(mini) Session 7 ran from March 13, 2013 to May 15, 2013.  Below is a summary of the session e-mailed to supporters, former volunteers, etc upon its conclusion:

Greetings/Saludos From Las Sonrisas de los Niños:

 It has been almost two years since we sent out one of these updates regarding our little charity project in the village of El Cacao, Honduras.  This is being sent to family, friends, supporters, visitors, people who have previously expressed an interest in our project, and especially former volunteers, who number well over 100.  It has been 8 ½ years since we made our first trip to Honduras to investigate the feasibility of our idea for a project and now over six years since we first opened.

The project remained closed during all of 2012 as my (Reid’s) son was deployed to Afghanistan with the NY Army National Guard and I was determined to remain close to a reliable phone at all times.  VERY fortunately, he returned safely to the US on New Year’s Eve 2012 and I made a trip to Honduras from March 13th 2013 to May 15th, a nine-week mini-session of sorts, which proved very successful.  Patricia remained in the US for several reasons, including weekly trips to take care of her grandson Oliver, and in anticipation of the birth of her second grandchild, which actually occurred six days after I returned- baby Alex was born of May 21st.

 Many of you are aware that Honduras has sadly become a dangerous place with the highest per capita murder rate in the world.  This was certainly on my mind as I became reacquainted with Honduras after a year and a half absence.  Happily our project area, which previously had terrible (and generally well-deserved) reputation for crime and violence, seemed overall a great deal quieter than in the past few years.

Unlike prior sessions, this time we did not run the usual kid oriented program.  Rather we concentrated on several areas:

English Class- every morning Mon-Fri.  It was extremely gratifying that 7+ people (mostly high school kids with academic potential and some adults) made the 2-mile round trip walk without fail.  This was the real thing with grammar, verb tenses, etc and not limited to “how are you,” “I am fine.”  Two of the students could be said to be truly conversational, with Felipe (known to many volunteers) very conversational as well as excellent reading and writing ability.

Women’s Sewing Group- Two days a week in the afternoon for about 6 weeks.  We provided the material and two machines.  Each person made at least an apron (which we then bought from them), and many went on to make bags, clothes, and curtains to sell or for personal use.

Carpentry Class- Afternoons except on the days of the Women’s Sewing Group.  4-6 teenage boys, mostly school dropouts, participated and learned the basics of measuring, cutting (especially with a table saw and circular saw), and use of drills/drivers.  We made 5 tables to donate to the poorest families of the village, and each boy made something for his own family- tables, benches, a bunk bed, and in one case a 2-wheeled cart.  At the end we gave the “head” muchacho (Noe) a set of hand tools to (hopefully) continue in this field and share with his fellow carpenteros, as they began to call themselves..

Direct Support of Two Feeding Programs- Richard, a volunteer from 2009, essentially moved to Cacao and runs a 3 day a week lunch program, feeding about 40 kids each time.  This is called the Panza Llena (Full Belly) program.  The other program feeds about 60 kids twice a week and is run by a Honduran pastor named Jeronimo, who moved to Cacao around September 2012.  He spends most of his time interacting with and helping the poorest of the families in the village.

We were very happy to hire Mirian 1, known to almost all volunteers. She was my all-around assistant and also attended the three main programs (we built the bunk bed for her family).  She really began to understand the concept of learning a different language, had already become accomplished at sewing and was able to help the others, and thoroughly enjoyed learning the basic carpentry skills.  Mirian 2, also well knownto many volunteers, does the cooking for Panza Llena, which is run out of her house.

We did have a party for the kids one afternoon- I read, for old times sake, the story of Henny Penny and the Sky is Falling, and they played various games and had their fill of popcorn, PB&J sandwiches, bananas, cookies, and snow cones.  90 kids showed up, which is a new record for us.

   

This session’s “cutest” kid event actually involved 15 year-old Noe, really not a cute little kid anymore.  At the end of the last session in the Fall of 2011 we had begun a little bit of the carpentry program and gave him a cheap tape measure.  On the first day of this session’s carpentry program he showed up proudly carrying that same tape measure!

