After visiting 68 orphanages in 13 countries, we noticed the same thing happening over and over again. Orphanages would care for children for years and then send them to the outside world where as many as 90% of them would fail to thrive. Many resort to crime, prostitution and gangs simply to survive. So we decided to try to do something about it and in 2016 we started our transition program Youth for Honduras in Tegucigalpa. Our goal is to build a system to works and then teach others. The early results have been promising with a success rate of 80%. Thank you for helping make it possible!
World Orphan Fund volunteer Valerie Johnson visited our team in June and shares her experience here.
R.J. Johnson, founder of the World Orphan Fund
Read the WOF-version here.
Being There is Everything
At the beginning of June, I took a trip to Honduras. Since I’ve been back, the news in the United States has been full of the troubles at the border with those seeking to enter the U.S.—it makes me doubly sure that our efforts in Central America are more important than ever.
The focus of my trip was to learn first-hand about the Transition Honduras program supported by the World Orphan Fund.
I’ve been working remotely as the outreach coordinator for those wishing to sponsor the youth in the program and it was time for me to put boots (sandals) on the ground!
Meeting the Transition Honduras staff in person was a humbling experience. As they (Cathrine, Jose Ramon, Michelle, Karla, Joselyn, and Hanna) discussed their job duties, it was obvious that they are the most dedicated, thoughtful, hard-working group of people I’ve ever met. This isn’t just a job to them. They care deeply about their mission to make a positive future possible for the young adults aging out of the orphanages.
The team members wear many hats … a VERY short list includes helping youth to:
- determine their strengths to forge a path to higher education
- help them overcome the trauma of their childhoods so they can move forward
- provide the encouragement to tackle everyday problems to grow confidence in decision making
- be a kind ear to listen to worries and hopes and fears
- assist with school registration and course selection
- provide tutoring assistance for the difficult classes and much, much more.
These young adults are leaving the sheltered environment of an orphanage where they may have spent a majority of their lives and where often all choices had been made for them. They haven’t had the chance to gradually accept responsibility for their own decision making as they progressed toward adulthood—the way our own kids are often able to test the waters of becoming an adult within the safety of a family home. This means life outside the orphanage is exponentially more intimidating and dangerous than when our own teens head off to college.
What the Transition Honduras program is doing is ground breaking. We are making a difference!
The failure rate for those leaving orphanages without marketable skills or transition support is staggering. Most will resort to crime, prostitution and gangs simply to survive. This isn’t an exaggeration. Honduras is a beautiful country with beautiful people, but it has a lot of long-term problems aggravated by a poor social services system and poverty. Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America with one of the highest murder rates in the world. It is a difficult place to live safely if you don’t have a support system in place.
While I was there, we had the chance to join a ministry that gives food to the homeless including those living in the shantytowns along the river. We made 180 sandwiches of refried beans and montaquila (seriously, yum!) and set out in the rain and in the dark to give people a little comfort.
Tegucigalpa is a difficult city to navigate safely during the day, and here we were entering some of the grittiest neighborhoods at night.
I have to admit that this made me more than a little anxious. Our vehicles pulled up and with a friendly beep-beep of the horn, our team leader (who is also a member of the Transition Honduras board of directors) shouted out, “Comida, Comida!” At first no one came out and then little by little a group of at least eighty seeped into the street from the lean-tos of corrugated metal and salvaged materials —from babies to the elderly from little boys playing in the rain to young teen girls visibly pregnant. The young men sporting new clothing and backpacks provided evidence that their employment by local gangs came with advantages. Stop by stop we provided the comfort that we could for one rainy evening in a city that has little comfort to offer.
Without the transition program this is where Youth can end up! What we’re doing matters!
The transition program provides up to a four-year support system as young adults make their way through schooling and job training and to eventual independence. The program takes on two classes per year of approximately 12 young adults each time. Right now, we have enrolled three classes.
I had the chance to visit the apartment of one of the young women (above) who was part of our first class. She is now in her second year in the program and studying at the university, doing well with her job, and is now able to help her sister with education expenses. As a second-year student, she has moved on from the housing provided by the program and found a nice apartment on her own—which she shares with others. She’s doing well and we’re so proud of her successes.
She’s not the only one, those in our 2 nd and 3 rd classes are also doing well. There have been challenges, as there always will be, but they are working hard toward their goals, having success, and gaining confidence along the way.
In August, the program will accept 12 new young adults and, in January we’ll welcome 15 for a total of 27 more youth. At that point, there will be 50 students enrolled in the program. The program will continue to enroll youth until we hit the program capacity of 86 in December of 2020. From then on, we’ll add students each year as an approximately equal number exit after completing their four years with us.
The most recent application process began with 48 hoping to gain one of the next 27 spots. 32 applicants made it through the screening/interview process, and those students were given the chance to attend a weekend retreat where team-building and leadership skills were assessed. I was blessed to be able to spend part of the day with these amazing kids!
They introduced themselves to us and told us of their hopes and dreams for the future. This is where I start to cry. They are all amazing and worthy of help, but there are only 27 spots. It’s the grim reality of funding.
I wanted to say yes to them all … to the young men and women who dream of becoming lawyers, teachers, computer programmers, barbers, bakers, restaurant owners, electricians, carpenters, engineers. Many of them said how much they want to help their siblings once they can earn a good wage.
This is what Transition Honduras is all about. It reminded me that not only are we making a difference for that student, we’re making a difference in the world in which they live—when we help good people to succeed, they go on to help others—changing their neighborhoods, city, and country.
While our dream is to expand the transition program to more cities in Honduras and into other Central American countries, the staff is doing their best to address the reality that we simply do not have space for every worthy applicant. With that in mind, they have been hard at work on a curriculum for transition coursework that can be shared with orphanages around Honduras and beyond. They will provide training and materials to orphanage staff aimed at preparing youth age 12 and up for adult life beyond the orphanage. This outreach makes it possible to prepare even more children for successful adult lives.
But none of this is possible without your help!
Did you know that the full cost for one young adult in our program each year is only $3000? And that includes the cost of going to school at the state university or technical school. (Considering the tuition checks many of us are used to writing here in the States that is shockingly reasonable.) This breaks down to $250 per month.
Any support you’re able to give allows us to continue this important mission. And, if you’re interested in sponsoring a specific student, I will make sure you receive personal updates along with a newsletter about the program on a quarterly basis.
It is beyond fulfilling to know that you played a part in making the future brighter for these amazing kids!
Valerie Johnson is the volunteer Secretary of the World Orphan Fund and wife of Founder R.J. Johnson
About The World Orphan Fund
We founded The World Orphan Fund in 2011 with the premise we would be an all-volunteer organization, with no overhead, staff or administrative expenses. 100% of donations go directly to fund projects we are involved with. Board members cover their own travel and administrative costs while sponsors agree to cover the cost of our events. We have visited 13 countries and 68 homes and with both God’s grace and amazing donors in the U.S., we’ve been able to fund more than 50 projects. Our donors have helped launch vocational training and transition programs, provided housing and therapy to special needs children, removed arsenic from water and solved many other challenges. We focus on emergency and transformational funding, with a strong focus on sustainability and measurable results. We personally visit every single home we help.