by Reid Fitzsimons
Recently returned from a short project session deep in the jungles of Honduras, at least to the extent there is essentially no internet available in our little village on Honduras’ north coast. With no insightful cutting edge articles immediately ready to post on Conservative Proletariat I thought I’d post the summary of the session we sent out to former volunteers, supporters, etc. In deference to sensitivity and politeness I am omitting the names of several people mentioned in the summary- this is intended to be totally apolitical. Note the name of our project is Las Sonrisas de los Niños; the pic above is from 2010 when we were mostly a children's oriented project.
Greetings/Saludos from Las Sonrisas de los Niños:
This is being sent to family, friends, supporters, visitors, people who have previously expressed an interest in our project in the village of El Cacao, Honduras, and especially former volunteers. It is eight years this month since we first opened.
We just concluded what we are terming a “mini-session” of the project, this one being six weeks and a day ending May 8th, 2015. It began with the very pleasant experience of having two former and recurrent volunteers visit, both of whom were with us during the first session in 2007.
Unlike prior sessions but similar to 2013 and 2014 we did not run the usual kid oriented program but worked in several more targeted areas. English Class continued to be well attended with 7-8 people making the daily round trip from the village to where I stay and held the classes (known as the “volunteer house”). Two very satisfying things happened this time around. The first involved Elida, who turned 19 while I was there. She has been faithfully attending these classes for several years but, while always a joy and lots of fun, was kind of lazy and never progressed much. One day, almost as if a switch was turned on, she began comprehending all the concepts and become a great resource for the others. While not fully conversational she can now perhaps be described as pre-fluent. The other very happy occurrence was Yosel, someone we’ve never known before but just started showing up. He’s 13 with no prior knowledge of English but was almost savant-like in his ability to pick up both basic and advanced concepts- probably the best innate student I’ve seen. (left photo: Elida is on the left with Yosel next to her, then Jimmi & Franco; right: Mirian's grandson, Nelson, wearing my boots)
The sewing class was well attended, mostly by younger girls this year for whatever reason, and culminated with us buying for 100 Lempiras (about $5) from each girl a tote bag they had proudly made The most satisfying aspect of the sewing group this year involved 13 year-old girl Merlyn and her 10 year-old sister. Neither attends school and both spend much of their time standing in doorways begging. We invited/encouraged them to try the sewing class, which they did with increasing enthusiasm. We always leave a functional machine with our sewing maestro Mirian, who has been with us since our earliest time in El Cacao, for her own use and to hopefully keep the girls involved. At the end of the session Merlyn, on her own, asked Mirian if she could continue learning how to sew. (photo on the right Merlyn is holding the orange bag with her sister below her)
We initiated an entirely new endeavor for us this session. The beginning idea was to find one or two trustworthy young men with families to support, instruct them in carpentry basics, and see if they could make a living using our project building as a wood shop. The fallacy of this approach was quickly apparent and readily replaced with the goal of finding someone reliable with existing carpentry skills and experience. This led us to Eduardo, previously unknown to us but with an excellent reputation among locals and extranjeros alike. He’s a father of four and lives with his children and their mother; his oldest kid happened to be Yosel, our aspiring English student. We approached him with the idea, found him receptive, made sure he had an adequate tool and supply inventory, signed an agreement, and handed him a set of keys. It will be interesting to see if this experiment proves to be successful. Mirian later told me having his own carpentry shop has been Eduardo's dream for many years. Part of the deal is for him to take in muchachos and offer them some basic instruction and experience. (left: Eduardo in red shirt in messy project building; right: Mirian with sewing student)
Our exceptional young man Felipe, whom we have been grooming (so to speak) for several years to attend University, began his first semester in January. He is enrolled in the architecture program and was still in the midst of his first term when I arrived. To put this in perspective, despite being the top graduate in his high school class in 2014, he is a relatively poor campesino, which loosely translated means country bumpkin. The reality is that most of his fellow students are rich city kids who attended private bilingual schools their entire lives, noting that public schools in Honduras are not exactly springboards to the Ivy League. With a fair amount of optimistic anxiety we awaited his grades for the semester. We are extremely pleased to say he passed all five courses with very good grades overall, including mathematics (over 60% failure rate) and technical drawing (10 of 18 students in his class did not pass!). There was relief in all of our faces, but certainly a large amount of pride felt by Felipe for such a significant accomplishment. Prior to my leaving Felipe and I went to the bank and got him paid in advance for his second semester- one down, only 19 more to go! (left: with Felipe & Mirian visiting his university; right: brothers Jesus, Yospel, & Jarol, with the latter two known to many volunteers over the years)
A few other things to mention: we were pleased to again support the lunch program for kids called the Panza Llena, run by former volunteer _________, a Canadian from Quebec who lives mostly in Honduras now. With our former employee Mirian 2 cooking, they put out about 120 meals a week while I was there. I continued to be impressed by Honduran Christian pastor Jeronimo Garcia, now in El Cacao going on three years. He well conducts the religious aspect of his work but spends much of his time getting his hands dirty with the poorest people in the village. For example, he arranges for the use of land to cultivate and works the land beside the impoverished people for whom he’s providing the opportunity. He is always looking for, or in fact creating, opportunities to improve the lives of his congregation and anyone else interested and I was proud that our friendship continued to evolve. (left:Jeronimo in a 2014 photo; right: ____________ brought hula-hoops to Panza Llena, shamed me into trying the activity, then took this embarrassing photo)
A few notes of appreciation before closing: ______________________.
Reid and Patricia, May 17, 2015