We’ve attached a number of photos, most of them obvious in subject matter, and we hope the former volunteers will recognize some of the kids.  The one with the 3 brothers (Jarol, Yospel, and Jesus) was included because so many volunteers knew the two older boys and they are cute as ever.  One photo is from last December when former expatriate and huge project help Ron Sparkman traveled to Cacao and visited Richard and the Panza Llena. 

One final mention- except for our support and sporadic help of a few others, the Panza Llena is run almost entirely out Richard’s own fairly empty pockets.  If anyone has any inclination to help purchase rice, beans, etc for the Panza Llena, please contact us.

Thank you for taking the time for reading this e-mail and for your interest and support of our little project over the years.  As usual, many thanks to those who have volunteered with us.  We certainly remember every one of the 100+ volunteers we’ve had and it’s great fun to reminisce with the kids and local employees, who also remember most every volunteer.  We hope you have happy recollections of your time with us! 

Adios,

Reid and Patricia, May 31, 2013

 

Session 6 ran from May 2011 to October 2011

 

We were fortunate to have many excellent volunteers up through the 10th week.  Many thanks to: Derik and Sean from Pennsylvania, USA, who volunteered for six weeks and helped get us ready to open; Catherine from England and Victoria from Arizona, USA who were both with us for eight-plus weeks; Mateus from Belgium who volunteered on and off for about two months; and Cheryl, Paul (California, USA) and their 7 year-old daughter Violet (our youngest volunteer ever) who were very helpful during their two weeks with us.

 

        

Above left, Victoria holding a baby with Catherine and Derik looking on- Derik actually had a baby named after him by an advanced English class student Maricela who delivered her baby while Derik was in Honduras; in the center is Sean and right above Victoria and Catherine together.  Below left are the volunteers over for dinner along with our most advanced English student Joseny; below center is Cheryl reading to Lanie and to the right is Cheryl and Paul's daughter Violet in the pool with two of  her new friends.

 

        

We also had returning from last year Cherice and Jonathan, who spent a week here with their friends Chris, Keith, Monica, and Jennifer.  Gail was one of our first volunteers from 2007 and she returned for a fifth time with SteveO (third time in Cacao) and Steve (second trip).  On Friday at the end of their first week, with to 40 some kids present, Steve asked Gail to marry him.  She said “yes” and then we made snow cones.

At the end of the 10th week we found ourselves without volunteers (though later we were very lucky to have Alexis, who came by herself, for a couple of weeks) and changed to a no-volunteer mode of operation, which included not doing a morning run to pick up kids, no story time, and no directed arts and crafts activities.  We continued to serve breakfast and lunch to whoever wanted to come and the kids were free to use our computers, toys, etc, and we’ve had a pretty good turnout of 10-20 kids during this period.  This quieter arrangement finally allowed us to begin computer classes in addition to the long-running classes in English, and we finally began our long-term goal of teaching basic carpentry to the teenage boys who left school or aren’t planning on continuing past the 6th grade.

        

Above left Gail and Steve walking down the Cacao road; above center is our final session 6 volunteer Alexis, buying ice cream cones for our English class students; above right is the fledgling women's sewing co-op, made possible by session 5 volunteers Linda and her daughter Kim.  The co-op did get to the point of making marketable items and sold a number of them to volunteers and visitors.  Below left: showing the basics of measuring to a boy who quit elementary school, he went on to make a very needed table for his family; below right is our neighbor we've referred to as "the old guy" for many years, along with his wife.  He is somewhere in his 80's and we've always allowed him to cultivate our land, working harder than most young men.  He had a crop of yuka growing nicely that we had planned to buy in it's entirety to use for our lunch program, but when harvest time came and went I asked him where the crop was, and he said it was all stolen.  This raises the question- does poverty beget crime or does crime cause poverty?  Our experience suggests the latter.  We have heard that subsequent to our last period in Honduras his wife has died.

