Diakonia - People change the world
Vilma Benítez Vilma Benítez started her own company to be able to support herself and avoid a life as an illegal immigrant in the US.

Micro-businesses inspire hope in the young

Honduras is the country in the world with the highest number of murders per inhabitant. The violence particularly affects young people, as there are so few jobs and the gang culture is strong. Every year, thousands risk their lives on the infamous railway heading north. Diakonia’s partner organization OCDIH is working to improve the situation of the young, including by encouraging young people and adults to start their own companies.

Vilma Azucena Benítez lives with her mother and her three children in the village of Tierra Colorada, located in the coffee district of Lepaera in north-east Honduras, close to the border with Guatemala. Her children are 10, 8 and 5 years old. 

“It’s my birthday on Saturday,” she says when we talk on Skype. “But I didn’t think I’d be celebrating my 27th birthday here in Honduras.”  

Four years ago, just like many other young people, Vilma had packed her bags and was going to try to enter the US illegally. She picked coffee during the season and cleaned the homes of wealthy families. But the jobs she had in Tierra Colorada didn’t give her enough money to be able to provide for herself and her children. She had heard both positive and negative stories about people escaping to the United States.
“It went well for some people, others died or came back to the village without an arm or a foot, but I saw no other way out so I was prepared to take the risk.”

Takes young people’s needs seriously

A few weeks before Vilma was due to leave, she had a visit from her cousin. He told her about a project run by Organización Cristiana de Desarrollo Integral de Honduras (OCDIH), which helps young people set up micro-businesses. He said that it wasn’t just talk – the project actually worked and took young people’s needs and ideas seriously.

“I didn’t think they’d take me on because I’m a mother. But my cousin insisted, so I went with him and those who ran the project said I was welcome to take part. I continued to go to workshops, and slowly I started to change my mind about making the journey to the US. I never actually wanted to go there, because I didn’t want to leave my children or my mother alone. After a while, I decided to stay.”

Many start-ups

When Vilma had made her decision, she convinced others in the group of young people who had been considering seeking their fortune in the US to instead join the project.   
“I said to them that they should come with me to a workshop and see for themselves. There are now several of us in the group who have small businesses. Some are running a cafe, others a hairdressing salon and some sell accessories for mobile phones.”

Vilma started a shop together with another participant in the project. They sell farming supplies.
“We came up with the idea for the shop together, a younger guy from the group and me. The project helped us make an analysis of the market, and we saw that many farmers were forced to travel very long distances to get hold of fertiliser and tools. We now supply them with these items locally.”

OCDIH’s project runs for two years. The young people themselves build up their companies from scratch. They learn to organize their work, draw up a plan, look for resources and implement their plan. A total of 200 young people between 12 and 29 years are currently taking part. 

Many boosted through the project

For the past year, Vilma has been leading workshops for new young people who have joined the project. Blanca Tulia Flores, coordinator at OCDIH, says that the organization allows the young people to pass on their knowledge, which results in active leadership.  

 “It’s important that the young people know their rights and have the courage to assert themselves. Several of the young girls in our projects hardly dared to speak when they first came here. They didn’t think they’d be taken seriously because they were too young. But slowly it’s started to change,” says Blanca.

And Vilma adds:
“Personally, I’m now spokesperson at the school my children attend, something I would not have been able to imagine previously.”

The youth project is only a small part of OCDIH’s work. Since 1993 they have also supported people to enable them to live off their small-scale farming operations and trained people in sustainable development, citizens’ rights and democracy.

“Financial independence is fundamental to people being able to develop and be active citizens,” says Blanca, “and this applies to both young people and adults, particularly women.”