Honduras: creating humanitarian spaces in schools
“Many people are afraid – violence is a constant threat. The deputy director is on leave because his life is in danger. Suddenly, from one day to the next, he was forced to flee and then send for his family. He had built his life in this community, his home was here. He lost everything. Now, he and his family will have to start over again,” deplored a Honduran teacher
Honduras has one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world. In 2010, according to the Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, there were 77.5 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants. Neither students nor teachers have been spared: they are threatened, attacked or even murdered on a daily basis. In order to tackle the problem, the Honduran Department of Education and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have launched a project entitled Abriendo Espacios Humanitarios (AEH) or Creating Humanitarian Spaces (CHS), which targets pupils, teachers and the wider education community. It is designed to promote awareness and behaviour based on humanitarian values, including respect for and protection of human life and dignity. According to ICRC Youth Adviser Sylvie Girard, the project aims to “equip teachers with the tools to tackle the problem of violence more effectively. The purpose is to achieve changes not only in the classroom, but also in communities.”
From 30 May to 3 June, the Honduran Department of Education and the ICRC invited 60 teachers and education authorities, from 20 schools located in communities hard hit by violence – in the Departments of Atlántida, Colón, Copán, Cortés and Francisco Morazán – to take part in the first CHS workshop. During the course of five days, the teachers, education authorities and ICRC staff gathered in Tela, to reflect on the matter at hand and to share pedagogical tools relating to issues such as human dignity, humanitarian principles and values, and the impact of organized violence.
One of the teachers present said, “We realized that we were not alone, that we were not the only school to experience this problem. Perhaps some other teacher has lived through what I am experiencing at this very moment, and there may be a way of sharing these experiences. When you are on your own, you end up fighting a lonely battle, whereas I now feel that I belong to a group of more than 60 people who are all in the same boat.”
As part of the training process, and in order to prepare the education community for emergencies, the Honduran Red Cross organized a first-aid workshop. It also sent first-aid kits and stretchers to participating schools.
The success of the project depends on the commitment of the Honduran Department of Education, formalized in an agreement signed with the ICRC in August 2010. For Vilma Lara, a teacher and coordinator of the Vocational Training and Education Guidance Unit at the Department of Education, the role of the education authorities ranges from devising technical measures to monitoring the work of teachers in the participating schools, in order to ensure the proper implementation of the various activities covered by the project. However, the project is mainly run by its beneficiaries, namely the teachers themselves. Vilma Lara confirms this when she says, “The added value that the ICRC provides, with the CHS project, is the motivation and commitment it instils in the teachers whom it trains.”
During the project’s five-year lifespan, the Honduran Department of Education and the ICRC will reap the benefits of the comprehensive approach adopted, which encompasses work with pupils from the eighth and ninth grades, the development of new teaching materials, training in the field of emergency psychological support, assessments and security protocols, and the involvement of young people striving to help their local communities.
“The ICRC is extremely concerned by the effects of violence in Honduras and other countries in the region,” said Karl Mattli, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation for Mexico, Central America and Cuba. “Measuring the impact of the CHS project will allow us to evaluate the possibility of adapting it to other countries affected by similar difficulties, and thus contribute to strengthening efforts to protect the victims of violence and to preserve their dignity.”