October 29, 2015
Three mothers came to the new AJS-supported Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (ALAC) feeling hopeful, but frightened. The center, the product of a new partnership between Transparency International, an international anti-corruption coalition, and ASJ* has a small staff of lawyers and assistants who document corruption cases, report them to the proper authorities, and push these authorities to take action. There are more than 50 ALAC around the world.
The women came from a poor neighborhood in Tegucigalpa seeking help to stand up to a corrupt public school principal. According to the women, eight years ago, the principal started asking parents for their hard-earned money to paint classrooms, buy school supplies, and finance special school events. But the classrooms were never painted, the school supplies were never bought, and the events never happened. The parents, many living below the poverty line, saw the school principal shamelessly stealing their money while they scraped by. When they worked up the courage to confront the principal, she challenged them, saying, “Report me if you want, but this is my school!” They later discovered the reason for her brazenness: she is good friends with her boss, the district director, and knew that she would not be touched by disciplinary action.
The mothers finally went to the Honduran Secretary of Education, seeking help, and the Secretary of Education directed them to the ALAC where they confessed to the center’s director, Ludim Ayala, that they were scared that the principal would take revenge against their children if they reported her. While almost all the parents were outraged, the mothers said, most were too scared to even sign a letter denouncing the principal.
Ludim typed up the case summary and sent it to the Special Prosecutor for Corruption, and when Ludim called a week later, the Secretary of Education’s district director had already gone to visit the school, coming back with a report claiming that finances were normal.
Although Ludim was happy to see action, she recognized that since the district director is a friend of the principal, things probably had not changed. So, she, with the help of the mothers, convinced 24 parents to sign a letter, demanding that the case be looked into further, noting that they were “sick of the situation” and ready for positive changes at the school they’d helped to build with their own hands. Ludim hopes that the letter and pressure from the ALAC will make higher-level education authorities get involved in the case.
The ALAC anti-corruption office opened its doors just a month ago, but it’s already received 14 cases, with people traveling from over four hours away to denounce corruption. Ludim adds hopefully, “Other ALAC around the world have made big changes, even catalyzing the creation of new laws. We can do that too if we unite to denounce corruption.”
**Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa is AJS-U.S.’s partner organization in Honduras, in charge of implementing the programs that we help to support