The Team That Changed A Community

It started out as a way to get the kids off of the street. To give them something to do before the street found them something to do…but it became much more than a basketball team, it became a way of life.

Flowers Bay is a unique community; it is one of the last remaining communities that is compiled of almost only Black Islanders.  On an Island where corruption is rampant, where the culture of the mainland Hondurans continues to infiltrate everywhere it touches, where the village no longer raises a child, the street does; Flowers Bay has managed to remain somewhat untouchable. They still compose most of their meals off of what they grow, hunt, or fish. They still speak their Island Creole freely, their children still sing the Island songs, and play the Island games. Family comes first, and everyone knows every detail about each other (voluntarily or otherwise). Sundays are still filled with steam pressed dresses and the smell of something delicious baking in the oven…but there is a dark side too. As times get harder and the tourist industry dominates the job market, the people here scramble to make ends meet when the cruise ships float away into the horizon. Benches fill with men drowning the pressures mounting on them in a bottle of rum, or go out and work on ships, leaving women to tend to the home and everything else in existence, alone. The children find themselves wandering back out into the street, which becomes the father figure they are missing.

But this story doesn’t come with the same hopeless ending, this story begins where most would end.

We started out small, just a bunch of kids in oversized jerseys bouncing a basketball. Some knew how to play, some didn’t. We practiced sometimes, but mostly we just liked each others’ company. We didn’t have anywhere to practice so we used a slab of cement by the church with a rusty hoop to shoot around on. We participated in a youth basketball league (with two complete teams), sometimes we lost to the other team, sometimes we won the other team.  We spent a lot of time together outside of basketball; cooking, watching NBA games, checking homework, swimming in the sea; we became a true family. Pretty soon almost everywhere we went, we went together. I could ask anyone on the street if they had seen “my boys”, and no one wondered what I meant. It felt good for the boys to be recognized as more than just a bunch of 12-13 year olds running around on the street.

But we wanted something more.

So we begged our government to build a real basketball court in our community;and they did. (If it was only that easy that would be a real fairy-tale, but it took years of hard work from many people to get the court actually finished.) It was the first regulation sized court on the entire Island.   We joined the two youth teams together and started practicing more seriously. Soon, we decided to enter our team into the Adult Basketball League. We were the only organized youth over 14 team on the entire Island, and the only team in the Adult League that was composed entirely of youth. We had been together playing for about three years now so our skill level grew exponentially in that time frame, and it showed. We started winning almost all of the games that we played, and the Flowers Bay basketball court earned the nickname “The Burying Ground”, barely anyone made it out alive when they played us.

But we weren’t just great ball players, the boys were becoming role models for not only just the younger kids who worshipped them, but even the adults who had lost some hope admist the hard times. You see, in order to be on our team, you had to have a certain standard. The boys didn’t cuss, they didn’t argue with the refs, they were all in school and getting good grades (those whose families couldn’t afford to put their kids in school were sponsored by WYM), they no longer floated around aimlessly on the street, they walked with their head held high and a purpose in their souls. Little kids followed behind them like puppies, people came out of their houses on away games when they heard our bus passing by to find out if we won or lost. When young boys were asked what they wanted to be when they grow up they would reply, “I want to be an FLB Boy” (our team name). The court would fill up with people in purple and black (our team colors) whenever we played home. Men who would usually be drinking by the shop would make sure they were sober the days of our games. For that hour and a half when we played, everyone would forget about the bills, the empty wallets and purses, the hard times, the pressure, the stress. The boys gave them hope, gave them a reason to cheer. And cheer they did, every lay-up, every free throw would be met with a gallery of screams. The boys became hometown super heroes, fighting against all of the injustices and stigmas that the youth must face here. Their uniform became their capes, having an opportunity at a future was their mission.

And we were starting to get noticed. We earned an invitation to a scouting camp on the mainland of Honduras, in the capital city. So we worked hard and raised the money to get us there. For some of the boys it was the first time they had ever been to the capital city. For most of them, it would be the first time they played in an indoor gym. 

