A tough start to life is no exception for the children who come to NPH Honduras, but with the right guidance, they can shine. Enter the spotlight, Areli…
Family relations can be fraught at times, tensions may rise, trust can be broken and words are said that test the bond. But where problems arise, solutions are often hidden behind hurt and angry emotions which can only be resolved through key ingredients of forgiveness, orientation and positive enforcement, often resulting in new opportunities and personal growth.
I have learned this in my first year of working at NPH Honduras, meeting staff who work day in, day out with young people and teenagers from social risk situations, sometimes recovering from traumatic experiences, or coming from a dysfunctional family background, which is coupled with the usual growing pains of adolescence. Patience is not only a virtue in this profession; it’s a requirement, and it’s practised with unconditional love. And this was made evident to me when I was introduced to Areli.
My role is mainly administrative. In short, I develop projects and oversee them to closure, and we have up to 40 projects at any one time. While contact with the children is limited, I still feel the energy and bond between employees and youths which is more familial than any other workplace I have experienced.
About a month ago, while closing our annual project for our vocational centre, I asked the education coordinator of the department, Nery Martinez, if there had been interesting case stories amongst the kids.
“Yes,” Nery bellowed, joyfully. “Many, in fact.”
They rolled off her tongue proudly, fantastic stories of students achieving high scores in our assortment of workshops. As well as the formal school education which our students attend in the mornings, afternoons are dedicated to studying a vocational course in textiles, electrics, shoemaking, carpentry, metal working, home economics or hair and beauty, for students from 7th grade and onwards.
Skills for life
At NPH, we strive to provide the children with the skills and opportunities to prepare them for adult life. According to the International Monetary Fund, unemployment in Honduras was 5.9% at the end of 2017, with the majority being in the 15-24 age bracket, meaning students have an extra string to their bow in an already very competitive job market. Students must take complex exams at the end of each term administered by CADERH, a non-profit development agency, on behalf of the Honduran education authorities. Students must pass or otherwise repeat the year.
After giving me a list of the names, Nery sat pensively. “We had an interesting case. Areli. The girl didn’t actually pass, but we view her as one of our star pupils.”
Nery went into depth, stating that Areli had always been very reserved, similar to her sister Federica who is now part of the high school programme in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, 36 kilometers away from Rancho Santa Fe. Areli started the year in a bad way, with disruptive behaviour, arguing with her teacher, skipping classes and being uncooperative.
“So what happened?” I asked.
“A miracle!” she replied. “But please, why don’t you ask her yourself?”
I was intrigued. A miracle? A student who failed? Very strange. I did my research on this surly 16-year-old and she agreed to chat with me in our home for the girls, Talita Kumi. I wasn’t expecting an easy ride, but I found her more forthcoming than expected.
“My sister had left Rancho Santa Fe. I was suffering and felt very alone. Our parents abandoned us when we were small, and I guess it also affected me. I don’t like to make excuses, but I was angry and difficult, and it was a dark time for me. I didn’t want to be at school or the workshop or be around anyone. Students would say something and I would lose my temper and be thrown out of class,” she said.
“I’m not proud of myself. At the end of the first term, I received a 0% grade. The strange thing is, I really enjoyed the workshop, but I don’t think the teacher liked having me in it!” she laughed.
The 0% grade affected her deeply, and it led to her being disciplined. The teacher and directors were very worried about what they were going to do with her. They sat down with her and the psychologists to identify the triggers for her bad behaviour and ways to improve her mood.
“I was ashamed to read 0% on my score card, but I deserved it. Initially the second term began like the first, but then one day I was helping to preparing a smaller girl’s hair for an event, and something clicked. The task wasn’t difficult, but the teacher liked what I was doing because it was creative. I was thrilled. I felt really good at something. And the teacher said she would like me to repeat it the next day, and the next day, and the next day, which I did. She kept showing me new ways to fix make up or cut hair, and I learned quickly.”
These performances continued, and she achieved 89% in the final term, one of the highest grades of the year in this workshop.
Francisca Ramos, the instructor in the hair and beauty salon, said, “I’ve never seen a turnaround like this. At the start of the year, her behaviour was impossible. By the end, she was supporting her classmates and smiling, being part of the NPH family. We’re so proud of her!”
She admitted it took a lot of patience and positive reinforcement to get her where she is today, but she continues to improve. “We felt so sorry for her. She just missed out, and will have to repeat the year after her difficult start. However, we’re happy to see her happy.”
Areli added, “I was a little disappointed not to pass, but it is a blessing in disguise. Hair and beauty is something I really enjoy. I am better prepared for next year and learning what I missed out on. I thank the teacher and director for the faith they put in me and their patience. They are more than teachers: they are family. Without them, I would still be lost.”
She will enjoy the time off during the vacation and passing time with her sister, but she now looks to the future with optimism.
“I must improve my school grades. I accept that. But I want a career in hair and beauty. I know I must perform. I want to do some diplomas and learn more, and maybe one day have my own salon. But more than most, I want to thank my God, as well as my family.”
Stories like Areli’s goes to show what family support can do. And for myself, I too am proud to be part of the NPH family.