Fighting back

True story accompanying image

Tucked away in rural Honduras is Froylan Turcios, a small village school. It’s the only primary school in the area, and it’s noisy and bustling. Sitting on brightly painted chairs, young children chat as they work, puzzling over their exercises. It’s hard to imagine that until recently the school was silent – the doors bolted, the shutters down.

The reason for the school closure will come as no surprise to those familiar with Honduras’s public education system: there was no teacher. There had been one, but according to parents she was transferred by the municipal education director. Taking advantage of his position, the director had reportedly moved the teacher to cover his own lessons, leaving him free to take on more lucrative administrative work. Back at the school, 60 children were denied the education they’re entitled to.

It’s a common situation for children in Honduras, where quality of education is considered to be among the lowest in the region. “Officially, staff in Honduras are assigned to schools,” says Ludim Ayala, director of our Honduran legal advice centre, “but in reality more than a quarter are missing from their allocated slot at any one time.”

But the parents of Froylan Turcios refused to accept the situation. Gathering together, they contacted the local educational authorities demanding answers. When there was no response, they petitioned the director directly. He responded by challenging them to press charges.

If he expected this to scare them off, his plan failed. Determined to get answers, the group contacted our legal advice centre for the victims and witnesses of corruption. Opened last year, the centre is the first of its kind in Honduras. In its first year, more than 80 per cent of complaints have been about corruption in education.

Our staff members worked with the parents to pursue the case. They contacted the local education office, and when there was no response they went to the national education department, demanding that they investigate. Soon, the district authority ordered the return of the teacher, warning she should not leave the school again. A week later, the school was reopened, and the students (pictured) were back in class.

"It's very important to highlight the parents' involvement in this case,” says Ludim. “This is a hard to reach area, and the case could easily have gone unnoticed, but they were committed to making sure their children were in school."

Together with other NGOs, we’re now working to empower other parents to follow their example. With our easy-to-use online database, parents can check which teacher has been assigned to their school and for what hours – making it easier to report those who fail to turn up. With trainings in social audits and access to information law, we’re giving them new tools to hold authorities to account. And where these are not enough, our legal advice centre is on hand – ensuring parents have the support they need to speak out against corruption, and children get the education they deserve.

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