Being greeted by a bunch of family members when you arrive in the airport after a few days outside the country before squeezing everybody into the back of a pickup heading home – does that sound familiar to you? Maybe if you are Honduran. But not to Lithuanian Ieva Aukštuolytė. She has had an experience for life visiting Honduras. Not only was she amazed by the country and its customs, but she was also very excited to meet Youth for Honduras.
Earlier this year Ieva, who is a psychologist, arrived in Honduras with the Lithuanian SURF-team, Youth for Honduras’ partners, to accomplish some of our common goals. She made workshops for our youth, counselled some of them individually on job interviews, and experienced what life is like for youth in this part of the world.
Here we share some of her thoughts on her travel which had job shadowing as its purpose.
Hola, me llamo Ieva
I consider myself an impatient traveling soul, so I was super exited when I was chosen to go to Honduras with SURF. My first days in Honduras were amazing. A new culture, new experiences, new food – and not to forget new, lovely people.
When I first entered YFH, I was greeted by five wonderful people who did their best to welcome me and make me feel secure and comfortable. They were helping, teaching, and sharing experiences during the whole period of my stay. Having in mind their type of job and the youth they worked with, I consider them the most dedicated and passionate people I’ve ever met! I couldn’t believe how much energy each of them puts into their daily tasks. They were working very hard but always had a smile on their faces.
Surprising for me was that before or after a meeting and the meals they were praying. They were thankful for everything they had. That was something new for me.
During my first days, I was meeting new people all the time: colleagues from the organization and young people who were participating in the transition program. It was quite a challenge for me because even though I speak Spanish (not super well but I have never found it difficult to communicate with people) Latin American Spanish is a little bit different. They use different words and dialects than in Spain where I lived before coming to Honduras. I had to break my tongue which was a good exercise for me since I, later, had to conduct workshops for the youth in Spanish. Most of them didn‘t speak English.
The main goal of my job shadowing in Honduras was to educate young people and teach them on specific topics related to psychology and their careers. I have a background in psychology and Human Resources which allowed me to prepare workshops for the youth about emotions, emotional intelligence, self-esteem, stress, stress management, critical thinking, and job possibilities.
Meeting the youth from YFH
I discovered that the youth in Youth for Honduras, who are all coming from different orphanages (which the organization rather calls children‘s homes as this doesn‘t sound too harsh), don’t have much confidence, especially the young women. They are kind but they are also scared because most of them haven’t been taught how to live outside their orphanage, how to be self-confident, how to prepare food, how to travel, or how to be independent. Every youth in YFH has his or her own story, and most of them are tragic because of their tough childhoods.
Talking about the young women, many women in Honduras face challenges. One really strange thing for me was the tendency of discrimination of women and their separation from society. It was really hard to accept the fact that machismo is so prevalent in the Honduran culture. An example of machismo is when men don’t let women take higher positions in companies or when women are not seen as equal partners. The worst part was the stories from women who are afraid to leave their houses because of possible abusement.
Jobs in Honduras
A big problem in Honduras is the low employment rate. It is difficult to find and get a job, especially for youth whom the companies are discriminating against. When youth finish school, companies are asking for skills they don’t have yet because they still haven’t had their first job experience. Even after graduating from universities, young people are struggling to find a job. Some still search for their first job a few years after termination.
Unemployment rates in the country are also very high. Furthermore, some young people lack motivation to earn money because they haven’t seen this example in their own families. They haven’t been around good role models who could teach them to be ready to live an independent life.
This is indeed the case for youth who have been living in orphanages, too. That is why one of my missions was to inspire the youth in Youth for Honduras and give them advice on how to find a job. Most of the people who came to my seminar had never been to a job interview, so the information was very relevant to them.
In my first class, there were 16 young people who were listening and sharing their ideas. In my seconds seminar, two girls came who already knew what they wanted to do in their lives. One wanted to become a children’s psychologist, and the other one both wanted to work as a graphic designer and with an NGO like Youth for Honduras. It was so much easier to communicate with them because these girls had their future plans, and I could give them relevant examples of what they could do in the process of getting there.
It was surprising to me that most of the participants had little insight in their own skills and expectations for their lives. For many years these young people were living in orphanages, so they didn’t face the reality outside those four walls and, as a consequence, they don’t know much about the possibilities they have to choose from. There was a tendency that those youth wanted positions that adults around them have: Social workers, psychologists, teachers, nurses, policemen, selling agents, etc. I also spoke with youngsters who know Americans and, therefore, wanted to study foreign languages.
