Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in the 1990s, the only concern I had was being yelled at or spanked by my parents because I was out late riding my bicycle or playing with kids in the street.
Today, it is a different story.
San Pedro Sula is now one of the most dangerous cities outside of a war zone, with a homicide rate about seven times higher than what health experts consider to be an epidemic. Some have dubbed my hometown “the murder capital of the world.” It fills me with deep sadness to see the city devolve into such violence.
So when the staff of USAID’s Alianza Joven program contacted my band Montuca Sound System to write the theme song for the campaign “Sí podemos Sampedranos”– or “Yes, we can, citizens of San Pedro Sula” — I felt honored. I saw it as a huge opportunity to give hope to a lot of young people through song.
At the time, my band had just become very popular across Honduras thanks to a contract with a mobile phone company, which beamed us into people’s homes with jingles we wrote for TV commercials. I was happy to use my newfound influence to raise social consciousness.
The 2011 launch of the “Sí podemos Sampedranos” campaign to end violence in San Pedro Sula coincided with the development of a Municipal Violence Prevention Plan and the construction of new outreach centers for at-risk youth.
Through nearly 50 youth outreach centers in seven Honduran cities, USAID’s Alianza Joven Honduras program, implemented by Creative Associates, offers a variety of activities to keep young people away from gangs and drugs. The youth outreach centers serve as safe spaces in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.
By participating in sports, art, school tutoring, life skills coaching, volunteerism and job training, vulnerable youth are developing the skills they need to live a better life.
I’ve been impressed with the success of the outreach centers in bringing hope to the community. Many of my songs are about restoring pride in San Pedro Sula and bringing more love and peace to the city and youth. I’m always happy to sing them at graduation ceremonies and community talent shows with youth from the neighborhoods where Alianza Joven works.
Music can be a powerful force for social change. As soon as I get on stage and start singing the song “Un Poco De Amor,” which says, “Honduras needs a little bit of love,” I see the way my fans sing along. I see the way they feel inspired. Then they come to me and say, “Eduardo, these songs help me feel positive about the future.”
I sensed a burgeoning social movement while playing in my past band, Montuca Sound System, several years ago. I was writing songs about bloodshed, injustice and inequality in Honduras, and I saw how that led my friends and other kids my age to open their eyes and become interested in politics.
It’s hard to believe, but a lot of the people that I knew didn’t know they were living in such a troubled place.
I’m optimistic about the future for Honduras. Two and a half years ago, I had the chance to visit my sister in Bogota, Colombia, a city that once struggled with high rates of violent crime. My brother-in-law told me stories of how dangerous the area used to be, the near-constant fear he felt growing up, not knowing when a car was going to explode. You couldn’t feel safe anywhere.
Today, Bogota is beautiful, and not for one second during my stay did I feel unsafe. The transformation Bogota underwent gives me hope for the future of San Pedro Sula. It’s a matter of the community coming together to figure out what’s wrong and then working hard to fix those problems.
It’s never too late to start again for a new beginning.