October 29, 2015
With a shy smile, 20-year-old Sayra Martinez (pictured far right) says, “I love working with young people, I learn as much from them as I give.” Sayra is talking about her work with at-risk youth in the community of Nueva Suyapa, Honduras. What you don’t know about Sayra is that just three years ago, she was an at-risk youth. Devastated by the murder of her older brother Danny (AJS lawyers and investigators are working on this case) she dropped out of school. She lived in a small home with her four siblings and her parents, who were both out of work and saw little hope for the future.
Sayra’s story isn’t unique in Honduras, a country that suffers from high levels of violence and poverty. Young people like Sayra fear that their future won’t be any better than their parents’, but the staff of AJS won’t accept that scenario.
A few months after her brother’s murder, a friend invited Sayra to an AJS at-risk youth club. As she describes it, “At the club, we would always pray, hear and talk about a story with a lesson on values, and plan service projects in our community.” Every group is led by a mentor who lives in the community. Sayra’s mentor is Augustina, a middle-aged woman with a 3rd-grade education, and a lot of love and experience with youth. As Sayra puts it, “Augustina is great. She shows us how to respect others, and value ourselves.”
Last year, AJS graduated 200 young people, including Sayra, from the clubs. Many have returned to school or vocational training, thanks to the support of AJS mentors, and many more have found value and hope where before they saw only a dark future. As Sayra says, “We thought nobody cared about us—Augustina showed that wasn’t true.”
This year, AJS will be working with 350 new young people. As the project coordinator Miriam Mondragon puts it, these kids are the “Highest at risk, in the riskiest parts of the riskiest neighborhoods.” An exciting addition this time around is that trained paralegals and counselors will provide psychological and legal advice to the teens and their families at home because just like Sayra many families are dealing with deep psychological and legal needs.
Now, Sayra, who is back in night school as a freshman in high school, is ready to give back. She and other volunteers who have received training from experienced mentors will soon work in teams with their own group. She acknowledges that it will be a challenge. “Sometimes I ask God, ‘Why me?’, but I know that through him, I can do all things.”
Sayra’s life was transformed, and now she will do her best to help transform the lives of other young people.