It was obvious wherever we went that we stood out, the boys were the only full Black team to be found. When they entered a room, everyone watched them with an aire of curiousity, of awe. From the bus, to the hotel, to the gym, the boys never lost that sense of purpose. And as a result, they walked with an aura of confidence that was impossible to ignore. When you are in the same room as them, the room glows with potential, you get goosebumps for no reason. You see, when you are with the boys, you are in the presence of greatness, your heart and soul reacts to them before you brain has any idea what is going on. THAT is the effect they have on people, everywhere they go. And the mainland wasn’t any different, every team we played, we won. We played the best they had to offer, and by the end of the game, the crowd always ended up cheering for us. You couldn’t help but want to be a part of our family, to cheer for them meant that you somehow belonged, that you weren’t just witnessing something great, you were participating in it.

Back home, the Flowers Bay community waited patiently for each phone call that we won another game, and they celebrated with us from hundreds of miles and the Caribbean Sea separating us.

We returned victorious, mostly because we had to, we couldn’t let our entire community down. The boys came back with experiences they would never forget, I came back with all of their futures on my shoulders. We had reached a point in our journey where it wasn’t just about basketball anymore, it wasn’t just about our community; there was a buzz that surrounded the boys now, a nagging in my heart that wouldn’t go away.

As a result of our trip to the mainland, five of my boys were given full ride scholarships for room, board, and schooling with the Central American Basketball Organization (C.A.B.O.) An accomplishment that has never been achieved on this Island before. They will proudly represent their small Island, but their journey into their future has just begun. They will have to fight for everything they want, they will have to “beat the odds” every single day, they will have to deal with the pressure of being the first, being role models for thousands of kids left behind; but they will never be ordinary because they were never meant to be.

So here is a toast to “my boys”. May they never lose sight of where they came from while looking forward to where they are going.

Your coach,

Courtney Lenox

CHECK US OUT!!! The Flowers Bay Youth Basketball Team-PRESENTATION

(Link to a short video of one of their games)


His Story


He told me that I could tell his story.

 And I told him that I didn’t know how.

 His history isn’t all that different than many of the other 1:10 people who are infected with HIV on this Island.

 Father went to work on ships, got HIV from one of their port nights on the coast,brought it back to wife, wife infected baby boy during delivery, mother and father died a few years later, baby boy left in care of grandmother, grandmother tried hard to raise a child who has been sick more than healthy since the day that he was born, grandmother, grandfather, and youngest brother die in the same year leaving now teenage boy alone and afraid, other remaining family members turn their backs hoping that no one will call their names to step up and help because they are so afraid of the disease.

 In a place that boasts the second highest concentrated HIV rate in this side of the world, his history isn’t that much different. The characters, the setting, even the plot, are pretty much predictable.

 But he wasn’t his history, he wasn’t the product of his father’s bad decisions; he wasn’t the + after the word HIV; he wasn’t the stigma of an over sexualized black male in Roatan.  

 He was the young boy who had to quit school in 4th grade because of bullying about being sick all the time. Who had to look down at the ground when the teachers told his classmates you can get it from a hug.

 He was the young boy who loved to climb trees, catch iguana, sell fruits and vegetables in the market with his Grandfather.

 He was the young man who would do anything for anyone, but distanced his heart from everyone for fear of rejection.

 He was the young man who wanted to learn how to read, whose one goal in life was to be able to get married and have a family.

 The young man who became such an intricate part of my family, a brother to my daughter, a son to me.

 I memorized his breathing pattern along with his ARV schedule, knew when he wanted someone to lie next to him, and when he wanted to be alone, when he wanted someone to quietly listen and when he wanted to sit in silence. I knew when he was scared, sad, or angry, though his expression never changed.

 I knew the sound of the beat of his heart, because it became mine.

 I knew the moment he lost the will to live was the moment he lost his sight, although he told everyone else with a smile on his face that it was better this way, that he could focus more on God.

 I knew the moment the fight was over, when the hope of getting stronger was no longer a reality.

 I knew the words to say, the verses to read, the caresses to gently give.

 And I knew that I would fulfill my promise that he could die in my arms.

