Covenant House: On the Front Lines for Education and Gender Equity

Educator in classroom

At Covenant House Guatemala’s safehouse for girls who are survivors of trafficking and sexual violence, staff educators ensure that residents can continue their schooling through in-house classes.

In 34 cities across six countries, Covenant House cares for young people overcoming  homelessness, survivors of human trafficking, and unaccompanied migrant youth with unconditional love, absolute respect, and relentless support. We have been at work in Latin America since 1981, and the children and adolescents we care for in the region are 12-18 years old. At our sites in seven cities in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua we offer shelter, food, medical and mental health care, substance use treatment, educational support, vocational training, and legal aid. In addition to these direct services, we scale our impact and create systemic change in the region through public education and prevention programs, legislative advocacy, and human rights monitoring and activism. In Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua, we are known as Casa Alianza, and in Guatemala as La Alianza.

Covenant House believes every young person deserves a safe place to sleep and hope for the future, regardless of national boundaries. In Latin America, young girls and women face extraordinary challenges, including poverty, violence, and abuse in contexts rife with political instability, broken education systems, and lack of economic opportunities. These threats lead young women to live on the streets or to flee their own country, urgently seeking safety and opportunity. Struggling to survive on their own, these young women are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. When they have nowhere else to turn for the safety and hope they deserve, Covenant House is there.

At Covenant House, we are committed to providing the essential safety and support these young girls and women need to thrive. Providing access to inclusive and equitable educational opportunities is a cornerstone of what we do, and we have developed a number of programs that meet individual community needs. Our site staff and Covenant House International leadership have worked together to create custom solutions that work for these women, and provide them both the services and opportunities that serve the individual challenges they face. Last year we enrolled 500 youth in formal educational programs and 350 young people into vocational education programs.

In Guatemala our sites serve an area with increased vulnerability to human traffickers because of frequent migration through Guatemala City, San Juan del Obispo, and Coatepeque. Our main shelters are located in Guatemala City and San Juan del Obispo, but in Coatepeque we provide legal services – connecting young people to local service providers, providing preventative services and education on rights, and discerning whether a young person should be moved to one of our residences in Guatemala City (girls) or San Juan del Obispo (boys).  Our courageous staff is connected to a network of providers in their region to address issues of human trafficking and sexual violence in supporting survivors. While in our care, these young girls and women have access to all of our critical care, services, and numerous educational opportunities. Since the pandemic, staff have taken on larger tutoring roles and created in-house technology solutions for remote learning—enhancements which continue to benefit youth even as schools have reopened.

Besides providing direct services, our Coatepeque staff —along the border of western Guatemala with Mexico–also supports groups of local women who meet monthly to learn about trafficking, how to identify it, and how to report it. The women in these groups become the eyes and ears in their communities, looking out for others in danger of trafficking, exploitation, or sexual violence, promoting safety and equity for all.

Sites in Guatemala City and Tegucigalpa are exclusively for girls ages 12 to 18, and sometimes even younger. Here, our youth receive the unconditional love and trauma-informed care they need to heal and grow: safety, physical and mental health care, and all of our programs and services. During the pandemic, we saw an unfortunate intensification of violence against women and girls that has continued to today. To combat this, legal staff at these locations take action to bring abusers to justice on girls’ behalf, social workers educate survivors on their rights and facilitate trauma recovery, and community organizers engage local residents to advance gender equity and fight trafficking.

Our direct care services are coupled with public education and prevention programs and work at the systemic and policy levels to promote social change and reduce the incidence of trafficking and sexual violence and exploitation. Through our public education work we have trained thousands of police, judges, lawyers, prosecutors, civil society organizations, and neighbors to recognize and identify child rights violations, especially human trafficking. Our goal is both to impede criminal conduct toward children and youth by empowering communities to take action to protect them when violations occur, and to develop ongoing strategies to ensure and defend their rights and safety. Through these programs, we have reached over 31,500 stakeholders in the last four years through Public Education and Prevention workshops. We also engage in strategic litigation to prosecute traffickers. Covenant House Guatemala is one of the leading organizations in the nation in terms of the number of successful prosecutions. In Guatemala and Honduras, we ensure that our young complainants have the psycho-judicial support they need during these complex processes.

In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Covenant House accompanies families who have been recently deported back to Honduras from the migrant trail or have been displaced internally due to violence. Newly launched entrepreneurship programs empower mothers in these families to build economic stability for their children—expanding women’s leadership for future generations of girls. Our team additionally provides psychosocial and education support for the children of these same families, to facilitate their successful reintegration into local communities.

Covenant House’s goals are in close alignment with the sustainable development goals set forth by the UN, and we work on the front lines every day to ensure they are met. Throughout the four Latin American countries we serve, Covenant House is empowering girls and boys to overcome homelessness and trafficking, complete their schooling, prepare for independent living, know their rights, and build self-confidence — all within a community of absolute respect, unconditional love, and relentless support.