WASHINGTON, DC – In a ceremony at The White House on November 17, First Lady Michelle Obama presented the International Spotlight Award to the Honduran NGO “Organization for Youth Empowerment” (OYE) as part of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. Twelve domestic non-profits were also recipients. OYE is the only international organization chosen for this prestigious award, which also provides $10,000 for program support.
“As I’ve said many times before, arts education is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” said Mrs. Obama at today’s ceremony. “It’s really the air many of these kids breathe. It’s how we get kids excited about getting up and going to school in the morning. It’s how we get them to take ownership of their future.”
“And that’s why these programs are so important,” continued Mrs. Obama. “We have to keep shining a light on them. We have to keep encouraging these kids because they are the next generation of fabulous.”
OYE operates in El Progreso, Yoro, and provides at-risk youth with merit-based high school and university scholarships, and uses arts, sports and community engagement initiatives to develop their leadership skills. Founded in 2005, OYE enables youth to have an education and a safe space to develop life skills, self-esteem and commitment to help create change in Honduras.
“In OYE, I have found a space that is different – a space where we not only have fun, but also gain valuable life skills and meet other young people who have the same drive to actively seek opportunities and fight for a better future,” said OYE scholarship recipient Claudia Pavon, a 20 year-old in her third year at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in San Pedro Sula. Her father worked long hours to ensure that Claudia and her sisters graduated from high school but the university was entirely out of their reach. Claudia, an educational administration major, affirmed, “We, as youth, have the power to change our society for the better.”
OYE scholars are 60% young women. “OYE represents our belief in a society where youth are key factors in the positive development of their country,” said Ana Luisa Ahern, one of the two founders of OYE. Justin Eldridge-Otero, OYE’s co-founder added, “OYE empowers disadvantaged youth with knowledge and resources so they can effectively create change in their homes, schools and communities.” Ahern and Eldridge-Otero lived in Honduras as children and returned to Honduras after graduating from college in 2005 to create OYE, which today is run fully by Honduran staff, including one of OYE’s first scholarship recipients.
Miguel Lopez, the President of OYE’s board said, “I have worked for well over 20 years in socio-economic development and education and am energized by the enthusiasm, creativity and commitment of these at-risk youth. OYE is a shining example of the change needed to generate hope and respect for the next generation in my home city of El Progreso.”
Rocio Mendoza, OYE’s Executive Director, said, “OYE’s work is having a significant impact in the lives of young disadvantaged youth. In a country where nearly half of students drop out of high school, about 95% of OYE scholars complete high school and 90% of those continue to the university. The need is enormous and while we are proud that we have provided 215 youth with yearly scholarships, if OYE had the resources we could easily double or triple that number.”
Jefry Amaya, an OYE scholar participating in the White House ceremony, said, “OYE and Arte La Calle (street art) have influenced significantly who I am today and how I view the world. My philosophy is to never say ‘I can’t.’ I am not only more confident in myself, but believe in the importance of reaching out to youth in my community to discover their hidden talents and awaken within them a passion for art.” Jefry is one of seven brothers and sisters raised by a single mother. He received a scholarship from OYE at age 14 and has participated in OYE’s arts program since then. Today, 18 year-old Jefry is finishing his second year studying mathematics at the National Autonomous University in Honduras in San Pedro Sula. He is the first person in his family to attend the university.
The National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Awards is an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The President’s Committee partners with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities to administer the program.