A guiding hand steers teen from gangs back to family

Honduran youth Luis grew up with his beloved grandparents. But he began to lose his way when he moved to Tegucigalpa at age 12 to live with his mother, stepfather and two half-siblings.

The adjustment was difficult. He got into shouting matches with his mother and refused to listen to his stepfather.

What might be a normal teenage rebellious phase elsewhere took a dark turn in Luis’ new neighborhood, where gangs fought over territory. “All the gangs fight, and there’s violence and deaths, shootouts and drugs,” he said.

He experimented with drugs, acted out in school, played hooky and hung out with the wrong crowd.

At her wits’ end, his mother, Gloria, one day found the key to ending her family’s troubles: the USAID program Proponte Más, which provides counseling to families in order to steer young people away from gang life.

At first, Luis was hesitant. But the counselor, Sabina, helped Luis gradually change his attitude. She helped convince Luis to stay away from gangs and drugs, return to school, form new friendships, and learn to respect his family.

“Those six months for me were amazing because I changed completely,” Luis said. “I learned … to be a better person.”

Today he wakes early some days to help his stepfather haul produce in the market. On others, he buys corn for his mother’s small tortilla business, carrying it in a heavy sack slung over his shoulder onto the bus back home.

Boy helping man load groceries on dolly (Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID)
Luis helps his stepfather move goods at the market. (Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID)

“It’s good to go to work knowing that the money you’re earning is something you obtained from your own sweat and not from doing illicit activities,” Luis said.

Compilation of teacher leading class and person repairing small kitchen appliance (Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID)
After counseling, Luis returned to school (left) and learned appliance repair at a USAID youth outreach center. (Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID)

He has learned valuable job skills — computers, appliance repair — at a USAID youth outreach center while also having fun at the gym and playing soccer.

Three boys sitting on benches, one pouring drink in another's cup (Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID)
Luis and his new friends share sodas and snacks in their Nueva Capital neighborhood. (Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID)

Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. “If I hadn’t joined Proponte … maybe I would be dead, or in a gang, or an assassin — killing other people,” said Luis.

Family posing for photo (Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID)
Luis and his family outside their home (Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID)

But, he said, the program has helped him to feel much better about himself. “Before I thought I wasn’t important,” the lanky teenager said. “Now, I know I’m intelligent, and I can complete my goals.”

longer version of this article appears on USAID’s website.