What makes young people want to stay in their home country?
As the U.S. continues to implement its strategy to address the root causes of migration in Central America, the reasons why Hondurans migrate are already clear to many youth who live there. “Violence, access to education, and lack of job opportunities,” sums up 18-year-old Lilian, from Villa Verde, a small hamlet in a mountainous area of Honduras. Her firsthand account aligns with many of the push factors cited for Central American migration as a whole—corruption, violence, poverty, joblessness, and food insecurity.
Yet given these challenges, what makes young people invest in staying in their home country? What factors contribute to a sense of rootedness, “the combination of bonds…that attach the person to his or her environment: family, religion, culture, language, physical land, and heritage”? Research exists on why people choose or are forced to migrate, but little exists on rootedness. Because of this, Dexis spoke directly with young people about their perspectives on the issue.
Several interviewees noted how family is a powerful motivator to stay in Honduras, if not in their home community. Lilian, who lives with her mother, grandmother, and siblings notes that her family are “the most important people.”
Kimberly, a 19-year-old law student at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, echoes the significance of family towards creating a sense of community and belonging. “More than anything, it is family attachment,” she says. “I am surrounded by my family.” She goes on to describe how they provide not only economic support and help her deal with stress but also offer her encouragement. “My father tells me, ‘I want you to surpass me.’”
“My whole family is here,” says 21-year-old Onan from a village called Chusquin, when asked if his current community is his true home. “A good future must have a stable life like a job, where I can generate income, support myself, and be able to help my family,” he adds.
Education is Everything
Each of the youth Dexis surveyed mentioned the importance of studying. “A good education is needed for a good future,” says Kimberly.
The problem is that higher education rates for Honduras are very low, including compared with other countries in the region. UNESCO estimates participation at only around 19% in Honduras, compared with 25% for Latin America as a whole.
Sinthia, 18, who is currently studying business administration, works at a phone store. She says there are many young people in her town in western Honduras who both study and work to afford their education. Sinthia emphasized the importance of university-level education but also said that technical training courses in baking, beauty, mechanics, and other areas could help youth start their own businesses, giving them real economic incentive to stay. These types of technical training courses can provide two sets of opportunities—helping youth launch a microenterprise as a primary source of income or earn additional side income on occasion.
Despite the importance our interviewees placed on education, it is still no guarantee of economic success. Kimberly notes, “Friends tell me, ‘I already graduated, and I don’t have a job. I want to migrate.”
The lack of economic opportunities contributes to youth and their family members moving from rural to urban areas in search of work or leaving the country altogether. “Young people, even 13 years old, have left,” says Enrique, who’s 16 and lives with his parents in Lempira, not far from the border with El Salvador.
Yet Enrique is undeterred. In addition to helping his parents tend crops such as coffee, corn, and beans, he studies business administration in the hopes of starting his own micro-enterprise. “I’m going to have to create and grow something that is going to give me a good future,” he says.
Despite preference to build their community, start businesses, and seek additional skills for higher incomes, all youth interviewed stressed how personal safety affected community rootedness. Relatedly President Xiomara Castro recently declared a state of emergency given the rise in gang violence linked to drug trafficking and extortion.
“It’s not safe,” says Pablo. “My sister was robbed in the middle of the day near my house.” Similarly, his brother was assaulted as he was leaving their neighborhood.
Given these inputs, how can development partners help young people develop promising futures where they want to stay and contribute to their home communities?
- Consult diverse youth who are already persisting in the face of problems and are thinking creatively about solutions to get ahead;
- Engage youth living in high-risk areas in programming, especially those who have neither the time nor transport money to travel for work or study;
- Promote youth success stories in their own words to show other youth what’s possible;
- Support flexible work and study options, including distance education, weekend classes, and short skills-based workshops; and
- Apply a trauma-informed approach to programming, in recognition of the high rates of violence.
Honduran youth are aware of the obstacles they face while also appreciating the factors that keep them connected to their home country. Interviewees mentioned the importance of perseverance to overcome challenges, such as balancing studies and job-seeking. As Kimberly notes, “Honduras must offer each young person hope and a pathway to move forward.”