 Now that he is gone, I sit here and think on all that I don’t know. Where it even began, where it all even began… I remember the HIV Charla that WYM conducted at the primary school in Flowers Bay a few years back; the one where the kids bombarded the Question and Answer session with stories of their teachers telling them to be careful because you can get it from a toilet seat, a handshake, a shared glass…a hug. 

 I remember one of our many trips to the hospital for tests and watching one of our neighbors die in front of us, his eyes scared and pleading into ours. I remember how his mother told everyone he died of worms, when everyone knew he died of AIDS but no one wanted to say it. I often wondered if that’s why he was so afraid when he died, because no one had ever really talked to him about why he was dying in the first place.  

 I think of all of the times people around us have whispered the words “the sickness” instead of calling it by its name.

 I remember when my son said for the first time outloud, “I have AIDS”. It was 2011, and it took him over 20 minutes to get the words to come out of his mouth. We both cried like babies afterwards, him for having to choke down the words for so long, me from having to watch him.

 I think of the family members and community members and “Christians” who turned their faces in the other direction because of fear, when all that was needed was a little love and compassion. One of those fatally “dangerous” hugs the teachers tell the kids about.

 And I wonder…where does his history start? Does it start with that fateful night when his father made a terrible decision? Or does his history lie in our hands? Our inability to see the urgency in educating the ignorant, accepting the “flawed”, working to banish the stigma?

 It is so easy to blame his father who chose to be unfaithful to his wife, his mother who chose to give birth vaginally and breast feed her child after she was already aware of her HIV status, his grandmother who never said the words outloud but kept them inside like a dirty secret, him for drinking his problems away and increasing the rate of destruction, for skipping doses of anti-retrovirals because they made him so sick he would vomit until the only thing left coming up was his own stomach lining.

 It is easy to blame everyone else.

 But blame has never saved a life. Never.

 We need to support the programs who are working hard to educate the public, and most importantly the youth, whose hands hold the future of this terrible disease.  We need to open our mouths and tell their stories, our ears so we can hear them. They are out there, they are all over the internet, on our tvs, in our newspapers. We need to educate ourselves, to understand that these are not foreign stories of foreign people from foreign lands, these are our brothers and sisters. We need to pray hard, and yes, we need to sacrifice a dinner out every once in a while to send some hard earned cash in the direction of those working in the trenches.

 When you look at the big picture, it is daunting, hopeless even. I am not asking you to do that. I am asking you to scale it down and look at it through the eyes of a WYM Sex Ed and HIV Prevention Class.

 On January 12th, 2013, WYM had a graduation ceremony for its newest graduates: 15 teenage young ladies and gentlemen. Small number right? Wrong.  These 15 youth are our army, they will make healthy decisions sexually, and also educate all of their friends. They can never go back to the destruction of ignorance, they will power forward and spread knowledge in places that missionaries, do-gooders, and even HIV Educators like myself can’t even reach.  If we want to fight this disease, it must be through them. If we can prevent their generation from spreading it, then it will die.  If we can slow the rate of transmission down, then stories like Harrison’s won’t have to be told.

 As I write this, I read through a diary excerpt of the night he told me I could share his story.

 “Tonight I lie next to him after giving him a sponge bath and tenderly rubbing his body which has become nothing but skin, bones, and old scars from memories of past illnesses tearing through like hurricanes. He is sleeping for now, but soon will wake up in one of his coughing fits, throwing up the only thing he managed to eat today. Soon he will wake up and his body will shake with the fury of an active volcano from what his body perceives to be an extremely cold environment.

 His spirit has seemed to have separated itself from his tattered shell of a body, but it presents itself in a smile when my four year old tells him she wishes Jesus could make him feel safe. It shines through when he talks about his beloved Grandmother, and it’s the brightest when someone looks him in the eyes and tells him they love him.

 I want to scream sometimes, “You can’t get AIDS from words! Tell him you love him! It is all he needs to keep fighting!”

 I want to scream out of the unfairness of it all when he is too ashamed to leave the house for fear of what people will say. With every pound he loses, a friend goes with it. A friend who isn’t sure what is happening, and if they need to be afraid.  

