Pastor Daniel Pacheco Shares Compelling Story of Fight for Human Rights

With reflection by Michael Van Citters '18

Published : Monday, January 29, 2018 | 12:25 PM

This past September, American journalist Sonia Nazario visited Poly to share the story of her Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series and book, “Enrique’s Journey,” in what was the 100th event hosted by Poly’s Global Initatives Program. While on a reporting trip to Honduras, Nazario met evangelical Pastor Daniel Pacheco, who has risked his life in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world to reduce gang violence. “He turned a house taken over by gangs — Casa Loca, where people were raped, tortured, and murdered — into a Casa de la Esperanza, a house of hope to teach children values, to give them a place to play, give them an alternative to the gang life,” Nazario explains on a GoFundMe page she created to support Pacheco’s efforts. Her article in the New York Times brings to life his important work in Rivera Hernández. Pacheco became a target because of his support for anti-gang programs and human rights; Nazario helped convince the U.S. State Department to grant his family and him a temporary visit to the United States. She subsequently offered to bring him to Poly to share his story.

Last week, Pacheco came to Poly to speak with a number of Upper School classes and student groups. Loretta van der Horst, a filmmaker from the Netherlands who has been working on a film about Pacheco’s work, documented his visit with Poly students to show how he is spreading the word to American students about his work. Van der Horst has been making reports and films on issues of conflict and human rights for the past six years. Her work has been featured on PBS, Discovery En Español, Al Jazeera, and Channel 4 (UK), a well as on Dutch television KRO and includes an Emmy-winning documentary and two Emmy-nominated films.

Michael Van Citters ’18, who had dinner with Pacheco the night before his visit, shares his reflections of the day:

Last week Pastor Daniel Pacheco presented to Upper School Spanish classes, entirely in español, a summary of his work rehabilitating gangs and drug traffickers in Honduras. Pastor Pacheco, who has been featured in many publications including the New York Times, has dedicated his life to bringing a sustainable peace to the neighborhoods that suffer under the corrupt government and extortion by pandillas, or gangs.

For years prior to Pacheco’s mission, Honduras had lead the world in homicides, topping even the rates of all countries (with the exception of Syria) embroiled in war. The corruption of the Honduran government and the prominence of black market drug trafficking created ugly circumstances under which multiple gangs would simultaneously extort impoverished neighborhoods and the police were bribed to look the other way. Having experienced the unimaginable violence and brutality of the gangs first hand while growing up in Honduras, Pacheco began to understand how the gangs operated and how they appealed to young men and women. His courage and a strong calling from God led him to form alliances with the leaders of the gangs, and he now has won the trust of all five main gangs in Honduras (at the risk of his own safety if he threatens the gangs’ operations).

During the assembly, Pacheco spoke extensively about the formation of soccer leagues composed of rehabilitated gang members who would play each other during the day and consequently be too tired by night to go out and commit crimes. Pacheco also organized cease-fire games between the gang members and the police, hoping that the police would get to know the gang members as people, as more than just gangsters who want to kill them. He also spoke about reclaiming buildings taken by the extortion-minded gangs and turning the facilities into safe houses.

The opportunity to hear a speaker like Pastor Pacheco rarely presents itself, but the students who attended, myself included, understood how fortunate they were to be a part of such an experience and were grateful to hear the pastor speak about his courageous mission. After our AP Comunidad in Global Accion class, the students spilled into the courtyard to ask questions and hear more about his work in San Pedro Sula. Pastor Pacheco revealed his depth of love, bold courage, and ingenuity in terms of bringing peace and hope to what was once labeled, “the most dangerous neighborhood in the world.”

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