Experiences of our Volunteers and the Volunteer House  (text continues below photos)

Thank you very much for giving us (and other volunteers) to meet the smiles and hugs of the kids. Your project is not only a one-direction project that benefits the kids there. It is an "ecosystem" that links hearts together and allows the better side of us all to express a lot more than usual.  Amor, session 5, 2010

I miss Honduras and everyone there so much, and there is not a day (or even a minute, really) when I do not think about you all and everything in general. I will go back the next opportunity I get.  I also looked at the pictures, and (as you could probably assume) tears came to my eyes.  Lisa, session 5, 2010

I just wanted to send you guys an email to say thanks again for having me a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed being in Cacao and helping out with the kids. It was really something to be able to have such an experience, especially as I have never been to a place like Honduras before. Good luck with the rest of this session and I'll keep looking at the website for updates of how things are going!  Alexandra, session 5, 2010

I just wanted to give you a shout out to say hello, and let you know how much I enjoyed working at the project last week.  I have so much respect for the work you are doing there and a glimpse of what is involved to pull it off the way you do.  I have been personally changed by this experience and my only regret is that I couldn't stay longer.   Steve, session 5, 2010

Below:  Amour, Lisa, Alexandra, and Steve (with friend and repeat volunteer Gail) at the turn-off from the highway to the village of El Cacao, about 2 km away

      

                         Emma, Clare, and Karen on their last day, Sept. 2009                                                                                              Andrea, June 2009

                  

                      Clementyne and Jack on their last day, August 2009                                                  Allan and Stephanie teaching Bible class, July 2009                           

       

I would like to thank you for the wonderful few days that Clare, Karen & I spent with you and the children back in September. It was such a short visit and quite some time ago now, but I can honestly say that a day has not gone by without me thinking of those gorgeous kids and the wonderful facility you offer to them.  I can tell you that we were three very tearful girls when we drove away in that taxi. It was amazing how we bonded with the kids so quickly, especially for me considering that I had no Spanish of any great regard. 

Emma, Ireland

First of all I want to start off by saying this was the best decision I made this summer, in every meaning. It was such an educating, social, and emotional experience. I went down there knowing it was going to be great, and once the day came to leave back home, I smiled being pleased that the experience was indeed great. It's one thing to think something is going to be amazing and another to actually have the feeling sink in. I had such a learning experience in terms of the conditions of living down in Cacao (not that I hadn't been exposed to this before from my trips to Mexico), but every culture has it's differences. It truly makes you wonder what is important and on how little you really need, to be well off and happy. I also made a lot of close friends, both with the kids, which was expected, but especially with the other volunteers. I wasn't sure what it was going to be like living in such a cozy house with other people I had never met...but soon I found out from the first day I arrived how welcoming they were. I got sang to "Falling in Love with you" all time favorite :) I was amazed how strong of a friendship I built with them in just two weeks. From the joking around, to the meals, and working on the project, I would have to say we considered ourselves a unit; "The Fab Five" as we liked to call it, or we got given the label as "The least partying volunteers" :) Finally emotionally this trip was awesome. Your patience is tested, your physical and mental endurance, your alertness to danger, your ties and connections you build with the kids, and how you end up feeling part of this community. It was the most positive experiences I have ever had both mind, body and soul...even though you get bitten by tiny ants and mosquitos, and sweat 24/7 (no I am not exaggerating, but it becomes a daily thing you get used to and learn to live with), and its all well worth it. I left pleased knowing that this small program was no big fancy organization, with lots of paperwork, or offices. it simply came down to the humble and sincere purpose to helping the kids, there is no need to upgrade that idea. Reid and Patricia have to be the most honest people I have met. I mean that in every sense; their cause, personality, drive, the fact that they know what they want, and don't hide what they are feeling whether that be a happy emotion or an unpleasant one, they speak their mind. Pretty much they are awesome!!! All in all I am very thankful for the opportunity and plan on returning in the future!!

Andrea, US

Jack and I had the most wonderful trip. You and all your staff made us feel so welcome. We are now back in cold old England, where the mountains of La Ceiba seem very far away. We will continue to tell friends and family about your amazing project. Say a massive hello to everyone!!

Clementyne, United Kingdom

I agree with Stephanie. Enjoying the city's night life is not the easiest or safest thing to do but that didn't bother us much because we're really into the 'small village' vibe. As Steph mentioned the only time we really entered the city was on sat mornings for groceries and a little recharge time. Also, during the week it is sometimes possible to head into the neighboring town for water, or a few other things they offer, like internet.
 