 I want to blame someone, but there is no one to blame.

 Sometimes life isn’t fair.

I tell him God only challenges those He knows can take it, but the words feel bitter and sour as soon as they leave my mouth. God didn’t do this, we did.

 I tell him that in Heaven people won’t see his body, but will see his heart; his beautiful, pure, under-experienced heart… “

 He told me that I could tell his story and I did.

Now it is your turn….


Talk About It!!!!!! HIV Awareness Mural

What happens when you take 29 youth, 2 adults, 18 gallons of paint, one wall, one week and put them all together?  You guessed it, a mural. Add in lots of tropical sunshine, loads of sweat equity, tons of passion and commitment, and enormous amounts of spirit, and the mural becomes a work of art and a work for change.

The WYM HIV Mural is located on a long wall on the main road that circles the island.  It is in the island community of Flower’s Bay, where World Youth Movement is based.  In order to go almost anywhere on this side of the island you must go past this wall.  On a cruise ship day approximately 3,500 islanders and tourists pass this wall on their way to swim on this island’s beaches and snorkel the Meso-American reef.  This wall is a message from the heart of the youth to their community, words of positive encouragement for heartfelt challenge.

The youth’s message?  HIV is rampant in our community: we have the power to change that.  Our community is silent about this “sickness”: we are going to stand up and talk about it.  Our community has shunned many who are HIV positive or who have died from AIDS: we will honor them, and we will embrace those who are HIV positive in our communities, on our island.

One young mural painter said, “You know if we want to change the world, we have to change ourselves first.”  Those truthful words then went on the wall. As we were painting and talking about our message, the community was talking, too.

One of the main messages in the mural is ‘talk about it’.  If the wall makes you happy, talk about it, if the mural makes you angry, talk about it, if it makes you sad or confused or you just don’t get it, talk about it.  This wasn’t our first thought for a theme.  When the teens first got together and discussed ideas, our main themes were embracing HIV positive members in the community  (‘be careful who you hate, because it might be someone you love,’ and ‘HIV affects everyone’) and the theme of knowledge is power: respect/protect yourself.  But there were some, who as we were painting saw the statistic that approximately one out of ten islanders is HIV positive, and were outraged.  Things were said: You cannot write that.  Its not true (but it is), what will people say?  (maybe they’ll start talking about it, that’s our goal), you’ll make people angry! (Are you angry?  Lets talk about it.)  Talk about it became the abiding conclusion to everything that we were saying on the wall!  Everyday hundreds and hundreds of local islanders see the mural as they pass by on foot, bicycle, scooter, and vehicle.  Everyday new parts of the mural are being noticed.  Everyday someone is talking about HIV and AIDs in Roatan because of this mural.  Every day conversations are being had where silence once was.

World Youth Movement HIV Mural, Roatan, Honduras

Many have been silent because the stigma of being HIV positive here is horrible. Many have been ostracized, fired, abandoned, or beaten because of their HIV status. Just as there were those who were taken aback by the flagrancy of painting the truth on the mural there are also so many who walked by the wall as we were painting and said, “Thank you. Thank you for doing this.”

The dedication says, “This mural is for those we have lost and are still losing.” It’s for the youth who are being the change in their own communities. It’s for the power that comes to the youth when they are speaking out and speaking up.  It’s for the power that comes from accepting and honoring our neighbors.  The mural embodies youth empowerment.  In the end, that empowers others too.

World Youth Movement Life Planning Course

Description of World Youth Movement Life Planning Course

This week we congratulate the LPS graduating class of Coxen Hole ESBIR  Bilingual School!!

Before we get to the course, here’s a little FYI:

At Risk Youth can be defined as youth who are exposed to an environment of the five following categories: heightened violence, drugs/alcohol, high unemployment rates, leaving school without learning, early and risky sexual behaviors.

Youth at risk can then be organized into three different levels.

