Today I would like to present Hector Alvarado, who works for Alternativas y Oportunidades, the organisation my friend Jessica Marshall is volunteering at, from ICYE. She actually introduced me to Hector, telling me that he had many insightful views about Honduras, and had apparently only just the week before compared Tegucigalpa to Gotham City, but without a masked nocturnal, part man, part flying rodent, crime fighter. Apart from this, I didn’t know too much about him, so it was quite hard to prepare questions in quite the same way. But as with most Hondurans, once you trigger them with a topic, they usually have something to say, with quite a strong opinion, and Hector was no different.
We met in Espreso Americano in the city centre, or downtown as they call it here, although the geographical location of the city centre is neither downtown or in the centre, but actually in the northern areas of the city. The interview was done in Spanglish. It sometimes involved me asking questions in Spanish and he replied in English, or sometimes I asked in English and he replied in Spanish. It barely took a second to get him talking, and this is what he had to say.
Name: Hector Alvarado
From: Colonia Las Vegas, Tegucigalpa
Profession: Educator, youth worker, with Altervativas y Oportunidades in Tegucigalpa
So Hector, tell me a bit about yourself.
I am from Tegucigalpa, I have a wife and young baby, I work as an educator for Alternativas Y Oportunidades, which helps children at risk, and I live in Colonia Las Vegas, not far from Jessica. I was brought up by my mother. My father ran off. It’s what many men do here in Honduras; they get a girl pregnant and they run off. They don’t want responsibility or they do it early and aren’t ready or old enough.
Was that hard for you?
It was harder for my mother, I think. I never had a father so I don’t know what it’s like. For myself, I waited to meet my wife and I was old enough. I had my daughter, just a year and a half ago. She’s my first child but I don’t think she’s going to be my only child.
This is a very open question, but what is your opinion of Honduras?
Wow, where do I start?!
Okay, back in the UK, when I was raising money to come here, I said to them that I was going to volunteer in Honduras. They would respond by saying, “Where’s Honduras?” –
Yeah, that’s true. Not many people know where the country is! It’s a problem. I don’t understand why. I don’t know if it’s bad luck or what. The people outside the country know of all the bad things, the violence the drugs and everything. But the people are good, they are not violent. The politicians are bad.
We as people are not poor. We have so much here, but we are impoverished. The wealth of the country belongs to only ten families or so. They keep it and don’t share, so there isn’t a fair distribution of wealth. The rich don’t pay taxes so the economy suffers.
Honduras has had independence for about 200 years from the Spanish. They stole a lot, but they didn’t steal everything. We’ve had the Americans come and do their stuff, but we still have resources. We just fight amongst ourselves over it. We have the Caribbean, and we have the Pacific Ocean. And like all countries, we have a lot of mines. You know, the country does have fuel, oil and petrol, but do we hear about it? No. Because they want to keep it.
Why don’t the people know about it?
I don’t know, but I think we should know. But the people who own them don’t want to share or distribute them, especially the wealth.
Do you have any political opinions? Or are you partisian to one political party?
No. The two main parties, Liberal and Nacional, used to be the same party. They separated, but they are both conservative, right-wing parties. When “el golpe del estado” (political coup) happened back in 2009, I believe both parties wanted it, even though Mel Zelaya was leader of the Liberal Party. It was because Mel Zelaya was becoming too left-wing for their right-wing ideas. Out of the coup came the Resistencia and the Libre party, who have challenged what happened with Mel Zelaya, and they protest about what’s happening here. I suppose I have more sympathy for them, but I don’t really have contact with them.
The Liberal party are supposed to be the left-wing party, but they are both right-wing. The two parties want to repress people. They believe in military. They want right-wing and religious politics, with capitialism. They don’t care about the town. They hold people back.
The church has a lot of influence in Honduras. There are a lot of fundamentalists. Religion and politics are mixed here. They want people to believe that they need religion, especially the poor people. They dictate people what to do and what to think, and feel they must rely on religion. For example, they will tell people to get a credit card to be rich, which is dangerous, as well as other ideas. They are rich people. They support capitialism, because it is self-serving. They don’t want things to change, because they are happy how it is. It is to their convenience.
I believe everyone has a right to education and a right to work. However, the rich don’t pay their taxes, so the poverty grows.
Do you pay your taxes?
Hahaha. Yes. It’s about 20% of my earnings, more or less.
What three things do you like about Honduras?
I like the geography: the coasts, the mountains and landscapes. I like the climate. And I like the people. The people are good people. They are humble, kind, friendly. They are not violent, like the press say.
And conversely, what three things do you dislike?
The social injustice. I think the people are very conservative. And the country is being left behind culturally.
How do you mean?
