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2009 – Honduras

Increasing access to education for Lenca girls in Honduras

Partner: ACCESO International


The Lenca people represent one of the most impoverished and oppressed indigenous populations in Honduras. In the municipality of San Francisco de Opalaca, one of the poorest regions in the country with 90% of the Lenca living in poverty and 70% living in extreme poverty, the living conditions are so desperate that parents cannot afford even staple food, nor the basic supplies and uniforms required for their children’s admission to primary school.

In the short term, this project funded by 60 million girls in partnership with ACCESO International would increase access to education by providing invaluable life-changing educational opportunities for 250 Lenca girls, aged 5 to 18, who live in the remote and extremely underserved mountainous villages in the municipality of San Francisco de Opalaca, located in the northern part of the department of Intibucá in south-western Honduras. This project would help the girls to overcome paralyzing patriarchal barriers by enhancing their human rights, dignity and employability.

Project objectives

This initiative would also improve access to school and enhance the quality of education for over 3,000 children in the San Francisco de Opalaca region.

The main benefit of this project will be enabling girls to be educated beyond grade 6, a very significant and otherwise impossible chance for most Lenca girls in the San Francisco de Opalaca region of Honduras.

This is a three-year project designed to ensure the completion of the full three years of study for girls at the junior high and high school levels. The project will specifically support:

  • Construction of a dormitory in Monte Verde that will provide secure lodging for 32 Lenca girls so that they can study beyond grade 6 and attend junior high; the residence is essential to the Lenca girls who live in remote mountain villages where junior high schools and transportation are unavailable. The residents of the dormitory will attend Juan Lindo junior high school in Monte Verde. Other benefits of the dormitory will include essential nutritious meals, protection, supervision, as well as emotional and educational support. Over the long term, this dormitory will serve several generations of Lenca girls, essentially hundreds of girls and eventually thousands over the next several decades.
  • Bursaries will cover school-related expenses (tuition, registration fees, uniforms, school supplies, transportation, lodging, nutritious meals) so that Lenca girls can attend and complete primary, junior and high school. Such comprehensive support will enable the Lenca girls to complete their program of study and thus decrease the gender gap in the numbers of graduates in this geographical area. The high school bursary recipients will attend one of the following three schools in La Esperanza (the capital of the San Francisco de Opalaca region): Instituto Martianiano Aguilar Villanueva, Instituto Departamental del Occidente or Escuela Normal del Occidente; the latter is a teacher training school which will be very important to the training of these young girls to ensure more consistent and better quality education in their remote villages.
  • Human rights workshops will empower and educate the girls in this project, Honduras’ Lenca women of tomorrow, by creating awareness of their rights to gender, cultural, educational and employment equality in an effort to help them overcome the multiple forms of oppression and exploitation they face. The workshops will take place in Monte Verde for junior high school girls, in La Esperanza for high school girls and in the various remote villages for primary school girls and their families (see the names listed below).
  • Support meetings and individual counselling will help the girls with their challenges related to school, gender inequality, geographic dislocation, economic disadvantage, as well as those related to adolescence including emotional, social and cultural needs. The meetings and counselling will also include homework support and tutoring services. As an additional source of empowerment, the girls will be provided with opportunities to contribute to the curriculum of the human rights workshops and the support meetings so their needs are met appropriately and their Lenca cultural traditions are incorporated into the processes. The girls will also create community projects whereby they will share their opportunities and knowledge with others.
  • Learning materials will be provided for primary schools in the 22 remote villages to raise the level and quality of education for the bursary recipients and their 3000 fellow students.
Project benefits for the Lenca girls’ education:
    • access to education that would otherwise be impossible to attain;
    • resources and supplies to attend school with dignity and confidence;
    • a comprehensive education (formal and gender rights-based) so that they can participate more fully in their self-direction;
    • desperately needed support to grow in self-esteem and develop the tools they need to confront abuse and exploitation in domestic, public and labour environments;
    • safe lodging with supportive accompaniment.
This project will help to overcome:
    • gender inequality in a patriarchal society that favours the education and employment of males;
    • cultural inequality for Lencas whose indigenous rights are denied and whose traditions are oppressed;
    • extreme geographic dislocation and lack of services due to the mountainous topography;
    • exploitation, manipulation and abuse in the home and in unsafe employment situations;
    • severe economic disadvantages because of isolation and subsistence living.

Socio-economic background and obstacles facing the education of Lenca girls

By enabling greater access to education for Lenca girls in Honduras, the poorest country in Central America, 60 million girls will address the educational plight of extremely marginalized and impoverished indigenous girls.

Despite the improvements and the increase in infrastructure in the municipality of San Francisco de Opalaca, education remains one of its most urgent needs. Although there is a primary school in almost every village, not all children are able to attend as parents often cannot afford the related costs. In the typical two room schoolhouses, there is often only one teacher for all of the children of the village and the teachers are responsible for all grades from 1 to 6.

Of the 22 villages in the municipality, only Monte Verde has a junior high school with grades 7 through 9. As a result, very few students outside of Monte Verde pursue their education beyond grade 6 given that travel to Monte Verde from the 21 other villages is generally on foot, a trek lasting anywhere between 45 minutes to 7 hours. Ninety percent of Lenca families live in poverty, and those living in isolated communities cannot pay for room and board for children wishing to pursue their studies. The financial barriers to furthering their children’s education are inevitably insurmountable; the education of girls is simply an added expense they cannot afford.

At present, the vast majority of students do not finish high school. Within this bleak context, the situation of females is the worst. Since most girls are expected to help their mothers with domestic chores, childcare and harvest sales, many of them do not complete primary school. The girls are often abused and exploited. It is sadly too common that most of the adult women do not know how to read or write. It is hoped that the enduring effects of this project will influence future generations of girls and women, entire communities and the progress of the Lenca people.