Young Hondurans love soccer and wanted to play on a field in Chamelecon. But the field and its surrounding areas had become a dumping ground for dead bodies by gang members in a country with one of the world’s highest homicide rates.
Lessy Castillo couldn’t live with that. A community organizer, she applied her talents to persuading 140 at-risk neighborhood youth to help reclaim the field. Today there are lights, new trees, an outdoor gym, a basketball court, and areas to play chess, dominoes, and checkers. Soon the gang stopped dumping its victims there, and drug dealers moved out. “It was a tremendous challenge,” said Castillo. “But the community came together, and now 60 to 70 people use the park daily, and at night it’s a fiesta because we put up lights.”
Castillo was one of more than 100 women leaders who attended a recent luncheon organized by the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa to kick off a month of activities marking International Women’s Day (March 8). The participants were recognized for their efforts combating crime.
“Security too often is thought of as strictly a male issue,” U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske told the audience. “But we all know that is not accurate. A safer Honduras greatly depends on the contributions by all of you and by other women.” Kubiske, the second woman to serve as our ambassador in Tegucigalpa, noted that women make up much of the embassy’s leadership and top security officials.
In addition to Castillo, three other women shared their stories: a judge, a police officer, and a business owner who created a system that enabled safe delivery of products through a region that is particularly dangerous due to drug trafficking.
A major goal of the event was to bring these leaders together so that they could develop a network. “I can say with great certainty on behalf of all who participated in this initiative that we are thankful for the opportunity to engage one another, and motivated to continue this much-needed initiative sponsored by the ambassador,” said Mirna Suazo, a retired senior police official.
“We hope they share their experiences and identify ways to bring peace to their communities,” explained Johanna Diaz of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), who helped create the initiative.
A video crew filmed interviews with the women for use in radio and TV spots that will air during news shows and soap operas until the end of March. These spots also include a few words from Ambassador Kubiske. On March 7 and 8, four of the women promoted the initiative on the nation’s highest-rated morning news show and on a talk show aimed at a young female audience.
In addition, there are ads running in El Heraldo, the highest-circulation daily, and other newspapers such as La Tribuna, El Heraldo, La Prensa, and El Tiempo. The women-in-security theme is reaching additional audiences via a new Facebook page and other social media, and we expect a number of movie theaters to run the 90-second TV spot. “This International Women’s Day campaign is part of our ongoing effort to inspire, empower, and change the narrative in this special country from despair to hope,” Ambassador Kubiske explained.
The project benefited from great teamwork within the embassy. For example, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), USAID, and the Public Affairs, Political, and Economic Sections were instrumental in identifying the leaders who turned out for the kickoff and are now building the network.
This work is paying dividends beyond International Women’s Day. ”Thanks to this initiative, I was able to connect with other women leaders I hadn’t yet had a chance to reach,” said Aurora de Pineda, a high-profile victims advocate and nationally recognized security-reform champion. “We’ve already set a date for joining forces and working on a national campaign to promote security reform. It’s very motivating.”
About the Author: Gail Morgado serves as a Stability Operations Officer in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the U.S. Department of State.