So I attend Towson University in Maryland. There I am a member of the non-profit organization called Students Helping Honduras (SHH), which I have referenced in other posts. This organization is much different from others because it works against a little thing called “voluntourism”, which is where U.S. volunteers travel to third-world countries with the intentions of helping, and possibly some site-seeing, but actually do more harm than good. How do we work against that? Well, first, we talk to the villagers and the local people who are affected by our actions. They propose ideas to us in which to help their own community, and we respond by raising money on our campus, and helping turn it into a reality. While on the work site, the Hondurans are the main characters. They know what they are doing, and they tell us how we can help. We are just sidekicks to the real heroes. Many people think you have to be great to do great things, but all it is is devoting some time to people who could use extra hands. This organization has taught me more than just how to mix cement. I’ve learned about the corrupt government of this Central American country, the prevalent gang violence, and the importance of education in a child’s life. I have met incredible people, within my chapter, and those that live in the village, including former chapter members that now stay in Honduras long term to help run things perfectly. There are actually chapters at colleges all across the U.S. If you attend University, check if your campus has a chapter. Even if you are not part of a chapter, you can still book a trip for a week during your winter break.
I joined my freshman year, and never did I think that 4 months into college I would be on a plane to Honduras to build a school. Now after my second trip, I have a blog to write all about it. Anyway, that’s the back story, now for the details of my incredible second visit to Villa Soleada.
Today my chapter actually left the village of Villa Soleada to work in a different village for the first time. We were bused there with the Honduran workers and guards at the front and back of the bus. Although this unusual-to-most-U.S.-citizens-precaution causes questioning and uneasy emotions to surface, I always feel extremely safe in Honduras. That is to say living under the conditions in which we live while we are there. Without a gated village and guards escorting us everywhere, I’m not too sure I would feel so confident walking the streets of the country.
We arrived in a village called Siete de Abril, the village where SHH actually built its first school when it first became an organization. Despite that, my school’s chapter had never ventured here before. We were right below the high mountains and merciless sun. Man is it hot in Honduras. For the first time ever, we were building on a ground with no preexisting building standing. Nothing. Last year we started building next to another school, but this year, we were presented with an empty plot of land.
So our work today consisted of breaking ground for our elementary school which will accommodate 6 different grades within 3 classrooms (sessions in morning and then afternoon), and a total of 150+ kids. As of right now, the kids grades 1-6 attend school in a one-room building that only holds 39 students at a time.
We started by using pick-axes and shovels to outline the base frame of the building. We had to dig out 4 feet into the ground.
After pix axing and shoveling from 9 a.m to 3:30 p.m. we had the trenches for our base of the building to be built upon.
On the first day of work, like last year, we split up into groups and were hosted by families in the village for lunch. We got to make a traditional Honduran meal consisting of baleadas and pastillas de piña. Baleadas are tortillas with beans and egg in it. Since I lean towards a plant-based diet, I kindly used my spanish skills to ask if I could have one without eggs. Instead she put avocado, which I loved! In the home where my group ate lunch lived Tony, Tito, and Nela, the three children of the mother providing us food. I loved meeting these kids, they were so polite and welcoming to us. Tony, the oldest, expressed his excitement to eventually attend the school we were helping build.
Before leaving for our second workday to Siete de Abril, we had a surprise from Shin. Shin is the guy who started it all. He established SHH when he was at school 10 years ago. He now lives full-time in Honduras and works to create a better life for these people.
He took the Towson chapter to inaugurate the bilingual middle school that was funded by Towson. The students joined us outside and we got to hold the plaque and cut the ribbon and everything. I was honored to see my name on the plaque for being one of the top fundraisers. It is one of the greatest surprises I’ve ever gotten. Never had I felt so illustrious. It was an emotional time where I realized how much we can impact these kids. I feel part of something so important and I’ve never been more passionate about something like this ever before.
Today we got to the village and started working around 11 a.m. We had a group of people bending rebar which would essentially be the metal structure holding up the building. Others were on the work site continuing digging trenches. Today was a little slow and our chapter had a talk about remembering that there is only so much we are qualified or able to do. The Honduran workers were doing certain projects that we couldn’t really assist with. It gave us workers some down time to spend with the children.
We received lunch in the village again. Rice, beans, and stir-fried veggies on a stick, yum! After our day at the work site, we drove to a caged-in soccer field and stayed from 4 until 7. We competed with the other school chapters that were staying in Villa Soleada for the week, like University of Maryland and Stonybrook. It was super fun, and we played legit games. I was so sweaty and sore, it was intense.
Four bags of sand, two bags of cement, and approximately 4 buckets of water. Mix. And you have cement. Harder than it sounds. First you mix the dry ingredients, and after you add the water, the mixture becomes thick and heavy. Cement is hard stuff to mix. I don’t know how the Honduran workers are so strong and fast at it. My back hurt after 30 minutes but I kept going.
Today we had crispy tortillas with salsa for lunch, plus I ate about 3 bananas throughout the day. It was a hot one. Every day is a hot one, but today was crazy hot. I got a glove tan so my hands are extra white and my arms are dark from working and sweating nonstop in the beating sun.
We had started filling in the trenches with cement to hold the rebar poles. After it dried from yesterday we started stacking cinderblocks on top of one another with more cement in between each one. By the end of the day, we had a wall that was 5 cinderblocks high, 3 of them deeply solidified into the earth. The Honduran workers started nailing wood panels into the cinderblocks to create a low wall.
I hung out with Tony and his brother today. We ate spaghetti with sauce for lunch. Our last day of work is tomorrow.
Our last day of work everyone was eager and energetic to finish our portion of the project. We wanted to finish topping the wall with cement. More cement mixing and bucket lines. We were quite efficient, although overworked and chronically tired and hungry, we pulled through and finished our work with great pride. It may not look like much but we are doing this the most raw way possible. No machines, no crazy construction. Nothing but bricks, sweat— and baleadas to keep us sustained on the site.
Working with such a great group of people makes the hard times easier and the good times even better. I’m so lucky to have such a passionate and motivated chapter as I do. Our work payed off and I hope that I return next year to find a beautifully completed school ready for kids like Tony and Tito to attend.
We headed to Tela Beach this morning. The last day of our trip we always do a beach day to celebrate our extremely hard work. Me and my friends paid $5 each to take a banana boat ride in the Carribbean Sea. We also walked down the beach and out on a long pier in which we jumped off. It stretched out far into the ocean, so it was a long jump down, but I did it, and it was amazing!
Staying here for only a week after such a previously long trip feels weird. I feel like I still have so much yet to do here, but my time is up for now. I want to apply to a summer English retention teaching program to come for 2 weeks over the summer, but if that doesn’t work out, I will be back next winter. It’s a long time, but it makes me happy to know I will return someday to find our started project transformed into something even more marvelous.
Until next time, Honduras.
Hey! If you want to donate just $1 or more, feel free to check out my fundaround, where 100% of the donations go straight toward our project! Yes, you can help us finish building THIS school. Click here ♥