Youth living on the edges of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa face dangers every day in their gang-infested neighborhoods. Their poverty is extreme, cruel gang killings take many of their friends each year, and hope is all but non-existent. If such a young person had an opportunity to emigrate to the United States, what might possibly tempt her to stay? In the case of one girl from Fuerzas Unidas, it was a Global Pearls scholarship allowing her to attend the 10th grade.

The youth of Honduras have an incredible longing to receive an education. They know it is imperative if they want to break free from the clutches of poverty and create opportunities for their futures. The appreciation they express for their high school scholarships is humbling.

The scholarships turn the impossible into the possible, but by no means make their lives easy. Scholarship recipients we visited in a remote village in Intibuc√° say they leave home at 2:00am, walk for four hours to the nearest bus stop, and spend 3 hours by bus to get to the nearest IHER center. They make this trip every week to attend their classes. Scholarship recipients we visited in a village of Lempira still study by candlelight since there is no electricity in their village. Almost all our students work full time on the family farm, or as carpenters, or as domestic servants, or… which is why they study on their own throughout the week and attend class only once each weekend. One student took us on a tour of the banana and palm oil plantations where she used to work. How do they do all this work, carry a full course load, and still sleep?

A key criteria for choosing scholarship recipients is their desire to use their educations to help others. We choose students who have a passionate desire to improve their communities, and we feed this passion by offering groups of scholarship students a chance to submit project proposals for funding. The projects are small, since our goal is education, not community development, but all the components are there for them to learn project management and leadership skills. I was blown away with the impact these projects had on the kids!

One young boy was so shy last year when I met him for the first time, he could barely speak. This year his project proposal was one of several chosen for funding (a caja rural – microloans which allow people in his community to develop small businesses). The self-confidence he developed leading his student group completely transformed him into a very confident, outspoken and animated young man! When I teased him that last year he was just a boy, and this year he had turned into a man (he is 14), he said it was the project that did it. Other students in the group agreed that the project had truly changed them, and it was so fun to see their enthusiasm!

Most of all, we want these projects to teach the students that they CAN make a difference. Based on the letters we received, we are doing just that!

Time and again we found that the real key to success for these kids wasn’t our scholarships or even their hard work, but someone – a parent, a teacher, a mentor from the community – that instilled the value of an education into their hearts and encouraged them along through all the hard times. One such mentor is a young man, Jose (not his real name), from La Paz.

Jose grew up without a father, so life was pretty hard not just for him, but for his mother also. After Jose graduated from the local primary school he needed to travel to reach a middle school which required bus fare. It was with great sacrifice that Jose’s mother supported him through the 7th grade, but, without a father to guide him, Jose chose his friends poorly, and under their bad influence he wasted his 7th grade year. That was the last support he received from his mother!

It was a harsh lesson for a 12-year-old, but sometimes poverty demands hard lessons. Eventually Jose put himself through middle and high school – working long hours to support himself and also pay the bus fees for his education. Even as a grown man it is hard for him to think about the suffering he endured, and he broke down in tears as he told us his story.

The pain he experienced trying to get an education without any support has made him very eager to help others. Now a young man (mid 20s?) he has been instrumental in helping the youth of his community establish an IHER center so they don’t have to travel long distances for school. He is helping them with ideas for project proposals that will have a positive impact on their community. He speaks to them about the importance of an education and motivates them to work hard and take advantage of the scholarships they’ve been given. Most of all, he tells them to never give up! He is determined, he tells them, to eventually put himself through the university. He doesn’t know how, but he won’t stop trying until he achieves his dream, and he tells them they, too, should never stop trying to find a way!

In time, I hope we can expand our scholarship program to support university scholarships. If we do, Jose is just the type of person we will choose!