David (right), his wife, Odalis (left), and their daughter, Fergie (middle) pose in front of their apartment

Redemption for David

After drugs and gangs, a Honduran family starts again

Ups and downs

Seven months pregnant, Odalis waits for a checkup at a clinic in Honduras with husband, David. In nine years together, they’ve overcome many struggles to become the happy family they are today.

“I got to know [David] on the streets,” Odalis, 26, says. “He was at the peak of his drug use at the time we met.”

David and his wife wait for a checkup at a clinic in Honduras
A doctor gives Odalis an ultrasound at a health clinic
David and Odalis wait in the lobby of a health clinic for a checkup
David poses for a picture in the food-distribution warehouse where he works

“My wife has supported me since the beginning,” says David.

“In fact, when she met me, I wasn’t in the best shape. And she still accepted me. When I went to rehab, she continued supporting me.”

Back then, David, 33, was a drug addict trying to leave a violent gang.

Over time, he managed to turn his life around and found work in a food-distribution warehouse thanks to USAID’s Metas, a job training program whose name means “goals” in Spanish.

David and his family eat together in their apartment

“This leadership, his drive to move forward, to develop, to improve life for his family — It’s something I admire about him,” Odalis says. “And it’s what makes me fall more in love with him.”

Sweet like a cake

The couple and their 7-year-old daughter Fergie live in David’s hometown of Rio Blanco, a neighborhood of 350 families in San Pedro Sula — a city in Honduras that has been called the “murder capital of the world.”

They live in a one-room apartment attached to the back of David’s mother’s house. Odalis, who also participated in Metas, has started a burgeoning pastry business out of their home.

“My daughter is sweet like a cake,” says Odalis.

Odalis puts the finishing touches on one of her cakes
Odalis prepares some of the pastries that she plans to sell that day as her daughters play together in the living room
Odalis walks her daughter, Fergie, to school

A united family

Fergie helps her mother in the bakery. And she is the apple of her father’s eye.

She is growing up in a household full of love, stability and support.

But that wasn’t the case for her father.

David’s life took a wrong turn at age 13 after his parents separated.

Gangs were starting to become prevalent, and he admired how members would have each other’s back. They were a family, in a way.

He started doing drugs and got into a gang. But when people started killing each other, he knew he needed to get out. Usually, that is not easy. But since the gang leader was a childhood friend, David was given a rare chance to leave.

David orders food at a local restaurant
A view of the neighborhood where David and his family live
David sits in his house to tell his life story

What he couldn’t quit was his drug addiction.

By his mid-20s, he had been using for 13 years.

“The world, on drugs — everything looks beautiful at first,” David said. “But after I reached rock bottom, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘This isn’t me. What’s happening to me? I had dreams. I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up.’”

An uncle came to David’s aid, helping him sign up for a six-month rehab program.

David and his family walk down a road in their neighborhood

When Odalis became pregnant with their daughter Fergie, David knew he needed to be there for them. Coming out of rehab, he was motivated to stay clean and provide for his family. “It was my turn to face life as a man,” he said.

A new start

Odalis urged David to join Metas, which connected him with an alternative education program.

“My brain wasn’t like it was in school,” David said. “But my motivation to push forward was at 2,000 percent.”

David studies for one of the classes he takes as part of the USAID Metas program
David sits on a couch in his apartment
Workers in the food-distribution where David works take a break from moving boxes

Just what the doctor ordered

David specialized in food handling and event organization. When he interviewed for the job at the warehouse with his certification from USAID and Project Metas, the human resources official was impressed.

“You’re just what the doctor ordered. I was waiting for someone like you,” David recalls him saying.

David and a coworker plan for the upcoming work day
David and a coworker load a crate full of food

Looking ahead

The couple hopes that their children will have a better future someday. Their daughter, Fergie, aspires to be a doctor.

“We’ve always thought that to leave something for our children for their future is the best we can do,” Odalis says. “I want the best for them, to be able to see that they don’t suffer from the same things we’ve seen.”

One of David’s daughters holds the family dog
Odalis helps Fergie with her school work
David and his family pose in front of their house

Together, through thick and thin

“We’re a very united family,” Odalis says. “We’re a family that protects each other. And like Fergie once said, ‘We’re a small but beautiful family.’ ”

About this story

Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world outside a war zone.

To reduce the lure of crime and gang life, the USAID project Metas provides unemployed youth with job training in the skills needed most by private sector employers.

Metas, implemented by the Education Development Center, partners with schools, universities, NGOs, businesses, communities and the Government of Honduras to help develop this emerging workforce.

Some Honduran youth face the additional hurdle of being unable to find a job because they have an arrest record or live in a community known to be controlled by gangs. Having the Metas certification on their resume, however, gives employers confidence they will be good workers.

The Work Readiness Skills Training and Certification Program, the Metas program that helped David, targets about 22,000 Hondurans between ages 15 to 35. USAID programs deter at-risk youth from joining gangs and provide support once they are out.

Photos and video by Thomas Cristofoletti