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In Honduras, troubled youth trade gangs for sports

Many people's lives in Honduras changed for the better in 2011 through the founding of Skate Brothers, a nonprofit skating club that aims to help young people get out of gangs by providing a safe environment for them to practice skateboarding and other sports. 

Eduard Rodriguez
Members of the Skate Brothers skating club in Honduras, founded in 2011, gather together with their bikes and skateboards in the skate park. Skate Brothers aims to help keep young people from joining gangs.

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When gang violence almost ended Jessel Recinos’s life, the young Honduran vowed to use the experience to help save others’ lives. “I joined a gang when I was 15, but in 2005 my life changed after I was shot with a 9-millimeter pistol. The last bullet went through my back and came out above my heart,” says Mr. Recinos, unbuttoning his shirt to show the scar. “I promised God right there and then I would leave this dark world behind.” That vow led him, in 2011, to start Skate Brothers, a nonprofit skating club that has become a model for young people tempted by drugs, crime, and maras, or gangs. Today, about 70 children and young people use the Skate Brothers facilities to practice rollerblading, skateboarding, acrobatics, modern dance, rap, and football. They also form friendships, take part in parades and street fairs, and benefit from occasional workshops. “Some of them used to belong to gangs, and Skate Brothers has changed their lives. We don’t just teach them different disciplines, we are also mentors because we have become friends,” says Recinos.

This story is one of several from world news outlets that the Monitor is publishing as part of an international effort to highlight solutions journalism.

The bike rider makes a silhouette in the air before landing on the ground and undertaking a few complicated acrobatics. You can clearly see the satisfaction on his face. He is one of many young people who, in a troubled area of Honduras, have swapped misdemeanors for sports thanks to the Skate Brothers.

“I do these tricks on bikes, but I am also a skater. I was on the wrong track for six years; I was looking for an adrenaline rush on the streets and found one here that doesn’t put my life at risk. Here we are one big, happy family,” says Gendrik Torres, 19, before jumping his bike onto a multipurpose track that many others are enjoying.

When the sun sets, a swarm of children and young people come together every day to demonstrate their skills on the track, while others show off their singing and dancing talents in a room next door. Some speed off on roller skates like arrows, others do tricks on their skateboards, and still others take to the track with their bikes. 

“Pain is temporary, but satisfaction is forever. I love coming here because there is a family atmosphere and it stops you from thinking about getting into gangs or things like that,” explains young skater Bayron Rodriguez, 13, with the wisdom of an adult. 

He and Mr. Torres are just two of the many young people who gather every afternoon to take part in this program in Cofradía, a community south of the city of San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent places in Honduras. At the end of 2017, the country’s homicide rate was 42.8 killings per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the world. 

The inspiration to create the program came from Jessel Recinos, a Honduran who traded crime for skating and founded Skate Brothers to keep young people away from gangs.

“I joined a gang when I was 15, but in 2005 my life changed after I was shot with a 9-millimeter pistol. The last bullet went through my back and came out above my heart,” describes Mr. Recinos, unbuttoning his shirt to show the scar. “I promised God right there and then I would leave this dark world behind. The doctors didn't understand – I survived by miracle.”

That vow to “become a good person” led him to start Skate Brothers in 2011, a nonprofit skating club that has become a model for young people tempted by drugs, crime, and maras, or gangs. “We have prevented many people from falling into vandalism; we are the antivirus to this problem,” says Recinos. 

The project was initially located within Cofradía’s outreach center, a Catholic Church aid center for children and young people in high-risk areas. Funding came from a donation of 24,400 Honduran lempiras ($1,020) from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In 2017, also thanks to donations from USAID and the Catholic Church, Skate Brothers was able to open its own facilities, which include an office, a gym, a meeting room, football and basketball courts, a multipurpose track, bathrooms, a cafeteria, and locker rooms. 

“When we cut the ribbon, I sat down on the track, looked at my ‘sheep,’ and it brought tears to my eyes to see how many young people were already safe,” says Recinos, who in 2016 was chosen by the US State Department as one of 10 Emerging Young Leaders across the world.

Today, about 70 children and young people come to have fun for free at a place where they can practice rollerblading, skateboarding, acrobatics, modern dance, rap, and football. “Some of them used to belong to gangs, and Skate Brothers has changed their lives. We don’t just teach them different disciplines, we are also mentors because we have become friends,” says Recinos.

The club goes beyond sports. This year, some 2,000 inhabitants of the region will benefit from a nutritional program sponsored by USAID. “We have a direct link with the public. Every September 15th, Honduras Independence Day, we take part in parades, put on shows at streets fairs, and go to every event that the community invites us to,” says Recinos.

The institution makes ends meet thanks to meeting room rentals, a gym, sponsorships, raffles, and other activities. “We do it out of love,” says the founder, but adds that they need further financial support.

Among their current objectives are obtaining legal permission to process any aid that comes to them, and reaching out to other parts of the country. “One of our goals is to expand into parts of Honduras where there are conflicts. 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.

This story was reported by El Heraldo, a news outlet in Colombia. The Monitor is publishing it as part of an international effort by more than 50 news organizations worldwide to promote solutions journalism. To read other stories in this joint project, please click here.

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