However, the project with Reid and Patricia was easily the most meaningful experience I have ever had. I think about it every day. Helping Reid and Patricia by planning activities ahead of time is always appreciated, even preferred, but not required of you. As far as I'm concerned you won't find two more compassionate people than Reid and Patricia, they out work many of the 20yr olds that volunteer there. I learned a lot from them.
 
Advice: I did all the cooking for Steph and I and we never got sick. If you eat at a restaurant, choose wisely because that is when visitors likely get sick. Never eat salad, or anything else that might have water on it. Or Ice. I went so far as to boil almost everything we ate to ensure safety.
 
For the most part you will be safe if you make smart decisions. Avoid going out at night, wearing expensive clothes, or walking alone. Also, carry a bat or machete to the project as a deterrent. These are just precautions but take them seriously and you shouldn't have a problem.
 
I really think you should go. So many volunteer projects out there do not give you this kind of freedom and strong leadership and are often more expensive too. Of course the kids are unforgettable and will run to hug you as your coming down the road in the mornings. I will definitely go back to this project again.

Allan, Canada (this is excerpted from an e-mail to a person asking him questions about volunteering)

Below is an article Johann wrote about his experience in Honduras in the summer of 2009.  We were very fortunate that we had as a volunteer not only him but his mother (Fatima) and sister (Karin) as well.

                  Theresa Autumn 2008                                                           Jake Autumn 2008                                         Debbie October 2008        

                          

                                                           Matt  December 2008                                                                                               Lisa Autumn 2008     

                 

                       Ben November 2008                                              Joanne and Frank January 2009                                                 Dan January 2009

            

          Chauntel April 2008                        Tim July 2007                        Sasha June 2007                                    Kayla March 2008                Stephanie May 2007

                    

When you´re reading this right now, thinking about volunteering at Las Sonrisas de los Niños Yes or No - trust me: Do it!

It´ll bring you a lot of joy and fun, tons of hugs (already on your first day, I promise!), a bunch of self-made pictures by the kids, an unforgettable time in a green environment and in a happy atmosphere, hours of pushing the kids at the swings and playing UNO, really good lunch (Do you already know what Baleadas are??), hundreds of smiles,...

I could go on for ever. Oh, don´t forget a relaxed and fun life at the volunteer house, making friends with people from all over the world, travel with them at the weekends...

I was volunteering for Las Sonrisas de los Niños from October 7, 2008 till January 30, 2009, excluding a month of traveling, and I had an AWESOME time!

Writing this paragraph I´m still in Honduras, working for another organization nearby which I enjoy as well, but - Las Sonrisas is something special and I´ll never forget my time there.

Whatever you´re up to do - playing soccer, doing arts and crafts, practising reading and writing with the kids or just be there and give and receive a lot of love - the kids (and you) will love it!

Plus, you´re not ripped off as in some other projects and you actually don´t have to do more than writing an email to Reid and Patricia, get on the airplane and show up!

Give the kids some hugs from me!

Theresa, Germany

I spent over four months volunteering with Las Sonrisas de Los Ninos.  I went down to Honduras by myself and with a limited Spanish vocabulary.  I quickly met many other volunteers and learned Spanish while practicing with the kids.  The project is well run and flexible to any type of schedule.  Stay for a few weeks or a few months, if you have the time.  I would recommend Las Sonrisas to anyone that wants to go lend a helping hand and experience life in a beautiful, foreign country.  It is a great alternative to all the expensive volunteer programs found on the internet.  

Jake, Washington State, US

I volunteered at Las Sonrisas for 8 weeks over the summer of 2008.  I had been made redundant from my job, and wanted to experience something different and give something back.  At 37, I did have my reservations that maybe I was too old to be doing something that is quite often associated with young students.  However, once I met with Reid and Patricia, all my doubts vanished and instantly felt part of a great team.  As we got prepared for the project to re-open, I met some of the children, staff and other volunteers which made me all the more eager to get it up and running.  It was hard work at times to stay motivated and enthusiastic in the heat, but the whole experience was unforgettable and the memories I have of the children laughing and playing will stay with me for the rest of my life.  Thank you Reid & Patricia for giving me the opportunity to play a part in your very special project.

Debbie, England

I volunteered with Las Sonrisas over 3 short trips to Honduras. Though my total time in Cacao is little more than a week, the children had a profound impact on me that I will never forget and always treasure. I think I had a positive impact on them and was able to brighten their day a little bit, and I know that they certainly had that effect on me. Reading stories, playing boardgames or soccer, and swimming in the river with the kids are among the most satisfying moments of my life. Also, I've seen other projects, both in Honduras and other Latin American countries, and Reid and Patricia's is among the best run. Drama-free, no strings attached, so that you can simply devote yourself to the kids and a deeply-rewarding cultural experience. I recommend it to anyone and hope to see you down there!

