TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — In Cofradia, a town outside of San Pedro Sula in Honduras, the rhythmic clunk of skateboard wheels has become commonplace. The clatter of wheels and wood on pavement may be intrusive and noisy to some, but for Jessel Recinos, it is not only welcome and familiar, but a sign of his hometown becoming safer. A former gang member, Recinos was only 16 years old when he survived being shot in the back. The violent experience did not spark revenge but instead gave him the drive to eliminate the presence of gangs across Honduras.
To accomplish this goal, he returned to his passion for rollerblading, which occupied much of his time before he became a gang member. In 2011, he founded Skate Brothers, a group for at-risk youth so that they could skateboard, rollerblade or bike ride while enjoying a sense of community. Some of the benefits of this organization include reducing the risk of youth joining gangs and aiding crime prevention efforts in Honduras. Skate Brothers was originally headquartered in an outreach center within a Catholic church, funding for which was provided by The United States Agency of International Development (USAID).
In the eight years since its inception, Skate Brothers has grown immensely with help from USAID. The first USAID donation the group received was a little over a thousand dollars for supplies. In 2016, Skate Brothers built the first skatepark in Confredia with funding from USAID and the local government. The following year, Skate Brothers opened their own facilities with a gym, basketball and football courts, a track, locker rooms and a cafeteria. The facilities have also become a vital place for other types of aid to come through. For example, in 2018, 2,000 inhabitants of the area went to the Skate Brothers’ headquarters to partake in a nutritional program.
The Central American Regional Security Initiative
The Skate Brothers program has been a tremendous asset in preventing Cofradia’s youth from getting ensnared by gangs and crime, but much of Honduras and Central America grapple with the same problem. Thankfully, the USAID-funded outreach center where Skate Brothers got its start is not unique to Cofradia. In fact, the USAID has established over 200 centers across Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama as part of their Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
The initiative started in 2009 and was intended as a re-tooling strategy to improve crime prevention efforts in Honduras and the region. Instead of strengthening law enforcement or jailing more people, CARSI aimed to “address the root causes of crime” through preventative methods that address the social and environmental conditions of the communities it was working in.
Three preventative models work in conjunction to best identify and address the factors which cause individuals to turn to crime or become victims of crime. The first model addresses the psychological and social conditions of individuals at risk of turning to crime because they have an unstable home, live where gangs are prevalent or lack spaces for recreational activities. Skate Brothers works in this way by providing young people with an opportunity to pursue a passion while escaping violence.
The second is the situational crime prevention model which addresses environmental conditions such as poorly lit streets or a lack of surveillance. Interventions based on this model would make an area less likely to be a host for crime rather than focusing on preventing people from committing crimes. The final model deals with community crime prevention, which strengthens the social network of a neighborhood because neighbors who trust each other are less vulnerable to crime.
Since CARSI programs were put in place in Honduras and other Central American countries, there has been a notable drop in the prevalence of crime. A 2014 evaluation found that residents perceive crime and gang presence less and feel more secure in their neighborhoods. The report also surveyed residents to determine which programs they felt were most effective in fighting crime and the top three suggestions were to make community initiatives a frontline weapon against crime, to increase family support to reduce risk factors and to use classrooms to raise awareness around physical and sexual violence.
Recinos has big plans for the future of Skate Brothers. One of its goals is to reach parts of Honduras where conflict rages. “If we can find an organization to support us the project will keep on flourishing because we want more young people to be reached by Skate Brothers,” says Recinos.
Whether that partner is USAID is yet to be determined, but given the success of their partnership with Skate Brothers, it would be a good match. Thanks to CARSI, there are over 50 outreach centers across Honduras like Skate Brothers and these places are giving young leaders an opportunity to not only keep young people away from gangs but also fortify the communities they are apart of.
– Nick Sharek