I’m not prone to nostalgia, I usually look forward not backward. Yet, whenever I do look back at my life, my teenage years always shine bright. This is not to say those years were easy — because they weren’t — but the memories, the joy, the energy, the dreams and even the sadness of those years have etched an indelible mark on me.
My name is Nelson Geovanni Castro Portillo, I am 29 years old and I can say, with much pride, that I was born and raised in the village of Campana, a 15 or 20 minutes’ drive from Puerto Cortes, Honduras, the biggest port in Central America.
My life hasn’t been easy, yet it has also been very rewarding. I had a lot of friends growing up. There wasn’t much to do in my neighborhood but we made up for what was lacking in our surroundings by being imaginative. We’d play soccer in our bare feet, leaving our sweat and blood on the cement pitches of our youth, we’d also fish for sardines in the sea, we’d go on bicycles races, play hopscotch and an infinity of games. We even formed a circus where we’d charge adults and other children to see our shows. There were no swimming lessons on offer, but we learned to swim by daring each other to swim across the river (I’m happy we all lived to tell the tale).
My life hasn’t been easy, yet it has also been very rewarding.
As I mentioned earlier there wasn’t much to do in our neighborhood and, as we grew older, the temptation of alcohol, drugs and easy money was far too alluring for many of my friends. I would hear them say, “I’m only trying it this one time.” For many of them, experimentation became a habit and eventually, an addiction.
A group of teenagers who came to give talks in my school about HIV and early pregnancy probably saved me from a similar fate. The teenagers were part of a network of young communicators supported by the municipality of Puerto Cortés and UNICEF. Since then the network has expanded to 64 municipalities across the country. I was intrigued by their energy and enthusiasm, so I decided to seek them out. I’m proud of myself for doing it, not only because that decision paid dividends, but also, because, as a shy child, talking to complete strangers took courage. In retrospect, I realize that a dream of mine, ever since I was a small child, consisted of producing the TV shows I’d watch with my family.
As I returned home that day I was brimming with excitement. I opened the door of my house and I announced I wanted to join the network. I’ll never forget my mother’s reaction. She said, with a scowl on her face, “There is no way you’re going. I don’t have the money to pay for the bus. If you really want to go you can sell chocolates on the street.” I replied that I would find the money some way. True to my word I found a way.
As we grew older, the temptation of alcohol, drugs and easy money was far too alluring for many of my friends. I would hear them say, “I’m only trying it this one time."
This is where the second phase of my life begins. I joined the network of young communicators, and I met my mentor, Karen Cruz, who soon after meeting me told me, “You have potential, now show me what you can do.” I met children who were different from my friends. They were committed to social causes, they spoke up in front of adults and had real-life skills. I admired them greatly, and to an extent, I was also intimidated. The young communicators were like roving journalists who would take the lead in producing, filming and participate in a 30-minute newsreel on topics that are of interest to children. In the news items we tackled sensitive issues like reproductive rights, sexual health, gender equality, prevention of teen pregnancies, and even gang violence.
At first, I felt ill-equipped to face the challenge that lay ahead. Nevertheless, I was determined not to quit, and I told myself that I could learn. I remember my first interview in the inauguration of a school as if it were yesterday, my body was shaking, and my voice was trembling with nerves.
I grew from strength to strength, in large part due to the staff of the Municipality and UNICEF who spurred me and the other adolescents participating in the programme. Speaking of strength, I realized that my talent laid behind a camera, not in front of one. So, I learned to use any camera I could get hold of, I learned to edit videos and construct a storyline from a series of interviews.
One day I would like to film a documentary about young people who have had to leave neighborhoods like mine because of a lack of opportunities and violence.
Yet, despite the positive experiences I was having, my friends told me that I was wasting my time. Thankfully, I persisted with the network and continued to study as well, completing my high school degree in Science and Spanish literature.
In 2008 Karen Cruz told me to apply to a job with the municipality as I had the right skills for the job. In the eleven years that have passed, I have become the coordinator for the network of child journalists in the North of the country and I’m still learning. My new toy is a drone that I fly around Puerto Cortes to capture cool images. One day I would like to film a documentary about young people who have had to leave neighborhoods like mine because of a lack of opportunities and violence.
I know for a fact that I don’t only speak for myself when I say that the municipal programs supported by UNICEF change lives. I see it every day. Thousands of adolescents join the network every year. I see my reflection in them and, whenever I feel it’s appropriate, I put an arm around their shoulder and echo the words that my mentor Karen Cruz told me: “You have potential, now show me what you can do.”