"I want to give words of hope." – Angel’s Story

By Rodrigo Barraza García | August 26, 2019 | The Americas | Education, Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity, Youth Empowerment

Editor’s note: This story is co-written by Angel and GFC Program Officer Rodrigo Barraza. It is also available in Spanish.

Once a youth participant at Organization for Youth Empowerment, Angel Rodríguez now leads its workshops about healthy masculinities. © OYE

My name is Ángel Rodríguez. I am 28 years old and I live in a small city called El Progreso, in Honduras. I am the youngest of 4 brothers.

From the moment I was born, my reality was the banana fields of Honduras. Have you heard of them?

Banana fields everywhere. Like cities. As far as you can see. And thousands of families working day and night. The fields devour you and become your world. You feel that there is nothing beyond. That there is no escape.

The people who live in that fields come to believe that there is no future. That the only thing that you can do is work there, without setting any goals or aspirations, adjusting to a reality marked by an uncertain future. If you leave the fields, you do it to change your life and the lives of your loved ones.

I decided to do just that: to study, to be someone. So, when I turn 11, I told my parents that I wanted to go to the city and live with my grandparents so I could finish middle school.

“Please don´t go. Stay with us, keep us company. Here you can have a life.” Those were my parent’s words. Because I was their youngest son, they didn’t want me to leave. They felt worried. But in the end, they understood that it was best to give me freedom to fulfill my dreams. “Although it hurts us, you have to go. Prepare for life, for being a better person. It´s going take a lot of effort but we are sure you are going to make it. Your success is our success. Always.”

Although my parents always supported me, it was very painful to be away from my family. I missed them so much. Every night I slept hugging a dress that belonged to my mother and was still scented with her perfume, because I didn’t want to feel so alone. I needed to feel her close.

The atmosphere in the city was bleak for me. I missed my house, my family, my neighbors, my afternoon of games … everything that was part of me since I was born. I felt that my world had taken a 180-degree turn in just one second. It was not easy, because the people of the city seemed colder to me. I felt that people were always busy, everyone in their own world, with no time to share, talk, or even eat together. I felt invisible.

Angel with members of OYE´s youth staff conducting a cultural activity in El Progreso, Honduras. © OYE

In my first months in the school I really wanted to go back to my family, but my grandfather didn’t let me. “Please don’t quit, my son. Be brave. Here you will be safe. This is your house, and you can always count on me and your grandmother. We don´t have much but it’s all for you.”

I can still see him. Always cheerful, always singing to some ranchera song. Every birthday I spent with them he would get up at four in the morning to sing and congratulate me. These little details marked my heart. I loved him like a father.

It was very painful to take care of him in his illness, to see how little by little he was becoming small and pale. I felt that I lost a large part of me. This was a man who taught me to do good and work honestly. My grandfather Jerónimo changed my thinking about what it is to be a good man and father. I miss him every day.

Those were wonderful years that I shared with my grandparents. We didn’t have much, but we never lacked love. They gave me the strength to continue my dream. They gave me strong roots to grow.

I started studying at the university, but soon I had to leave to support my sister’s studies. When my parents asked me to help, I didn’t hesitate. I felt that it was the right thing to do and I learned that life is not always about me. That sometimes it’s okay to postpone your dreams to support the dreams of the people you love. But I felt worried, I have to be honest with you.

When I was finally able to apply for school, I faced one of the biggest challenges of my life. At first, I decided to study industrial engineering. I thought it was a career “for men” and I was sure that I could earn a lot of money as an engineer. But very soon I realized that my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to listen to people, understand them.

I wanted to give them words of hope, like the ones I received as a child.

So, I decided to study psychology. Many people made fun of me, they told me that I was going to starve, that it was a career for women, that I would never be a successful man.

But what they didn’t understand is that I didn’t want to be a successful man. What I wanted – what I want – is to be a good man. That is success for me.




A masculinities workshop with OYE. © OYE

My parents couldn’t afford my studies, so I started looking for organizations that offered scholarships and support young people like me. That was how I met OYE (Organization for Youth Empowerment). I had an interview with the staff and they told me that they could help me, but that in return I have to be pretty involved with the organization, that I have to share my learnings with more young people and that I needed to learn new talents, such as writing, art, and communication.

No, OYE is not like that at all. Here, not only do we feel heard, we make the decisions. We – the young people – are protagonists and agents of change.

Since I started collaborating in OYE, I felt that people there trusted me. Their admiration and respect have made me better every day. And I feel the enormous responsibility of giving back everything that I have learned and everything to all the young people who come to the organization for the first time. Looking for a dream, just like I did.

After a few years of collaborating with OYE, they offered me the opportunity to be a promoter of healthy masculinities. They explained that I would talk with other men about the importance of building fairer relationships between men and women, and working on issues such as machismo, depression, and teen pregnancy.

As I entered this world I learned, first of all, to look at myself with critical eyes. To understand that machismo is not only expressed through violence and that, although we often believe that we are taking care of someone, we are actually limiting their options because of our own ideas and stereotypes.

You don’t have to be a bad person; you don’t have to be a monster to be a macho. That’s why machismo is so dangerous. That is why we as men must review and question our actions, thoughts and ideas all the time.

Youth participants from OYE wearing shirts that say, “Machismo culture affects all of us.” © OYE

I have had the opportunity to receive training and share my experiences in places like Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico. In the three years that I have been working on the issue of healthy masculinities I have learned, unlearned, relearned and transformed thoughts. I have modified deep-rooted attitudes and behaviors; I have discovered new types of violence that I still have to understand and try to change.

And now I know that I have hurt the people I love because of the fear of not being accepted, for not showing my feelings, for wanting to look good and strong in front of other men. For always wearing a mask.

It is a painful process that opens wounds and leaves you naked. All your lies explode in your face, even the ones you tell yourself.

Whenever I am conducting a workshop there comes a time when I feel that I am going to collapse. I always feel that I am going to scream “no more” and run to a more comfortable life. But then I look.

I raise my face and look at other young people like me. Full of fears and doubts, but with enough courage to try to do better. Young men willing to hug me, listen to me, accompany me, and even shout at me if necessary. Men who remind me that I am not alone. Men I can cry and laugh with. Men who make me feel free.

And then, like a storm, it comes to me. I can hear my grandfather singing, I can feel my mother’s dress, my grandmother’s caresses, my father’s words. And I feel so happy, because I know that I am doing exactly what I want, for myself and my family: being free, helping others, building and defending my happiness and working to be a better man every day.

Giving words of hope.

 


 

Organización para el Empoderamiento de la Juventud (OYE) builds socially conscious youth leaders and encourages high academic achievement through a competitive scholarship program and community engagement projects that include a youth-run radio station, public arts, video production, and graphic design.

As a member of GFC’s Changing Gender Attitudes, Empowering Girls Initiative, developed thanks to the support of Summit Foundation, OYE promotes and trains young leaders to facilitate gender and masculinities workshops with students from eight educational institutions in El Progreso, Honduras; they use dialogue circles and participatory methods to involve young people in the deconstruction and reconstruction of masculinities.

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