                      

 

 

Session 5 ran from June 2010-October 2010 (summary of session 3 and 4 below)

 

Session 5 was relatively uneventful compared to Session 4 because this time we didn’t have international news-making political problems as existed in 2009.  Nevertheless rarely does a day go by without something of interest happening, at times favorable and at times less so!

 

Once again we had an excellent number of volunteers and no days without them.  Curiously, for the first time essentially all volunteers came from the US.  We had our oldest volunteer, Jean at a month shy of her 80th birthday and two other generations from her family!  Many, many thanks to our volunteers: Ron, Margo, Alexandra, Carena, Auburn, Kim (daughter)-Linda (mother)- Jean (grandmother), Duke University and Peaceworks related- Adrian (2nd trip),-Chou Yi-Nicole-Lucy-Katie, Gail (4th trip) and those that came with her-Steve-Steve O-Tonya- and daughter Paris, Lisa, Brian, Mallory, Kayla (we think this was her 9th trip), Amour and Alex- and their daughter Cherice and nephew Jonathan, Megan and Louis, and Jake.  We did have John from Canada return (he had volunteered March-May 2008) but this was primarily to propose to a young woman (and excellent English student) from the village!

 

Below:  Dress-up; Children's Day Celebration Sept. 2010

 

                        

 

For quite a while we had been trying to come up with an idea for small scale economic activity, something that might have a chance to provide skills and work for at least a handful of the locals.  Following a meeting with volunteers Kayla, Lisa, and Kim we decided to establish a sewing co-op, and soon after that a sewing machine was donated and carried to Honduras by Kim’s mother and grandmother.  Between them some basic instruction was given to some of the women and older girls and a few items were created.  We hope to greatly expand on this in the next session.

 

As usual the school was often closed due to teacher strikes and unknown reasons, so we generally had significant numbers of kids attending, including a record breaking 75+ one day.  Consistent and enthusiastic volunteers kept the kids wholesomely engaged in all manner of arts and crafts, reading, sports, learning, games, and swinging.  Variations of Bingo became quite a rage and, with the facilitation of some volunteers, an interesting and popular version of baseball evolved.  A little subproject we enjoyed was distributing a few solar or hand cranked lights to some families that don't have electricity, some donated by volunteers Amour and Alex.

 

We again employed for local women as our main workers and we actually had a very poor local woman who volunteered now and then.  We included her in our extra benefits for regular employees (giving extra food, clothing, etc) and her 9 or 10 year old son provided our warmest and fuzziest moment for Session 5- among the items of clothing we were giving his family was a Honduran national soccer jersey.  When the boy saw it he became very excited and said “it’s MY team, how did you know!”  Of course the Honduran national team is everyone’s favorite team in Honduras!

 

Below left:Very tired kids; Center: English student Maricela- she is working on real and serious verb conjugation, not just "my name is...;"  Below right 3 generations of volunteers Linda, Kim,  and Jean

 

       

 

 

For the first time the project remained open after we closed a session.  In the spring of 2010 the head of Adventure in Missions, the Canadian group that opened a clinic in the village of El Cacao, expressed an interest in trying their hand at running the project.  The idea evolved and we handed them the keys in October 2010 and they will hand us the keys back at the end of this May 2011 after operating things for almost seven months.  We were happy knowing that the kids always had a place to go to get something to eat, and two people volunteered with them through us- Debbie and Michael.  They were acquainted with a volunteer from session 3 and went to Honduras in January 2011, and we never met them and don't even know what they look like!  Other events subsequent to session 5 closing included session 4 volunteer Richard returning to live there for a second time, from October 2010 through April 2011.  In December our longest serving volunteer Ben, from session 3, went to Cacao with a small group from his church then remained for a month once their week was up.  Finally, Kayla spent Semana Santa (Easter week) in April 2011 in Cacao, on what we believe was her 10th trip, though we are loosing track.

