By Dunia Orellana, Journalist and GOJoven Alumnae, GOJoven Honduras
March 2018 – National Women’s History Month
Continuous thirteen-hour trips on dirt roads and stones, discrimination, and years of hard study away from the community where she was born. These were some of the barriers which the GOJoven International fellow and co-founder of GOJoven Honduras, Ivonne Miranda, had to deal with on her way to the academic and work success she dreamt of since her childhood in the Garífuna community of Santa Fe, in the department of Colón.
Two events radically changed Ivonne’s life. The first was her ability to study in La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula, “not following the pattern of life of the girls who go to the city,” as she says. The second event was the contact with GOJoven that led her to become a self-confident woman, aspiring to help her community and the country through education and defense of the sexual and reproductive rights of the vulnerable population.
“Education changed my life”
Santa Fe, where Ivonne was born 34 years ago, is a community of Honduran Garífuna people who struggle to preserve their culture and beliefs despite the influence of cities and growing migration. She was uprooted there when her parents separated when she was only eight years old: “I was raised by my father’s aunt, but I spent one Christmas with my father and another with my mother,” Ivonne says.
She did not face the dilemma of many Garífuna girls – whether or not to continue her education- because she clung to her educational aspirations as tightly as if they were a life preserver. She knew that to achieve her dreams she had to emigrate to the city, like every young adult in Santa Fe who yearns for a higher education. Ivonne was a pioneer because in her family, no woman had ever graduated from university, though an uncle of hers had managed to become an engineer.
Ivonne was 15 years old when she got off the bus in the city of La Ceiba, Atlántida, after thirteen hours of traveling on stony roads, “with a suitcase full of dreams” and the desire to challenge fate. A few years later, she found herself in computer tech. “I liked computers,” she says, remembering with a smile the day she went to college for the first time, “but according to the tests, I wasn’t meant for a technical career, but rather a career that involved interaction with people.” She challenged her destiny by studying Psychology.
“Education changed my life and gave significantly turned it around,” says Ivonne. As it turns out, it changed not only her life, but also her family’s. “Relatives who came after me saw my sacrifice and perseverance and also will not give up,” she says. When she was studying at La Ceiba, she decided that she would only come back to Santa Fe if she had a university degree. And she did not stop there: “In my family, I am the first to get a Master’s degree,” she adds proudly. She took yet another risk and went to San Pedro Sula, where she faced discrimination from her teachers and violence in the city. Her family follows her example well: both her cousin and sister are also psychologists.
GOJoven marked her life and made her a leader
In her second job working with the HIV-infected population in a clinic for teenagers, the staff talked to Ivonne about the GOJoven Program. She liked what she heard so much that she went to a 10-minute interview that ended up lasting 45 minutes. “I thought something was wrong,” remembers Ivonne. When they told her they saw her as a leader, she could not believe it. “I never saw myself that way,” he says.
“GOJoven marked me. It sensitized me, helped me to better address sexual and reproductive health and financed my expertise. It is a before and after in my life. With what I learned through GOJoven, we now influence the youth of my community. ” Access to Santa Fe remains difficult, much more so in winter because the rivers grow and there is no bridge, but the work of committed people like Ivonne helps to reduce the gap between youth and their right to information.
“Thanks to GOJoven, I became a leader in sexual and reproductive health. One of our projects was to create kiosks and host educational fairs where we gave young people informal information and distributed 11,000 condoms. ” Her youth-focused work has also crossed national borders. Last year, Ivonne traveled to Colombia on behalf of GOJoven. In Colombia, they were amazed to learn about her past thirteen-hour trips and that as a Garífuna with higher education, Ivonne was able to preserve her mother tongue. For her presentation, she received an award that only 120 other people have also earned. With the prize money, Ivonne finances an anti-dropout project with the help of young people from the GOJoven platform.
Most recently, Ivonne was selected for the “120 Under 40: The New Generation of Leaders in Family Planning,” an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This global award recognizes and highlights Ivonne’s achievements as a member of the next generation of planning leaders from around the world. The selection process was very competitive: 40 winners were selected in 2017 through an electronic public voting system, evaluation by a jury of experts and leaders in the field, and approval from the Project Secretariat.
As an award-winning young leader, Ivonne received $ 1,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health to continue her family planning work and / or to start new innovative projects. GOJoven International is committed to supporting Ivonne in this new international space, including for the execution of her Seed Fund award.
What lies ahead
“My dream?”, Ivonne pauses before affirming: “It is to continue working on sexual and reproductive health, sow that seed of knowledge in youth, and in children. I dream that people understand that these problems do not solely belong to other people, but are issues that concern everyone. We must all get involved. ”
This article is the second in a series of two articles produced by the author, Dunia Orellana, about the women leaders of GOJoven Honduras. It is a special series dedicated to National Women’s History Month, March 2018.