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Returned migrants receive vocational training

4.22. 2019 Written By: Jill Steinmetz for Mennonite Central Committee 474 Times read

Photo: These former migrants who returned to Honduras by choice or by force are practicing air conditioning and refrigeration repair skills at Loyala Institute Vocational School in El Progreso, Honduras. (Names are not used for their protection.) MCC photo/Jill Steinmetz

The cellphone vibrates against David’s pant pocket as he rides on the bus, but he does not dare pick it up. It is risky to use his phone because it’s an easy target for theft.

Today is Saturday, David’s day in the Honduran city of El Progreso, where he takes electrical classes. He is on the four-hour commute home to where his young daughters and their mother wait for him in their rural community, where many people live in poverty. Neither the name of his hometown nor his real name is used for his protection.

David is taking a one-day-a-week class through Comisión de Acción Social Menonita (CASM, or Mennonite Social Action Commission). CASM is a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner organization that helps returned migrants ‒ those who have attempted to migrate to another country but were returned by force or chose to return ‒ with trauma support and job training.

The returnees can take vocational courses in industrial operation, culinary skills, refrigeration, bread baking, barbering or cosmetology. These skills provide a better chance of earning a living than they had before, even though jobs are hard to find. Having a stable income in Honduras allows people to live in safer places and increase security measures.

Former migrants stand with Ever Castro, left, their electricity teacher at Loyola Institute Vocational School in El Progreso, Honduras. (Names are not used for their protection.) MCC photo/Jill Steinmetz

David left Honduras after the 2017 election because he was not safe. As a government employee, he witnessed election tampering in the last presidential election and began to see others with insider information being assassinated. He lived in fear, not only for his own life, but for the security of those around him.

Soon after, he decided to leave alone in search of a livelihood outside of Honduras, hoping his absence would pose less of a risk to his family. It was a difficult choice to make, but he believed the only way to provide for them was to accept a factory job thousands of miles away in the United States.

“What pushes Hondurans to migrate, in many cases, is violence, unemployment and fear,” David told an MCC migrant learning tour that visited Honduras in November. “We can find work for maybe one or two days but then you lose it. In my case I had to migrate because of political reasons.”

When he reached the United States, David discovered the asylum process was so long and complicated – and legal counsel so expensive – that during the four months he worked in the United States he didn’t complete it. He worried about his family, so he decided to return to Honduras with money so they could emigrate together.

On the way home, he says he was robbed, assaulted and detained by migration officers in Mexico. After two long months, he says they released him with a gun to his head and a threat not to return. Penniless, he made it back to his family in Honduras weeks later. The whole journey was so long, treacherous and humiliating, he felt as if he had nothing ‒ until he received a hopeful call from CASM about vocational training.

At Loyola Institute Vocational School in El Progreso, Honduras, former migrants who returned to Honduras by choice or by force are learning about electricity. (Names are not used for their protection.) MCC photo/Jill Steinmetz

Not only does CASM provide vocational skills through its returned migrant program, the organization also addresses health problems, injuries and hunger. CASM provides families with enough money to buy food for a few weeks and psychologists to accompany each of them on their individual transition.

Some returnees ‒ for example, those who were very young children when they left ‒ have never really known their country of origin. For others, decades have passed since they have lived in Honduras, which can feel foreign and scary. Some return, having survived human trafficking, rape, kidnapping, loss of limbs and deaths of loved ones and other life-altering tragedies along the way. Others have left children, spouses and other beloved family members back in the United States.

Psychologists have helped participants develop strategies to deal with trauma and have used imagery to imagine their past, present and future selves, which helps them work toward a better tomorrow.

“Everyone needs to earn enough money to keep their family safe. This is harder to do when the odds are stacked against your success. We hope that participants leave our program in a less-vulnerable position, despite many structural and socioeconomic challenges,” says Rudi Koornneef, an MCC staff member who works with CASM’s returned migrant program.

One of these factors is the distance David must travel to receive help at the school. When he arrives, he is welcomed by his electrical teacher, Ever Castro. After a bit of friendly conversation, he sits in a desk with five other students to learn about electrical circuits, study textbooks and take a quiz about new terms.

Castro is passionate about teaching these students and feels as though this is the way that he can provide something positive in a faulty system. When his students share their stories, he says he understands how much they have struggled and is inspired by how hard each of them is willing to work toward success.

Castro inspires them as well and teaches valuable lessons beyond electricity. Lunch is provided by the culinary students at the school and the rest of the day consists of hands-on learning in the workshop area of the classroom where they take apart air conditioners and learn through putting them back together.

It was in one of these classes where David met Josue, an older man with a beard and a prosthetic leg. Like David, Josue dreamt of finding employment in the United States, but he lost his left leg in a train accident. Back home, his disability, in addition to his lack of education and professional skills, made it especially difficult to find employment. Josue hopes that with the electrical skills, he will be able to support himself.

“These classes help us achieve dreams that we haven’t reached,” Josue says, referring to employment and safety. “This is what I really want, so I’m taking advantage of this opportunity and moving forward.”

David, having completed his training, recently secured a job repairing and cleaning air conditioning units, which is a marketable job in the tropical Sula region that maintains year-round temperatures exceeding 80 degrees.

Jill Steinmetz is a participant in MCC’s Service and Learning Together (SALT) program, a one-year service assignment for young adults. She is based in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. From Bluffton, Ohio, she is a graduate of Goshen (Indiana) College.

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