Below left: Richard in the middle of a motley looking group of middle-aged do-gooders; that's Ron and Reid on either side; Center:  I couldn't figure how to hack a photo from Ben's Facebook page pertaining to his 2010-2011 trip, so this one is from 2008; Below right: Kayla leading the parachute activity that she brought with her in 2010

        

 

A few special thanks associated with session 5- thanks for yet another unexpected and generous donation by our first volunteer Stephanie, who also volunteered for 6 weeks in session 4 (she is awaiting her wedding to fellow session 4 volunteer Allan in July); thanks to session 5 volunteer Steve, who donated the laptop this on which this update is being done; thanks to session 5 volunteer Amour and Alex for a kind donation made on their last day; volunteer Auburn arranged for a Money for Time gift from her employer GAP, Inc; thanks to session 2 volunteer John for also donating a laptop and the very popular Hotwheels track; thanks to session 4 volunteer Andrea for a money donation; thanks to repeat volunteer Gail and the others that came down with her for bringing down bags for of Christmas in July gifts, enough for every kid; thanks to session 3 volunteer and cash poor college student Ben for another donation of money; and finally thanks to Linda-Kim-Jean for two sewing machines and supplies that will hopefully make possible the sewing co-op (Ben carried down the second machine on his trip in Dec. 2010).

Below left: Kim giving a sewing lesson;  Below right Auburn getting ready for her turn to do the limbo

 

                                

 

Overall session 5 proved very successful and it always amazes us that so many people will travel so far to a tiny unknown village and endure significant discomfort for the purpose of sharing their lives with a bunch of poor kids they've never heard of before!

 

Session Four ran from June 2009-Nov. 2009 (session three summary below this one)

 

The fourth session of Las Sonrisas de los Niños ran from June 2009 to November 2009.  It proved to be very interesting, to say the least.  Just as we were re-opening the president of Honduras was deposed on orders from the Honduran national congress and supreme court.  The president was not in agreement and what followed was months of political instability and uncertainty.  Honduras was put on the Do Not Travel lists of many countries, tourism dropped like a rock thrown off a cliff, and there was always some interesting news and/or rumors on which to speculate.  Our little village was not affected too much, but the closing of the schools resulted in an increased number of kids attending the project beyond what we anticipated, which was not a bad thing.

 

Fortunately despite everything we had a good number of volunteers, dropping off only in the last few weeks we were in session.  Volunteers are an important and integral part of our project, and before we go further we want to thank all of our wonderful Session Four volunteers:

 

From Canada- Stephanie (our very first volunteer, here six weeks this time), accompanied by Allan, and Richard.  From the USA- Kayla (6th visit, had a 7th visit in early 2010 when we weren’t open), Gail and Becky (3rd consecutive annual trip to Honduras, 2nd time volunteering with us), Andrea, Fatima-Karin-Johann, the Hollis family (Minoo, Marcus, Lelia, Camron, Arshia), David and Megan, and from Duke University & Peaceworks Anna-Melody-Akul-Adriene-Laura.  From England- Nikki, Clementyne, and Jack.  From Ireland- Helena, Clare, and Emma.  From Australia- Karen.  From Denmark- Rikki (who had visited us in past sessions).  Ben, a Session Three volunteer, decided to spend his Spring break from college in Cacao with some friends in March 2010.

 

                                                          

 

Now we’ll get the Bad Event out of the way.  Our friends at an organization called Helping Honduras Kids (HHK) operated an orphanage about a mile down the highway from us, which opened at the same time as us in May 2007.  As our relationship developed we shared many things, including housing for our respective volunteers.  For reasons that are not entirely clear, they had problems with moronic local punks from the beginning- stealing, threats, at least one home invasion- and in July or August 2009 the nitwits, probably with some gang associations, decided it would be a good idea to fire automatic weapons at their facility.  Fortunately no one was hurt but this prompted what was essentially an emergency evacuation out of their facilities, and of course their volunteers left as well.  To Patricia and me and I think many of the past volunteers, this was the end of a very happy era- at times our little housing area was one of the most hopping places in Honduras, with 12 or more volunteers from our two projects living together.  It could have been a reality show.  We’ve heard that the four people involved in the firing of weapons at HHK have all since met violent ends.  We are still in touch with HHK, are glad to report they are doing well at their new location, and miss them quite a bit.

