than 80,000 “NiNi,” a colloquialism for young people who neither attend school nor hold a job.
Founded in 2005, OYE offers young Hondurans a safe space to develop skills, engages them in initiatives structured around arts, sports and community service, and enables them to attend secondary school and university on scholarship. The goal is for them to change conditions in their community, rather than to flee north. “In OYE, I meet other young people with same drive to fight for a better future,” said Claudia Pavón, 20, an OYE scholar at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in San Pedro Sula, who will be at the White House tomorrow along with Jefry Amaya, also on an OYE scholarship at the university.
“OYE represents our belief in a society where youth are key factors in the positive development of their country,” said Ana Luisa Ahern, who founded OYE with Justin Eldridge-Otero. Both lived in Honduras as children and returned after graduating from college in 2005. OYE benefits from the work of U.S. students during their spring breaks or semester-long internships. In addition to the IAF, donors include the Seattle International Foundation, The Global Fund for Children and the Starbucks Foundation, through an International Youth Foundation initiative. “The need is enormous,” said executive director Rocío Mendoza. “While we are proud that we have provided 215 youth with yearly scholarships, if OYE had the resources we could easily double or triple that number.” For more ion OYE visit www.oyehonduras.org.