People don’t read here. If they do, it’s newspapers, El Heraldo or El Diez or whatever, which is rubbish. It’s awful. They read bad things about their country all day and believe everything the church tells them. They don’t read books, they don’t educate themselves. They prefer comics. They don’t think outside the box. For example, they look at you and think you’re gringos straight away. They think you have money and don’t ask any more questions.
Is it like this in other developing countries?
I don’t know. But it’s what happens here.
What other countries have you been to?
Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica. I’ve never been outside these countries. San Pedro Sula, in my opinion, is the most beautiful city in Central America. The most ugly? Probably Tegucigalpa!
Wow, you speak good English for someone who has never been to an English-speaking country.
Thank you. I studied it at university. I also teach it sometimes in my job, so I use it a lot.
You told me before the interview that you have been working with Alternativas Y Oportunidades for one and a half years. What were you doing before that?
Many things. I’ve been a mechanic, electrician with IBM, working with teles, I worked for Clarion Hotel, I had my own business. To be honest, this job is a big change, because I am working with people. I am used to working with machines. Machines are easier to work with. They are more predictable. With people, they are different and there is no manual on how to fix them!
I was fired from Clarion Hotel and they gave severance pay. With the money, along with a loan from the bank, I set up a machinery business in San Isidro Market in Comayaguela, but the market burned down about a year and a half ago –
About the same time you had your first child.
Yeah. Things were bad. I’d worked so much for this business and it was gone in one night. I was kind of lucky, though. Through the market trade, I had a friend who worked for Alternativas Y Oportunidades, she helped me out, and I got a job quite quickly. I enjoy it. The problem is, I have to pay back the bank loan but I have no money. I don’t know what they can do. They can put me in jail if they want. But I have nothing to pay them back with.
Tell me more about Alternativas Y Oportunidades. I know they work in the markets but I don’t know much more than that.
It’s not just with the markets. We work with kids at social risk, from many poor families and neighbourhoods, who have to go to work to help support their families, and balance it with going to school. We have contact with about 1,600 kids, and we help educate them, getting books and uniforms and stuff they need.
In primary and secondary education in Honduras, they are supposed to get this stuff for free from the government. It’s not true. The kids and their parents have to pay for it, and it’s expensive, especially with inflation. The schools don’t pay for it, so we help them out.
We also help mothers set up micro-businesses in the markets. I teach the kids stuff like physics, sciences, English, Spanish, life-skills. They don’t always get this at school. I try to help them find ways of balancing their work and study, listening to them, seeing what skills and talents they have. It’s not easy for them. I try to find opportunities for them. I like it when they come to me and ask me questions, ask for my help; that’s one way the youth can help themselves. Honduras is a young nation. It needs to educate itself.
The organisation also has health workshops to teach about HIV and AIDS, and cultural activities, such as dances and painting. It keeps kids a chance, away from gangs, drugs and violence.
The thing that annoys me is that the children don’t sit still! They have short attention-span and get bored easily. You have to constantly motivate them. I work better with machines. It’s always busy, always something to do, we never stop. We get funds from the Canadian Rotary Club, and they then send the money to the Honduran Rotary Club, and then they choose what we get. It’s hard, as we have to account for every little thing we spend, and it can be hard to manage. We get lots of visits, but we are grateful for the money, especially in the global financial crisis.
I’m looking for another job, something to do with machines. I need the money, but I enjoy the job.
Is the neighbourhood dangerous where you live?
No. We live wire around the neighbourhood. It has walls; people can’t get in. There’s a saying here, “We’re living in a cage”!
You seem to have had many jobs, and many different experiences in life. Has there been one that has changed your life?
Yes, on July 5th 1990. It was three days before the soccer World Cup final between West Germany and Argentina in Italy. I was coming out the stadium here in Tegucigalpa after watching Honduras against El Salvador, when one bullet came flying out of nowhere, a 9mm bullet, and it struck me here (points to a scar on the left side of his throat). I didn’t know who fired it. I think it was the military, but it wasn’t on purpose. Just a stray bullet and it hit me, there were thousands of people there. I felt something warm in my throat, and it took a couple of seconds to realise I had been shot. I remember it clearly. I was rushed to hospital, where I spent 10 days. Afterwards, my mother and brother helped me. They supported me so, so much. I am still affected by it. My right arm was paralysed. It’s still numb. I can’t feel it. I can use it, but I can’t use my hand too well.
I felt useless after it happened. I didn’t know what I was going to do for work. I had no confidence. As I said, it was my family who helped me get myself together, who helped me through it. It taught me that the family is the most important to me.
What was your dream when you were young?
To be a mechanical engineer, but I wasn’t disciplined enough. I didn’t want to put in the effort with the mathematics. I wasn’t motivated when I was young.
What’s your dream now?
To support my family, and find a better job.
To see more about Alternativas y Oportunidades, see this link: