by Susan Hoppert-Flaemig, July 2016
Although being an academic requires spending an essential amount of time with desk work, the time spent ‘in the field’ is most important to advance in my thinking. Like other researchers, I tend to focus more on the problems rather than on the positive aspects of my topics. Dealing with issues of violence in Central America and the incapability of governments to contain violence, this can be become quite depressing. However, there are moments when I am reminded that the courage of a few people can make the difference, even if only one individual life is changed.
My first trip to Central America was in 1999. I was 18 years old and volunteered at the Casa del Niño, an orphanage in La Ceiba, Honduras. For one year I shared my life with a bunch of lovely wild boys. Many of these boys had experienced poverty, abandonment, abuse, and violence but they were also just children who wanted to laugh and play and live their lives. One of these children was Noe, he came to the Casa del Niño with his brother Carlos when he was about seven years old. He was one of the youngest of the group of about 25 boys, a sweet little kid, smart and playful, and I enjoyed spending time with him and Carlos. That year in La Ceiba opened my eyes about the enormous difficulties many people face every day who are affected by violence and poverty and who are neglected by the state.
I remained attached to the region. In recent years, Honduras gained the sad reputation of being the world’s most violent country. La Ceiba is considered one of the ‘murder hotspots’. In 2011 I came back to La Ceiba. Now a PhD researcher, I had just spent a few weeks of fieldwork in El Salvador. Before heading back to the UK, I wanted to visit some friends in Honduras. One of them was Tania who had been teaching at the Casa del Niño for many years and was now working as principal at an NGO called Niños de la Luz. Niños de la Luz was providing a home and education for children and young adults in a high risk neighbourhood. Tania was working with the same dedication, empathy and persistence I had observed at the Casa del Niño. I was shocked when she told me that most of the children I had met at Casa del Niño had died. At some point in their young lives they had become involved in the lethal business of Honduran street gangs of killings, drug addiction and extortion. It was depressing to think about the kids as young men who killed and were killed.
However, as Tania showed me around Niños de la Luz, we came across a young man whose face seemed somehow familiar. It was Noe, the little boy of the Casa del Niño! His way was exceptional. Not only had he managed to survive and stay healthy. He had also earned a degree in business administration and worked as the financial manager of the project. Seeing Noe alive, happy and thriving in his career was such a pleasure. It showed me that the brave work of all those committed to boys and young men at risk and trying to offer them an alternative to violence and crime is worth it. Researching issues of insecurity and violence is often about being confronted with people living in depressing and difficult situations. But it is worth highlighting and remembering the positive stories as they encourage us to keep engaging with the topic.
 According to the UNODC Global Study on Homicides, 90.4 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants were counted in 2012.