Honduras Youth Conservation Corps: A Global Success Story

What started as an experimental conservation and leadership program in rural Honduras focused on recruiting youth most likely to experience the negative effects of narcotics, violence, and immigration has transformed into an ambitious endeavor reaching young people across the globe.

The Honduras Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program, implemented by the United States Forest Service International Programs Honduras (USFS-IP Honduras) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was the first program of its kind to be successfully implemented overseas.

Honduras YCC aims to develop socially and environmentally conscious young leaders. Since 2017, the program has trained exceptional young adults who become agents of change and inspiration in their local communities. The program’s 1,400 hours of training over eight months develops and strengthens key competencies and skills to create a generation of leaders with the knowledge, skills, and values that work to improve their communities.

Initially, the program adapted its curriculum, knowledge, and leadership strategies from the long-standing Youth Conservation Corps program in the United States, founded in 1971. However, Honduras YCC has grown beyond its expectations.

“It is not easy to take an old program in the United States and turn it into something successful in Latin America,” said Luis Tinoco, coordinator of the Honduras YCC program. “We had to invest many months of research, revising the curriculum and adapting it to our context and reality, creating new mechanisms, strategies, and activities that would help us ensure the success of it in Honduras, and therefore, in Latin America.”

The Honduras YCC program relies on partnerships with local conservation organizations to pair participants with projects that will benefit the environment. Upon completion of the program, participants receive their certification as Environmental Promoters from the National Institute of Professional Training (INFOP, in Spanish), a significant achievement that strengthens employment, study, and entrepreneurship opportunities for graduates.

Man in a tan shirt smiles for the camera.

Honduras Youth Conservation Corps Program Coordinator Luis Tinoco uses an innovative learning model of teaching youth ‘to know, to do, and to be’ is similar to pedagogical ideas in the U.S. which has been effective in teaching ideas and values at a much deeper level than traditional education.

A small experimental program to a worldwide success

During the first year of implementation in 2017, the YCC Honduras program featured 30 participants. Today that number has grown to approximately 100 participants each year.

For Steve Lenzo, a retired Forest Service officer and youth program consultant for the USFS, the success of the Honduras YCC program has been a catalyst for implementing other Forest Service youth programs worldwide.

“Honduras YCC has been hugely successful over the past five years teaching leadership, community service, self-improvement, self-reflection, teamwork, and the importance of always improving our communities, our countries, our planet, and its biodiversity and natural resources. The program has been successfully expanded to serve even more Hondurans and even invited youth from other Latin American countries to participate.”

Steve also mentioned that one of the great accomplishments of the program has been the assistance given to other countries around the globe that have been inspired to develop their own YCC programs.

“Honduras YCC has also continued to generously provide support and advice to other countries as they begin to initiate Youth Conservation Corps programs with the help from U.S. Forest Service International Programs. Bangladesh is currently teaching their fourth cohort, Lebanon will begin their third cohort this summer, Colombia will begin their second cohort in April 2023, Morocco has completed a pilot project and plans to expand to a residential program this year, Cambodia has received funding for a pilot YCC project, and several other countries in the Middle East and Africa are actively exploring the possibility of hosting a YCC program.”

Each of these countries has benefited from the sharing of operational strategies from United States’ YCC programs and the success of the Honduras YCC in developing a rigorous curriculum that focuses on hard work, self-discipline, community service, leadership, teamwork, continuous learning, personal growth, and sustainable conservation of natural resources.

Luis Tinoco, the Honduras YCC coordinator, has played a helpful role in the expansion of the program to other countries by participating in virtual meetings and study tours designed to help new countries prepare for and implement an effective YCC program that is culturally appropriate for each country.

“Luis Tinoco has been extremely generous in providing advice, curriculum, standard operating procedures, pedagogical theories, and anything that has been asked of him. His learning model of teaching youth ‘to know, to do, and to be’ is similar to pedagogical ideas in the U.S. such as ‘Head, Hands, and Heart,’ which is being adopted by other countries and has been effective in teaching ideas and values at a much deeper level than traditional education,” said Steve Lenzo.

A youth leadership program focused on conservation

Although Honduras YCC is primarily focused on conservation practices, the program also develops leadership skills where youth learn about themselves, their communities, and their country’s natural resources. The program emphasizes learning by doing, where participants put their values into practice and are constantly exposed to new experiences, providing opportunities to get out of their comfort zone and embark on new, challenging endeavors.

Two girls in green shirts hold a tree sapling.

Youths from the Honduras YCC Program joining community volunteering efforts on reforestation activities of watershed areas.

For Steve Lenzo, the work of training the next generation is extremely rewarding. He knows that just as the Honduran youth are developing technical and leadership skills, the young leaders in Colombia, Lebanon, and Bangladesh are beginning to demonstrate their newly discovered abilities as well.

“It is incredible to see the growth, maturity, and creativity of the youth during this 8-month program. I have interviewed graduates of the Honduras YCC program, and they are an impressive group. They describe how they learned to love reading for pleasure; to work with and lead groups of community children; to advocate for their communities; and to help their elders analyze, work on, and solve environmental problems at the local level. Six participants in the first group describe how they applied to college (with no prior hope of attending), were accepted, and are now graduating at the top of their class.”

Steve Lenzo went on to say, “Lebanon, Bangladesh, and Colombia have seen similar positive results from their YCC programs. In each of these countries, I have spoken with youth, graduates, parents, community leaders, and employers. The overwhelming response from those who have benefited from YCC is that it has been a life-changing experience. Youth are now filled with a desire to contribute to the greater good of family, community, country, and planet. They have a renewed sense of energy and purpose. They want to use their talents to be agents of change and help others do the same. They have embodied the ideals of self-discipline, always striving to do things to the highest quality and never making excuses. They have learned the meaning of servant leadership.”

Luis Tinoco, Honduras YCC program coordinator, is confident that both the youth he has taught and those around the world will do great things in the future.

“These young kids have incredible potential and believe anything is possible. They want to serve, they want to help, they want to find solutions to problems, and they want to lead. They are all passionate about protecting our natural resources, promoting sustainable development, fighting climate change, and helping their communities understand the importance of taking care of our planet.”

He went on to explain, “We have youth who never dreamed of going to college, who are now engineers, teachers, working with children in their communities, working as rangers bringing water to small villages, and youth working in the management of national parks, forests, and protected areas. My vision is that YCC programs will continue to expand, both in Honduras and in new countries, and that we will continue to support the alumni who will be the future leaders of conservation in the world.”

The U.S. Forest Service in Honduras works closely with local and strategic partners to support the efforts of the Honduran forestry sector by providing expertise in the areas of forest fire management and prevention, as well as the development of environmentally and socially conscious youth leadership. These activities are carried out with the goal of creating environmental harmony in Honduras, working with institutions and organizations to strengthen leadership opportunities, improve local entrepreneurship prospects, and create employability skills for young people at risk of migration.

This story was originally posted on medium.com