The theme of the last couple of weeks has been making connections. In a variety of forms, and with a variety of people, I have been forging bonds and establishing relationships. The first example has been through the CREE initiative of Shoulder to Shoulder. It stands for Regional Center for Educational Excellence (translated from Spanish). The program is primarily run by the other volunteer with whom I live, Grace, with help from the volunteer Paul who has worked in the field of technology for most of his life. The focus of CREE is to expand the use of technology in the classroom in schools outside of the Bilingual School. Using the application Khan Academy Lite, teachers can show videos on certain topics and have students do the corresponding exercises. The software is offline so an internet connection is not a requirement. We provide the schools with a router and a server so that any ‘smart’ device in the room (cell phone, computer, tablet etc) can all be using KALite. Our goal is to provide these schools with a set of tablets and train the teachers in how to set up and operate this technology. Feel free to check out the website that Grace has been building at hondurasrobot.org.
The process of providing a school with new resources takes time. First, one needs to establish contact with the school. Usually, this involves asking around town until we can get a name and phone number for the director (principal) of the school. Then Grace calls to set up an introductory meeting. We all climb into Paul’s pickup truck, me in the back, and set off on turbulent rides. I’ve just joined this group with the goal of making a video for the website. The meeting that was most impactful for me thus far was with the education director for the town of Santa Lucia, a man named Luis. He is middle-aged, stout, with short, thin black hair and a dark mustache. His passion for education is unlike anything I’ve seen in Honduras. Throughout the day we spent with Luis, every single young kid that we saw would run up and hug him. He said that we wanted to take us out in the rural communities to show us where he thought this technology could be especially helpful. We visited multiple schools. The first was a newly constructed middle school with a brand new computer lab all funded by German donations. The second was perhaps the opposite end of the spectrum, with few resources and overworked teachers. We sat with the director of this school for almost an hour as she explained the educational dilemma these students faced. Many parents would wait to send their children to school until they were almost eight or nine, out of fear for their safety attending school so far away from home. Then by the time they reached thirteen or fourteen years old, their parents felt it time to begin contributing to the family through work. It’s an incredibly small window for education. The classrooms at this school each held three grades simultaneously. The director spoke about the difficulties in teaching all three at once and trying to divide equal time and resources. It’s not an overnight solution, but the hope is that technology can ease the burden on these teachers and motivate some of these students to continue their education to higher levels.
This past weekend I tagged along with Laura and Paul to their weekend residence in the nearby city of La Esperanza. You may remember that the last time I was there it resulted in the casualty of my iPhone. This time I was going to pick up an old iPhone that a medical brigade from Brown University was bringing down for me. On Saturday I picked up a few souvenirs for special people back home before going to meet the brigade. Their group was comprised of two doctors, a pharmacist, two medical residents, two translators, and a college student. Brown has long been established here. They built their own clinic and bring two brigades a year (now three with this brigade). We drove them out to their clinic on Sunday in a town nicknamed ‘Wachi’ that I couldn’t possibly spell correctly (Watch-y-pee-len-cito). I visited them again on Wednesday to observe the clinic in action and to get an idea of what awaits me in February. It was fascinating to watch. I wanted to confirm that my Spanish would be able to translate with the accuracy that medicine requires. I witnessed these doctors and residents patiently listened to complaints of various ailments. With limited medical history and an even smaller array of available medications, it is a truly different type of medicine that is administered. It focuses on preventative health; educating the patients. The majority of the patients I saw left with some ibuprofen, vitamins, a toothbrush and maybe some reading glasses. The daily activities of housewives and laborers cause aches and pains that can’t be eliminated without an unrealistic change in lifestyle. What can be combated are dental hygiene, proper hydration, and nutritional awareness.
About a month ago Paul and Laura, the directors of Shoulder to Shoulder, added another side project to my ever expanding plate of tasks. Once I heard what it entailed I was happy to oblige. The Bilingual School has an existing relationship with the St. Mary’s School in Massachusetts. I had been exchanging emails with a 7th-grade teacher, Ms. Cara with the hopes of facilitating an exchange between their class and our fourth graders. The theme was animals and we had our students research animals unique to their respective countries. Yesterday morning we set up a Google hangout and the students presented their findings. It was a resounding success. The Honduran kids were fascinated by the bald eagle (the direct translation lead to many questions) and the blobfish. The American kids were exposed to the variety of birds found here like the toucan and parrot. When the first Honduran student, Elkin, went up to present his hands were shaking. They were nervous yet proud of their work at the same time. After everyone had shared their projects there was a period of questions and answers. We talked about foods, weather and the months of the school year. Afterwards, I asked the students if they enjoyed the video chat and would like to do it again. I was met with thunderous affirmation.
One of my closest friends in Camasca is Edwin Castillo. He is a professor at the high school as well as a prominent business owner. Last year I played soccer with him a fair amount but now his schedule won’t allow it. I always see him around town and we exchange pleasantries. Yesterday he stopped me and expressed a desire for my help. There is a Shoulder to Shoulder board meeting in Tampa, Florida, in December. He is attending and wants my help in preparing a presentation to give in English. I quickly accepted and we made a plan to meet later that evening. We ended up talking for about four hours and almost none of it was related to the presentation. We will take care of that at another time. Sitting in two chairs metal chairs in his store, and sipping on watery Salve Vida beers, he told me his story, ambitions, and opinions of his home country. I was taken aback. You can’t imagine what hardships people have overcome just by looking at them. Edwin told me about how his parents cut him off while he was in university after impregnating an equally young girl. He almost made the perilous journey to enter the U.S. illegally but decided against it. He had to work two and three jobs just to cover his expenses. He caught breaks along the way like when a teaching position opened up a primary school right as his financial position grew dire. Eventually, he rose from a teacher to a director of a private bilingual school in Tegucigalpa. Seven years ago, he and his wife moved back to Camasca to raise their family. Edwin is currently the president of the parents’ association. We spoke about the positive direction in which Camasca is headed, and all the good that the Bilingual School is doing for the children and the town. He is a great friend and a leader that I believe Camasca would be lucky to have in a Mayoral position sometime in the future. As a grin came across his face, he refused to commit to anything.
At the time of this writing there are less than four weeks remaining in my first stint in Honduras. There is a lot I still hope to accomplish before then and I will surely keep you informed! Thank you for your continued readership.
2 thoughts on “Making Connections”
What a fascinating blog entry, Matt! We loved reading about your ever expanding list of projects . . . especially the Google Hangout! We are so proud of you and the important work you’re doing.
Love, Mom & Ed