In late April 2006 we had a moving sale with all proceeds going toward Las Sonrisas de los Niños. One of the people that stopped by happened to be an editor for the local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. We talked out our project and he felt it was of enough interest to print an article in his paper. A few days later a reporter came by, and a few days after that, on May 6, 2006, Las Sonrisas de los Niños had a top middle front page feature, which fortunately presented things in a favorable light! When we returned to El Cacao in the Fall of 2006 we were able to locate the two kids pictured in the original Enterprise article and took a photo of them holding the paper, which seemed to be quite thrilling for them and their family.
The next month we were contacted by a reporter for the American Academy of Physician Assistants News, who had seen the Enterprise article on-line. For those who are not familiar with Physician Assistants (PAs), they/we are mid-level medical practitioners and have been around for 30+ years now. It is a profession that was conceived to provide medical care in underserved areas and has been growing hugely in its relatively brief existence, and it's how I paid the bills over the years (having graduated as a PA in 1982). The article on Las Sonrisas de los Niños appeared in the July 30, 2006 edition of the AAPA News. For more information on PAs, visit www.aapa.org
Below is the Enterprise article and follow-up article, and below that photos of the feature in the in the AAPA News International Issue (I don't have a scanner nor OCR- optical character recognition- ability, so you'd need really good eyesight to read the text; it's similar to the Enterprise article except written more with PAs in mind).
More recently, Session Three volunteer (2008) Lisa from Germany wrote an article for her local paper and is included at the bottom as a JPEG file (we have no idea what it says, but we assume it's a good thing; we are still in contact with Lisa as we happily are with many volunteers)
Tuesday, May 09, 2006 — Time: 3:23:38 PM EST
Leaving to help in Honduras
By JACOB RESNECK, Enterprise Staff Writer
Reid FitzSimons and Patricia Huenemoerder pose on the porch of the
Tupper Lake home they are selling so they can move to Honduras, where
they plan to establish a day care center for poor children.
Their plan is ambitious: Sell their Park Street home, offload
the bulk of their worldly possessions through garage sales, and use the money to
found a children’s day care in a rural Central American village.
“Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?” FitzSimons said. “I figured, what else are we going to do with our retirement — go to the casino all the time?”
After about 20 years of working as a physician’s assistant at the federal prison in Ray Brook and Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Office in Tupper Lake, the 47-year-old said he began working in health care for people in developing countries five years ago.
In 2001, he spent six months working with children in Guatemala and later did a year’s stint in Kenya. It was on his travels to Central America that he discovered the volunteer opportunities to help young people in these countries.
While working in Guatemala, he said he’d convince young Americans studying at language schools to forego a night’s beer drinking and travel with him to the village he worked in. Many thoroughly enjoyed the experience, he said, and he’s eager to harness the power of “voluntourism” for the project that he and his partner Huenemoerder are starting.
Their center will be called Las Sonrisas de Los Ninos, which roughly translates as “the smiles of the children.” The plan is to build a house and day care center in rural Honduras on an 11-acre parcel they bought in March. But they have their work cut out for them; the land is completely undeveloped, she said, and they’ll have to start from scratch.
The land is in the village of El Cacao, about two miles from the coastline in the Atlantida province. It’s close enough to the tourist destinations La Ceiba, a modern city of about 100,000 people, and the Bay Islands, which are home to world-class scuba diving.
“We wanted to be close enough to La Ceiba so tourists could get to our center but far enough away to be rural and have cheap enough land prices,” FitzSimons said.
The couple have met with local school teachers who assured them that their agricultural village, home to about 400 people, has a real need for a supervised day care center. Currently, many small children go all day without any supervision.
“If the mother works or if the father is dead or off drinking, the children are frequently left alone in their mud huts,” he said.
FitzSimons said his work in Guatemala has helped prepare him for the challenges ahead. On the first day on the job, he recalled, the challenges were immediately apparent.
“When I showed up to one (Guatemalan) day care, there were 10 kids in a garage, with no adult supervision, who had flies all over them,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly Sesame Street.”
Like FitzSimons, Huenemoerder has a clinical background. She worked as a speech and language therapist at Sunmount for more than 30 years. Having retired a month ago, she said the move will be a big adjustment as well as an adventure.
“It’s going to be difficult,” she said for herself and two grown children she raised in Tupper Lake “This is a very big event since they grew up in this house. Divesting in everything is a major change.”
But despite the difficulties, she said she’s not cutting ties to the community. Already, one religious Sunday school in Tupper Lake is planning to visit them in El Cacao once they are up and running.
By that point, the couple said they hope it will be a magnet for idealists to come and volunteer their time and donate money to help the children of rural Honduras.
“I’m not going to say American kids aren’t cute, but the kids are awful cute down there,” FitzSimons said as he showed pictures of young people from the village. He said their goal is to do something positive with their retirement.
“It’s not going to be, ‘Retired couple plans to live in opulence while oppressing local villagers,’” he quipped.
For additional information, visit the project’s Web site, http://www.lasonrisa.info./