Matt, Pennsylvania, US

I worked with Las Sonrisas de los Ninos from August to December 2008. I really loved to work with the kids and I could gain precious experiences for my further life. I still think a lot about the time in Honduras and about the people there. Sometimes the days felt really long and I was very tired in the afternoon, but most of the time I had a lot of fun at the project. I will never forget the kids running around with their self-made crowns or putting little stamps all over their arms.

Of course the work in a country like Honduras can sometimes be sad, too. The people there are poor and you should realize that you cannot change their life. But you can put a little smile on their faces and that’s worth more then anything you could possibly buy for money.

Lisa Würstl, Germany

I volunteered with LSN from September 2008-January 2009.  It was a very great experience.  I felt that I was able to connect with the kids and have an impact on their lives.  Reid and Patricia were great.  They do a very good job of showing their appreciation to the volunteers and of making Cacao a home away from home.  I loved my time there and would like to return.  Thanks for all your help!

Ben, Minnesota, USA (Ben returned with some friends during Spring break from college in March 2010)

Las Sonrisas de Los Niños is really a fun place and we had a great time volunteering there. The kids are so enthused about any activities you bring: drawing, painting, crafts, card games, puzzles, math, reading, soccer, singing, dancing, or just hanging out.  They enjoy any interaction and especially one-on-one attention, it doesn’t even matter if you don’t speak Spanish.  Reid and Patricia are easy-going and have a great sense of humor.  Las Sonrisas is really a happy, special place and we definitely plan to return! 

Frank and Joanne, Wisconsin, USA

Even though I only spent a short time at the project, I had a great time volunteering at Sonrisas.  The kids love it there and there is an environment of joy which is infectious.  I learned a lot and definitely felt like I was needed too.

Dan, California, USA (Dan is the grown son of Frank and Joanne and spent a little while with us in January 2009 before he went to volunteer with our friends and neighbors at Helping Honduras Kids)

Reid, just wanted to say thanks again for everything.  The work you are doing here is really important & commendable.  I was honored to be able to be part of your vision.  Although the isolation of this place took some getting used to, the children add real charm to this small town.  I will not ever forget my experience here and hope the friendship created is a lasting one.  Please keep in touch, continue to do the amazing work you do and all the best!

Missing the kids already, Thanks again…

Chauntel, Toronto, Canada

I got in touch with Reid and Patricia about coming to Las Sonrisas de los Niños to volunteer about two months before arriving in July 2007.  I was looking to do some volunteering in Honduras around then and really liked the look of the project.  Its small size appealed to me as it meant I’d be dealing with the organizers directly;  I wasn’t going to fight through and pay for many layers of administration like many other projects in Latin America

I never actually decided on firm dates until a few days before arriving, so with Reid and Patricia only having access to the internet at weekends, this resulted in me finding my own way to the project and just showing up one Friday morning!  I found a very surprised Reid and Patricia clearing up the trees which the Honduran electricity company had massacred just half an hour before I arrived.  I think and hope it was a pleasant surprise; if it wasn’t they covered up extremely well and were perfect hosts, managing to feed and water me and put me up for the first few days without any notice whatsoever.  I was very grateful for this, as I don’t think Cacao has an abundance of youth hostels!

I quickly got to know Reid and Patricia and the more I did, the more my hopes about the project were confirmed.  I could see how hard they had worked, how they were realistic about what they could do and how there was no wastage at all…a refreshing change in today’s world of big business charity organizations.  I soon settled in to the work at the project and immediately fell in love with working there.  The children were incredibly welcoming and I felt I had got to know them even after just one day.

I helped with their drawing, took part in the games and even took a couple of English lessons.  It was hard work, especially at the start as I hadn’t quite got used to the heat, but it was hard work in a good way, due to the amazing energy and enthusiasm of the children.  You could never guess that some of them have quite tragic backgrounds.

Once I had got to know them a bit better and got used to their Spanish accents (a little different from the Guatemalan Spanish I’d just come from) I managed to get them to learn a couple of new games, which I remembered from my own childhood.  They weren’t quite taken up the way I intended, but they seemed to enjoy them anyway.  Apparently they’re still playing the same ones, but I fear they have a limited shelf life, so we need more volunteers to introduce their childhood games!

My two weeks went by incredibly quickly and I was certainly sad to leave.  I hope that one day I may return!  In the meantime, I can thoroughly recommend Las Sonrisas de los Niños as an excellent project to work with.  It may have been hard work, but it was never stressful, and even though I was tired out at the end of every day, I always had a large Sonrisa on my face.