  • Level 1: Youth who are exposed but do not actively participate in the one of the five categories that define being at risk.
  • Level 2: Youth who are exposed and actively participate (by choice or not) in the five categories that define being at risk.
  • Level 3: Youth who are exposed and actively participate and are living with consequences of the five categories that define being at risk (using drugs/alcohol, teen pregnancy, HIV/STI infection, dropping out of school for one of the following reasons: to seek employment to help the family/lack of learning/lack of resources to attend, etc…)

Still with me????

The majority of the youth that WYM focuses on and works with can be found in Levels 2 and 3.

Quantitative data conducted by the World Bank on the LAC (Latin American Caribbean) region shows that of the 34% of young people who reported being sexually active82% of males and 52% of females reported having initiated sexual activity on or before the age of 13.

Early sexual initiation is also reported to be involuntary for most young people. In a recent population based survey in the Caribbean, nearly 50% of sexually active young women (ages 10-17) reported that their first sexual experience was “forced” or “somewhat forced”.  (UN Millennium Project 2005).

Of those youth reported to be sexually active, only 23% admitted to using a condom.

According to UNAIDS, Honduras currently holds the highest HIV rate in the LAC region, where the HIV rate is the second highest in the world (next to Sub-Saharan Africa).

With the current HIV rate at 1:9, and predicted to increase to 1:4 in the next decade, the need for proper sexual health education is not only needed but necessary for the population to continue.

Taking the above statistics into consideration, WYM shaped a program offering education in Sexual and Reproductive Health to help the youth make healthy decisions regarding personal relationships and sex.

The program works like this: WYM chooses a maximum of 20 co-ed youth to participate in the weekly 2 hour sessions for a total of 15 weeks. The youth are chosen based on need and risk.

Each week has a different theme. Some include: healthy communication, decision making skills, understanding values, risky behaviors, cultural expectations, gender roles and stereotypes, male/female anatomy, menstruation, healthy relationships, dating, love, condom use, rape/incest, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and testing, STI’s, resources for help, short term goals for the future, and long term goals for the future.

Each class offers an assortment of lecture, information, role-playing, activities, group discussion, journaling, guest speakers, and hands on demonstrations.

At the end of the 15 weeks, the students that graduate the Life Planning Skills Course are assessed, and then offered an opportunity to continue on to the Leadership Course if deemed to have leadership potential. These students will be trained to someday lead LPS Courses in their own communities, as well as offered additional opportunities to actively participate in the positive empowerment of youth in their communities through volunteering, coaching, board contributions, and other projects that directly give back to the future generation youth.

Thank you to our generous educational Sponsors!

Jernie and her sister Jamie

Thanks to the generosity of John and Patty Brown from Minnesota Jernie Brooks will be able to continue her education and attend tenth grade!

Linda Nickle from Minnesota has kindly decided to support George Green’s schooling.

George on the front porch of his house.

The gift of an education makes all the difference in the world to the youth in Roatan who will be the leaders of tomorrow.

To those of you touched by Jernie’s story, there are many other Movement youth who need educational sponsorship (watch for their essays coming here soon), or you can choose to make a donation to support the programming of World Youth Movement.

Each donation puts us closer to our goal of offering programming to all youth within the immediate vicinity who want to participate, and eventually expanding to include the youth of neighbouring areas.

We operate on a lean mean budget with essentially no overhead costs, so you can know that 100% of your donation goes to supporting activities that directly impact the youth, such as transportation to sports practices and games and pens and notebooks for the leadership groups.

Below are some of the items we’d like to purchase to help us improve and expand our operations on Roatan.

  • Vehicle to transport kids to programming and sports practice and games. We’ve been searching for some time, and price a reliable van to be between $5,000-9,000
  • Camping Tents and Supplies (sleeping bags, lanterns, flashlights) for 15 youth and 3 adults to be used 6-8 times per year $2,000
  • Water cooler to be used for games, practices, events and camping $100
  • Fishing Poles and Supplies (net, extra hooks, sinkers, tacklebox) based on a capacity of 5 $500
  • Laptop computer to maintain the organizations records and communicate with donors $500

We thank our angels from around the globe for your care and continued support. We couldn’t do this without you!Every little bit helps, and if you’d like to give a gift earmarked for a certain purpose you can easily do that by using our “donate now” paypal button to the right of the website.