By Jennifer Brookland
Many children rejoice at the thought of a day with no school. But for 63 children at the Froilan Turcio public school in Olancho, Honduras, those days suddenly became unacceptably frequent.
When one of their teachers was unjustly transferred to another community, the sole remaining instructor had to handle grades one through six, plus preschool.
In addition to the impracticality of educating an excessive number of students, she was about to depart for maternity leave.
When the unhappy parents realized there was no plan for a replacement teacher, they immediately went to local education authorities.
The parents found little assistance from officials, including the Municipal Education Director. He refused to return the absent teacher, and responded to their complaint by challenging the parents to press charges.
As the parents struggled to get answers, the remaining teacher went on maternity leave and the school was shuttered.
Not taking “no” for an answer
Outraged, parents in this rural-remote community turned to the Association for a More Just Society, whose Anti-Corruption Legal Assistance Center (ALAC) agreed to help take their grievances to the government – and vowed not to accept no for an answer.
ALAC receives technical and financial support from Counterpart’s Citizen Participation for Responsive Governance program, known locally as Impactos. The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is a five-year initiative that helps civil society organizations increase the transparency and accountability of public institutions.
ALAC offers a confidential system where all citizens who are victims of or witness to corruption can file and track an anonymous claim.
It is the first center of its kind in Honduras, where responsive administration and good governance sometimes take a backseat to other interests.
The education system is especially fraught with problems. In its first six months, 90percent of complaints ALAC received concerned corruption in the education system.
Responding in person
When ALAC followed up with the Education Departmental Office of Olancho on the case of the teacher-less school, it got the same response the parents did: none.
The staff realized they would have to solve the problem more actively. They contacted the Transparency Unit of the Education Department, and with one of the unit’s lawyers, traveled to Olancho to investigate and document the incident.
Together with the Transparency Unit, ALAC also worked to inform the community of their education rights. They showed community members how to use social audit mechanisms to oversee the public education services being provided locally.
They also organized and trained 30 of the parents on how to use the country’s Transparency and Access to Public Information laws to monitor the performance of public officials.
“It’s very important to highlight the parents’ involvement in this case,” says Ludim Ayala, the director of the ALAC. “They were committed to making sure their children were in class.”
Finally, ALAC helped draft and circulate a document that denounced the deficiencies in the educational system and pledged the unit’s commitment to resolving the problem immediately.
The success of a partnership
With the pressure from ALAC, the Transparency Unit, and the community, the District Education Director threatened to fire the Municipal Director who had dealt with the complaint so cavalierly if the teacher was not returned to Froilan Turcio public school.
The swift, coordinated action organized by Counterpart’s local partners worked.
The teacher who had been inappropriately transferred was returned to her post, and classes resumed the following week.
“I think the key effect of the story is how citizens who were organized in a parent-teacher association in a hard-to-reach rural forgotten community were able to raise their demands and complaints on the right to education for their children,” says Gloria Manzanares, Counterpart’s Chief of Party for the Impactos program.
The success showed people throughout Honduras that reporting acts of corruption can help hold public officials accountable in upholding the rule of law, and make government more responsive to the needs of the people.