 

In December 2008 we sold about 2 ½ acres of our land to another orphanage called Casa Cielo as they needed to relocate and wanted a place of their own to develop their project.  We are happy to say they are now an important presence in the area and are renting both the original volunteer house and our old house (our living arrangements are in a little neighborhood a short walk from our project, and the village of Cacao is about a mile further down a dirt road).  We are happy to have Casa Cielo as friends and neighbors.

 

                                        

 

For years there has been in the village a fully stocked but never opened medical facility.  Finally in July 2009 a group out of Canada called Adventures in Missions opened up the building to operate a clinic.  We are extremely happy for their presence and that the local people finally can get medical care without making a trip to the city.  We very much wish them continued success.

 

Canadian volunteer Richard, who generously built a tree house while he was with us in the early part of Session Four, decided to return to Cacao in December 2009 and remains there, kind of serving as a friend and mentor to our local employees and the kids.  In January 2010 Patricia and I made a visit to Ontario and spent a wonderful afternoon with Stephanie and Allan.

 

It is always difficult to know if a charity project is having a beneficial result, especially in a place and with a type of project that by nature doesn’t easily lend itself to objective criteria.  The kids in the poor villages rarely have the support of their parents and the community that leads them to favorable interactions with others and their society.  In other words they tend to run wild, behave poorly, and interact with each other in selfish ways.  Especially in Session Four we had people, familiar with other villages and project, who were rather impressed with our kids.  Although it’s been gradual, we are truly coming to believe our kids are learning skills that will benefit them and their community in the future.  Trash doesn’t get thrown on the ground, they can wait in line rather than stampede, they can say “por favor” and “gracias,” and all in all they can approach interactions and activities in more meaningful and beneficial way.  One thing that pleases us greatly is that during story and music times the kids now love not just to hear stories but to read them as well and part of the daily ritual started including the kids choosing which books they want to read, a significant change.

 

                                        

 

If there were a contest for the most warm and fuzzy moment of Session Four, for me it would be the following: we were thinking about taking a field trip and I said something like “you have to be a good girl or boy to go.”  One of the cutest kids, a boy of around 8 named Elias, came up to me and asked “I’m a good boy, aren’t I.”  Con un abrazo, yo dije “si Elias, tu eres un niño muy bueno!”

 

In addition to the volunteers, we want to thank Lisa (from Germany, Session Three volunteer) and Claudia (from Germany, Session Two volunteer) for the packages they sent.  And thank you VERY MUCH to our donors associated with Session Four (we hope we are not omitting anyone): Amber and Fernando; Gail and Becky; Stephanie; Fatima; Paul and Susan; Cindy and Mark; Barbara; Debbie; Ben; Frank and Joanne; David and Lee Ann; David; Josh and Amy and Russ; Anna and Project Heal; AND Kim.

 

One more expression of appreciation- the First Presbyterian Church (PCA) of Brewton, AL, its youth group, and Pastor John Mathieu for clearing the jungle that once was a lawn around our house before our return to the US at the close of Session Four.  We never actually saw it in the jungle state but heard stories, and can only imagine what Alabaman land looks like after 5 months of unfettered growth!

 

There are photos of all the Session Four volunteers on the Volunteers and Volunteering page.

 

                                                                  

 

The third session (“phase 3”) of Las Sonrisas de los Ninos ran from September 2008 through January 2009:

 

We were very fortunate to already have two volunteers lined up (Debbie and Damien) upon our return to Honduras on September 4, 2008, then quickly picked up two more (Ben and Lisa), so that we had lots of help in the two weeks we spent preparing to re-open.  Our opening day was September 22, 2008 and we were unexpectedly overwhelmed by about 72 kids showing up, and we served around 600 meals that first week.  Our numbers throughout the session were 1 ½ to 2 times what we anticipated, especially once school closed in November, which necessitated having four fulltime local women as our paid staff.  We were very lucky that Miriam, who has been with us from the very beginning, was available and willing to work for us again.  Other returning employees were Blanca and Yolanda and our new hire was also named Miriam (nicknamed Miriam dos- dos being two in Spanish), who was very pregnant and finally delivered her healthy baby girl two weeks before we closed.