But those people, who have played a significant role in a young person’s life, don’t necessarily hold positions that match the skills or identity of the youngster. So, that youth needs to search further to find his or her career.
I experienced that some youth in Youth for Honduras had little insight in their actual capabilities, so I prepared a list of skills which I presented for them to identify what their strengths and weaknesses are. This was meant as a tool to open their minds for other goals and a plan B or C.
I realized that the youth didn´t think much about the day tomorrow or the possibility of failing an exam three times (in Honduras this means that you don’t have any more chances of passing that exam). But sometimes this happens and, therefore, the young people must be prepared – although it is unpleasant to think about what problems might occur ahead.
A few days later, I had my first consultation with a young man who was going to a job interview. We spoke about what he could do and say during the interview, what he could expect from the job, and about his salary expectations. Lastly, I gave him a few tips on what he was supposed to ask the employers during his job interview.
Youth, who grew up alone, without families, in orphanages, or with parents who are absent in one way or another, have a hard time expressing their emotions. Furthermore, they don’t know why it is important to understand or to let themselves feel emotions.
I spoke with youth in YFH about what is happening when we experience one emotion or another. They knew and understood the basics, but the main problem is that they are hiding their emotions, especially those that are really difficult to deal with. A low self-esteem doesn’t help on the situation. It can happen that the youth just explode at one particularly insignificant moment because of all their pent-up emotions.
One of the things I tried to do was to explain and show why it is important to understand ourselves. Secondly, I tried to inspire them so that they could start to believe in themselves and feel stronger. They didn’t think that they were good, beautiful, or had strong traits. I gave them a task to write at least 20 good things about themselves and, then, to write many good things about other people in the room. Then, we compared their work to see if it was the same or not. Sometimes we don’t notice nice, beautiful, or strong things about ourselves. For this, we must hear other people’s opinions.
When youth leave orphanages, they have lots of stress because they don’t know the world. They have stayed behind protected doors for many years, and their caretakers are telling them what to do and when. They are told when to wake up, when to brush their teeth, when to eat, when to study, and when to go to sleep. They don’t have any opportunity to make their own decisions.
So, when young people leave orphanages, they have many things to learn. How to be independent, how to take care of themselves, how to catch a bus, how to pay the rent, how to earn money, and how to make decisions.
They can easily be stressed because of this shift in their lives. Most of them don’t have support and they don’t know how to deal with stress. Techniques and having the ability to cope with their emotions are some of the most important things for young individuals who are about to reach adulthood. In my seminars I was teaching the youth techniques on how to reduce stress, how to spot it, cope with it, and get rid of it.
I would like to finish with one of the most memorable experiences for me. That was the recruitment or selection process of youth. One weekend the whole team and many young people from different orphanages went to a camp. We organized many different activities, games, sports, etc. The YFH team wanted to observe how the youth behaved in a new environment, how they interacted with new people, and if they took responsibilities and were interested in general. Then, YFH would decide who to invite for their program.
The youth had to do their best and show good behaviour. They had many different tasks while working and interacting in teams. There were team building activities that required communication skills and being able to work under pressure. Also, the youth were asked to show their talents and creativity.
I felt devastated after meeting all of them. I saw how much love, support, and education they needed. It was so sad to see how stressed and nervous some of them were. They couldn’t even say a word without many applauses and encouragement. They were so shy and so scared because of their previous experiences of bullying, anger, abuse, and not feeling accepted.
The most memorable part was the evening. They all received a candle with a letter and went outside in the darkness to stand in a circle and to read it. The letters were motivation for them to move forward so that they could trust themselves and trust in God, who is always with them. They received a message in the darkness, full of lit of candles. Some shared their motivational stories about how they opened their hearts to God. This was a powerful moment because they were singing, they were listening, they were opening their hearts to faith and to their new beginning. This moment showed them that there are people who care about them and are willing to help them. There was a power of kindness and warmth in that circle. It is hard to express it in words but I do believe that the youth will remember that moment for the rest of their lives. I know I will.
Thank you – Gracias – Ačiū!
Participating in this project was interesting! It was new experience and it definitely wasn’t scary for me to leave Europe. My friends and family were all saying “I hope you make it back from Central America because it is the most dangerous part of the world”. I took it as an adventure! And it was amazing! Amazing in all possible ways! I met amazing people, and I found out more about the culture and differences which wasn’t easy to accept at the beginning. I ate the best dishes and best fruits in the world, and I saw beautiful nature.
Everything was new, but it was so warm there … I am not talking about the weather, I am talking about people who are so true, so generous and so loving. I am still so grateful for this opportunity!