Helping Honduras Kids (and other future plans)
Note: Due to inexplicable threats and violence directed toward Helping Honduras Kids (HHK) by local nitwit punks, HHK was forced to abruptly abandon their facilities near us, including their volunteer house, in August 2009. They are safely relocated and fully functioning but it was very sad for all of us and we miss them greatly. We are leaving here what was posted previously out of general interest.
As we were investigating the feasibility of establishing Las Sonrisas de los Niņos, we visited a large orphanage west of La Ceiba called SOS and met a gentleman associated with SOS named David Ashby. He was an American who had been a soils scientist with a large fruit company and had lived in Honduras for 30 plus years. We also had learned there was a building on the main highway, fairly close to the dirt road leading to Cacao, that was intended to serve some charitable purpose but had always sat empty. Otherwise, during the time we were developing and opening Las Sonrisas de los Niņos, we were fairly oblivious to events around us. As it happened, David Ashby had formed an organization called Helping Honduras Kids (HHK), which consisted of a number of projects in the La Ceiba area, and one of these was an orphanage. We learned the building in nearby Agua Caliente had been constructed as a legacy for deceased singer Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes, a member of a popular American band called TLC, who had visited Honduras many times and tragically died in an auto accident near Cacao. Subsequent to her death the Lisa Lopes Foundation Foundation was created, and in 2007 they partnered with HHK to establish the orphanage, so the formerly vacant building is now a home filled with the voices of children. As fate would have it, the orphanage opened within a couple weeks of us.
Gradually we developed a relationship- they would donate some excess food items to us, and we started bringing their younger kids over to spend some mornings at Las Sonrisas de los Niņos, giving them a chance to meet new kids outside of the orphanage and have some new experiences. They kindly sold us computers at a very reduced price, and we tried to help them establish a well (unfortunately we never did hit water). They introduced us to a group called Amigos of Honduras who visited us and made a very generous donation. They allowed one of our volunteers to stay at their facility and several times we had their volunteers over to our house to hopefully give them a break from their very demanding and important work. All in all, we are extremely fortunate to have an HHK project nearby and are very appreciative of their support and friendship. For more information visit www.helpinghonduraskids.org. Note they are now building their own facilities in La Ceiba and are taking donations. (Below- Reid and Patricia and three of our volunteers, Colin, Matt, & Melissa, with HHK kids; David Ashby; some of our volunteers with HHK volunteers watching a lunar eclipse at the shared volunteer house)
Many thanks to David Riley and Michael Burton (and his son Sam) of Amigos of Honduras (www.amigosofhonduras.org), and Karl Ralian (to be perfectly honest, we are not sure what organization he's with, but we know he has collected and shipped invaluable quantities of supplies to Honduras). Also, thanks to Ron Sparkman, a guy who retired with his wife to Honduras and was an unofficial but significant help to everyone. Unfortunately Ron and his family returned to the US in August 2010 after suffering two significant incidents of crime at his house the the supposedly secure gated community of Palma Real. Ron had become a friend in addition to supporter and we miss him!
Goals, Plans, Hopes, Possibilities
ONE THING that surprised us soon after we opened was that the amount of time, energy, effort needed to keep things running far exceeded our expectations. For this reason, we hope to attract a long-term volunteer operating partners (for more information see the bottom of the Volunteers and Volunteering page).
AS WE think about the direction we want to take our project, we are considering both big and small ideas, and the reason we are including this topic on this page is that we want to share whatever we do with the local community. Our project owns quite a bit of land, and we are slowly developing a garden with which we hope to provide fruits and vegetables for our project. This was greatly fostered by some of our volunteers, especially Justin, and we proudly served our own zucchini several times at lunch. We also have banana trees that are producing. We make our land available to any local person who would like to have their own area to garden and hope we'll have increasing numbers of people taking advantage of this.
IN DECEMBER 2008 WE SOLD about 2.5 acres of our land, at cost, to Casa Cielo, another local orphanage. They had been renting their facilities and looking for a permanent location. We believe their presence will be beneficial to the community as a whole and the infrastructure we have already developed will prove beneficial to them. They are in the midst of a major construction effort for their permanent facilities and in the meantime they are renting several building in our little neighborhood. For more information visit www.casaderoc.org.
WE HAVE BOARD APPROVAL to give away up to 4 small plots of land to needy and deserving locals. This will be done in the event we can find people or organizations willing to build homes for them.
ASSOCIATED WITH GENEROUS DONATIONS of fishing equipment from Karl Ralian (see above), we would like to develop tourist fishing in El Cacao. El Cacao is situated close to a lagoon, which is already a tourist destination for kayaking, and a number of the villagers fish for food and livelihood, so this seems to be a viable idea for uncomplicated economic development. (Below- Miriam and kids in a boat on the lagoon; Volunteers and kids on the lagoon walkway)
FOR A POOR community of perhaps 1,800 people, El Cacao has plenty of illnesses but previously had no medical facilities (actually there is a small hospital complex, built and fully stocked several years ago, but never opened!). In order to receive any kind of a medical care, the average person had to travel either to the town of Jutiapa or the city of La Ceiba and, because of the constraints of poverty, they was a tendency to wait until illnesses progress and the minor has become the urgent. We were quite pleased when a Canadian-based mission group, Adventure in Missions (http://adventureinmissions.com) opened a clinic in the summer of 2009, and since we have partnered with them on several projects.
FROM THE beginning we've tried to think of meaningful economic activities for the community that would truly address a need and be within our abilities to bring to fruition. Some of our short term goals are to develop a woman's sewing co-op. We now have two sewing machines courtesy volunteers from session 5 (Linda, Jean, and Kim Henry) and hope to form a viable co-op for some of the older girls and local women. We also plan to purchase an industrial weed-whacker and form a co-op for some of the young men around that. Lawns like we are accustomed to in the US are uncommon in Honduras but rather in order for land to be usable it has to be constantly cleared, and this provides a significant livelihood for those few that can afford a weed-whacker (typically called a Shindawa in our part of Honduras). Machetes are often used but are very labor intensive and time consuming and power lawn-mowers are rarely seen and not efficacious for coarser land, so heavy-duty weed-whackers are the most viable and accommodating tool. Lastly we plan to (finally) offer instruction in carpentry, allowing those interested to build something useful- a shelf, table, stool, etc- while learning the basics.
WE MADE Rafael, the Director of the Central American Spanish School (www.ca-spanish.com), an offer he couldn't refuse in terms of offering him a small portion of our land at a very favorable price. This transaction continues to be close to completion (one learns that things take time in Central America as compared to the US, which has both advantages and disadvantages!) and we hope and think this will eventually evolve into a small branch facility of the Central American Spanish School being established. This would allow interested volunteers to attend classes near the project. Perhaps our ultimate goal/dream is to create a little community which would include some housing for volunteers, productive gardens, opportunities for the local people and, most of all, a place where kids from the surrounding villages will always have a safe and clean place to do fun and meaningful things.
Rafael with volunteers Becky & Gail on graduation day from the Central American Spanish School