 

Soon after we opened two more long-term volunteers arrived, Jake and Theresa.  In all for the session we had 17 volunteers:  Debbie, Damien, Ben, Lisa, Jake, Theresa, Kayla, Matt, James, Melissa, Sara, Thea, Mariah, Kim, Joanne, Frank, and Dan.  Special mentions include Ben earning the record as our longest serving volunteer (5 months) and repeat volunteers were Kayla (5 trips), Melissa (3 trips), and Matt (3 trips).  THANKS TO EACH AND EVERY VOLUNTEER!  They were a huge and necessary help in operating the project and provided wonderful, meaningful, and lasting memories for the all of the children.

 

Sometime in October it started to rain (and was surprisingly cool) and it didn’t seem to stop for any significant length of time until December.  We learned that much of our outdoor activity area is in the low point on the land and that a foot and a half of submerged land can even be more fun to play in for some of the heartier kids!  We also learned that 45 kids along with employees and volunteers inside our 450 square foot building creates lasting memories.  At times we did close early, after the kids had their hot lunch and vitamins.  One day, driving the kids back to the village, the mile long road literally could have been navigated in a canoe.

 

Most of our volunteers stayed in the volunteer house(s).  When combined with the volunteers from Helping Honduras Kids (HHK) the original joint volunteer house became impressively populated, so effective Nov. 1, 2008 we opened a second house, which in close proximity to the first one.  There was some irony in that only HHK volunteers initially lived in our house and the HHK house was home to ours.  We very much enjoy watching as the volunteers, strangers at the beginning, quickly develop deep friendships.  Between us and HHK we had people from the US, Canada, Germany, Australia, England, Spain, Switzerland, Scotland, and Holland living together at various times, which we believe complements the volunteer experience.

 

Christmas was made special for a number of reasons.  First, volunteer Lisa was returning to Germany (hoping for a surprise Christmas Eve arrival) so she made up little gifts for the kids, which was party #1.  On the Saturday before Christmas, thanks to Rafael Linares of the Central American Spanish School, we had a visit from Santa.  It was fascinating to observe the kids, many who had only vaguely heard of Santa, being fascinated by the red suit, white beard and, of course, the gifts (we had a perfect match of 60 gifts and 60 kids).  The Honduran version of Christmas also included a Santa Claus piñata.  The official project celebration was the Monday before Christmas; we attempted to explain the true meaning of Christmas with limited success (i.e. the kids were pretty excited) and the gifts were slightly lame but purposeful and well received- they included pencils, erasers, and rulers.

 

Three of our volunteers, Ben, Jake, and Theresa, had their parents visit and we really appreciated the opportunity to tell them personally the great work their kids were doing.  We received many hoped for donated items, including books in Spanish- enough that we were able to start a small lending library, a concept quite foreign to the local culture. We are very protective of our books and the child has to be known to be responsible in order to borrow, but we were very gratified by the demand and in one case we noticed one of the older girls reading a borrowed book to the younger kids at her house.  We also want to mention the second visit of Barbara of Ontario, Canada.  She stopped by last year on a vacation at a nearby resort and generously donated many items for the kids and this year she did the same.

 

Overall, the third session of Las Sonrisas de los Niños busy, tiring, and very successful.  We probably averaged 30-35 kids a day (partly because this session largely coincided with school being out) but, gracias a Dios, we continued with no significant accidents or injuries. Thanks to everyone involved there were innumerable sonrisas de los niños (smiles of the children)!  Below are a few photos of session 3 not otherwise posted on this website but too compelling to ignore!  In order, 7 of the older girls leaving on an overnight trip to the city with Kayla; Kisle throwing an American futbol; Girls and dolls; Fun in the flood; The makeover; The 2 Miriams at Miriam 1's birthday party; Is Santa real?; Quiet time outside with volunteers Theresa, Thea, and Mariah; When you have to sleep, sleep; and lastly, the closing day of phase 3