In Copan, Honduras, many of the children never even finish elementary school. Less than one percent graduate from college.
This early dropout rate leads to a variety of social problems, including a high rate of teen pregnancies and a huge disparity between the rich and the poor.
Blair Quinius, a 2005 Southwestern graduate, is giving more than 300 children from this town the encouragement and support they need to finish school.
In 2009, Quinius founded an organization called Urban Promise Honduras, which provides summer camp and after school programs for children in grades 1-6. When the children get to high school, the program offers leadership development and job skills.
Urban Promise Honduras is a branch of a faith-based organization in the United States with the same name that is headquartered in Camden, New Jersey. Quinius was the first person to take the Urban Promise model outside the United States.
Quinius got his first taste of life in Latin America when he studied abroad in Chile. Although he was an animal behavior major at Southwestern, Quinius said “many great conversations” with Professor Jesse Purdy prompted him to think about and pursue a career in something other than his major.
After graduating from Southwestern, Quinius obtained a visa to spend the summer working at the Whistler ski resort in Canada. With a few months left on his visa, he decided to stay in Canada and do an internship with Urban Promise in Vancouver.
The man who supervised his internship with Urban Promise was from Honduras, and he encouraged Quinius to explore teaching opportunities in Honduras. Quinius applied to several different schools and settled on a position teaching 5th grade at a bilingual school in Copan from 2007-2008.
Quinius said seeing the needs of the children at this school gave him the idea to try and implement the Urban Promise model in Honduras. Urban Promise gave Quinius the go-ahead, and he returned to the United States to raise money to make his vision a reality.
Quinius said the experience he gained submitting a proposal for a King Creativity grant at Southwestern and then implementing the project he proposed helped equip him with many of the skills needed to create and implement a non-profit from the ground up.
Quinius began Urban Promise Honduras in the summer of 2009 with three employees – himself, a fellow intern from Urban Promise Vancouver named Matt Wall, and the sister of a friend from Southwestern, Rachel Nelson.
The school in Copan where Quinias taught 5th grade became the site of the organization’s first summer camp. The organization now has six program sites and a full-time staff of six to eight employees. Quinius recently returned to Southwestern to encourage students to consider applying for summer internships with the organization.
Quinius said his goal is to continue running the program until he feels it can be turned over to local leadership.
“I’ve really enjoyed starting this from the ground up,” he said. “I love bringing a team together to accomplish a goal. I think I’m a pretty good example of how a liberal arts education can help develop and prepare someone for life.”