February 28, 2017
It was an afternoon of jokes, laughter, and creativity – not unlike the weekly Impact Clubs that these children had been attending for the past three years. But this afternoon, twenty young teenagers were celebrating their graduation from the youth program, and their entrance into community programs for young adults.
AJS works in four communities in Tegucigalpa where children are at particularly high risk of violence, gang recruitment, and dropping out of school. Weekly clubs are a stabilizing force in these children’s lives, offering them a safe place to play, trusted leaders to look up to, and teaching on values and responsibility that many of them carry with them into adulthood.
As part of the graduation ceremony, each child wrote one thing that they had learned on a paper leaf, then stuck it to a tree to symbolize ongoing growth. “Responsibility”, “solidarity”, “caring for others” the leaves read.
Nineteen-year-old Cesar watched the younger children with a smile. If you gave him a paper leaf to write down everything he had learned in the clubs, “there wouldn’t be enough space”, he said.
“You learn so much, you can’t just summarize it in one word,” Cesar said.
“They teach you values, they teach you love, friendship, coexistence, they teach you to respect your elders. And it’s fun! You get to socialize, instead of being in the street doing who knows what.”
Cesar has been part of the community projects for ten years, attending youth clubs, then serving as a volunteer and mentor. For the graduation ceremony, he participated in a community dance troupe performing to worship music.
“Any time they need us, here we are,” he laughed.
In a neighborhood where many parents worry about crime, gangs, or drugs influencing their children, Cesar stands out as an example. He graduated from high school, and has plans to continue studying and working. He volunteers in his church and in community service projects.
“The (impact club leaders) have been a part of my life for 10 years,” he said, “I am the person I am today thanks to them.”
Linsey has been part of the clubs since she was 11, and remembers years of soccer games, good snacks, and fun talks by the club leaders.
“One of the biggest things they did was plant values in each one of us,” she said, “They taught us unity, solidarity, respect, fellowship, and lots of playing, which should really be a value too!”
“Children all should have a right to play,” she continued, “but here it’s almost not respected because at a young age children start to work.”
Linsey now studies radiology at the local university, and spends her evenings working at her church. She also says the clubs helped bring her to where she is today. “In addition to values, they teach you how to treat others,” she said.
Christian performed at the graduation ceremony on violin, one of his favorite pastimes. He remembers his own graduation ceremony two years ago, and the fun he had in the clubs before that. Now that he’s older, though, what he treasures the most was learning the value of solidarity. As a member of the clubs, he participated in community work projects, painting, constructing, and supporting people who were less fortunate than he was. It’s a value that’s stuck with him.
Now graduated from high school, he hopes to one day become a doctor.
“I dream big things, giant things,” he says, “I study and work a lot, and the rest I leave in God’s hands.”