Timothy, Northern Ireland

I volunteered in El Cacao for 4 weeks while the project was quite new.  It was definitely an unforgettable experience.  The children were a lot of fun to work with.  I was greeted every morning by kids running up to the gate with huge smiles and arms out for hugs.  I enjoyed the opportunity to get a feel for the Honduran culture and lifestyle which I would have missed had I only visited the tourist attractions.  It was great to see the children excited by the arrival of books and toys, and further yet, to be curious about the books and interested in trying to read them.  I was pleased to see that Reid and Patricia had employed local women in the daycare as it meant the daycare was not only benefiting the children but the community as well.  I'm grateful that I was able to be a part of the project and would highly recommend visiting or volunteering with the project to anyone who wants not only to travel but to experience the culture as an active member.  It was a very fulfilling experience.

Sasha, Canada

I went to volunteer with Las Sonrisas de Los Niños hoping to have a positive impact on the lives of the children but in fact, they changed my life in a very significant way.  They were a very eager, endearing, and engaging bunch.  I also found them to be very open and loving to everyone they encountered. What a joy it was to work with these wonderful children!  It was the most meaningful thing I have ever done and the most rewarding.  I will treasure this experience para siempre.  It was an honor to work alongside Reid and Patricia, as their dedication to the children of Cacao was awe-inspiring.  I am eternally grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to serve during the summer of 2007 and cannot wait to go back!
Con mucho cariño,

Kayla, Washington, DC, US (Kayla has now made 7 trips to Cacao!)

I had the pleasure of volunteering with Las Sonrisas de Los Ninos during its very first weeks of operation.  I am a young Canadian who loves to travel, but I was looking for something different.  Touring a new country is always exciting.  But being able to get involved and give back to the community was an amazing experience I know I will never forget.  Sure this was out of my comfort zone, but as soon as I met the children with their huge smiles, any doubt I had quickly dissipated.  The children were full of affection, curiosity, eagerness to learn and energy levels through the roof.  For me, being able to combine this type of work with tourist excursions made for one enriching vacation.  I would encourage anyone to do something like this and step beyond just being a tourist.  It’s a life changing experience.

Stephanie, Ontario, Canada (Stephanie was our first volunteer and returned for 6 weeks in 2009)

The Volunteer House

We came up with the idea of a hostel type facility for volunteers in 2007 and opened the initial house on January 1, 2008 in partnership with our friends at Helping Honduras Kids (HHK).  The very upper limit capacity was 10 people, which was exceeded at times, so on November 1, 2008 we opened a second house leaving the first one under the auspices of HHK (note that in August 2009 HHK moved out of our area and closed their house).  The volunteer house is located in the little neighborhood (colonia) where we (Patricia and Reid) also live and is about a 5 minute walk from our project and about a mile from the village of El Cacao. 

The house has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with showers (no hot water!) and flush toilets, and one room for both kitchen and living. It sleeps 6, plus one more on the sofa bed if necessary. It is furnished with 2 small refrigerators, small electric cooktops, table, chairs, beds/mattresses/pillows, shelves, and sectional sofa.  There are floor and table top fans, sinks with running water, and a large sink outdoors (called a pila) for hand washing of clothes and sheets. (There is laundry service available with some of the local women, which is something you establish with them.)  Each person is responsible for expenses for food, local travel and entertainment. Each person is responsible for keeping the house clean - there is no maid service! It is a good idea to work with the other volunteers in setting up a schedule for cleaning of the common areas.  Overall, it is relatively comfortable but no one should expect luxury, nor freedom from our ever-present insect friends; keeping the building clean helps tremendously!!  Depending on how many are people are present- we've had as few as one and as many as 7 - the group dynamics are interesting and could probably be the basis of a reality show.  The cost per volunteer per week is $25, then $15 a week after 4 weeks for longer term volunteers.

Below 6 photos of the volunteer house:  Allan cooking, Stephanie washing; Allan eating; Andrea helping the kids in the neighborhood with schoolwork (it's not uncommon for the kids in the colonia to hang out- if allowed by the volunteers!); a party for the English class at the end of session 4; likewise a party for our employees.

                                   

                            

Things to consider bringing with you:                       

Sheets (we have some available), light weight blanket, flashlight, bug dope, small first aid kit, light weight blanket, umbrella, mosquito netting as desired (not everyone uses one), sunscreen and something like aloe gel for sunburn, protection for your head - the sun is brutal from March to mid-October.

Below are photos from the original volunteer house.  The first volunteers/guests were Matt, Melissa, Colin, and at times Ella; historically there had been a mix of our volunteers along with HHK volunteers; we enjoy the photos of Justin playing the air guitar then eating dinner too much to remove them from the website!

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