Archive of Updates and Photos (lots of photos) of Las Sonrisas de los Niños

Sept. 5, 2010 Greetings From the Village of El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail update is being sent to family, friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras.  As always, special greetings and continuing thanks to those who have, are, and are going to volunteer with us.

We are in the tail end of this 5th session, having just completed the 14th week.  We are happy to say it has been mostly problem free but always eventful and busy.  The teachers have been on strike until this week, hence we have had more kids than expected, but that is fairly common.  Gracias a Dios our record of never having any significant injuries, etc involving the kids continues.  For the first time, however, we had volunteers become victims of a serious crime, thankfully without physical harm.  Our three young women volunteers went to the beach resort town of Tela, about 3 hours from Cacao, and as they were walking on the beach two guys with pistols jumped out from behind a bush and said “dinero (money).”  The volunteers correctly handed them what they had and it was over in less than 30 seconds.  They returned here to Cacao later that evening and they all handled this traumatic experience very valiantly. 

Ron Sparkman, our friend and a great friend of the project, moved back to the US and we were very sorry to see him go.  He did so many things, mostly small but occasionally major, which made everything run smoother.  We will miss.  On July 30th we broke the record for number of kids attending- 75 plus, at the limit of our capacity to say the least!

We have been extremely fortunate to have many dedicated volunteers including two families, one of 3 generations which included long-term volunteer Kim, and for a week her mother and grandmother.  Kayla returned for her 8th trip, Gail made her 4th visit (with her 15 year old daughter Paris), and Arian his 2nd.  We owe much gratitude to the following people who came all the way down here to give freely and generously of their time and talents:  Margot, Alex, Carena, Auburn, Brian, Mallory, Nicole, Lucy, Chow Ye, Adrian, Gail-Paris, Steve O, Steve, Tonya, Lisa, Amour-Alex-Cheri-Jonathan, Kayla, Kim-Linda-Jean, Louis, and Megan.  For the first time ever ALL volunteers have been from the US; previously we’ve had almost majorities of volunteers from Europe, England, Canada, etc.  What’s up with that!  We did have John from Canada on a second visit, but that was mostly to propose to a local young woman he met while volunteering 2 ½ years ago.

Also for the first time ever, when we close out the current session in about a month we anticipate the project to remain open and operated by a Canadian group called Adventure in Missions, a group that opened up a clinic in the village last year.  They plan on operating in a manner similar to us, including in respect to volunteers.

Thanks to David and Leanne, Andrea, Ben, and Amour and Alex for their generous financial support, and also to Linda (Kim’s mother) for obtaining and dragging down here a classic and very strong Singer sewing machine.  Kim is currently giving classes to our employees and a few other women in the hopes we might foster a sewing cooperative among them.

Adios,

Reid and Patricia

September 5, 2010

June 8, 2010 Greetings From the Village of El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail update is being sent to family, friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras.  As always, special greetings and continuing thanks to those who have, are, and are going to volunteer with us.

We are in the tail end of this 5th session, having just completed the 14th week. 

For the first time we had NO volunteers on opening day, and well over 50 kids.  Fortunately all around friend from the US Ron Sparkman, who does many important things for us, showed up for a few hours and also brought the afternoon refreshment.  The 2nd day we had the services of returning Canadian volunteer John, who actually came her to propose to a girl he met when he was here two years ago.  She said yes.  Thanks for the Hot Wheels track; we don’t know what we did without it before!  And please thank your friend for the computer.

Fortunately by mid-week three new volunteers arrived- Margot, Alex, and Carena- all college students from the US (Wisconsin and Michigan).  We didn’t want to let on that we were desperate, especially considering school rarely seems to be open at the moment hence we’ve been having 2-3 times the number of kids we were anticipating, but we are VERY glad they are here.  So far they have seen only one day of less than 60 kids but are coping well and were quickly accepted and loved by them.  They learned that Honduras hot is different from upper mid-West hot.

The orphanage we sold a section of land to, Casa Cielo, has fully moved into our area and is renting facilities in our little neighborhood as they develop their land.  They have a request that if any volunteer planning on coming has a small student violin for donation please bring it with you.

Sadly, we recently learned of the very unexpected death of Rick Klayman.  Rick was someone we first met in 2005, pretty much by accident, living in La Ceiba with his Honduran wife Digna.  Through Rick and Digna we discovered the land that eventually became our project location and in many other ways they were very important to the early development of Las Sonrisas de los Niños.  They moved back to the US a couple years ago but we were looking forward to seeing them in September on a planned visit here.  We will miss him very much and hope Digna does as well as possible.

We are attaching 14 photos with the file names being the captions and also a photo of Rick from 2005.  Thank you for reading this and for your interest.  We look forward to meeting the people that are planning on volunteering during this session and think often of all of the wonderful volunteers we have known- we are always happy to hear from you and love sharing your news with the kids.

Adios for now,

Reid and Patricia,

Las Sonrisas de los Niños

June 8, 2010

September 27, 2009    Greetings From the Village of El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail update is being sent to family, friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras.  Special greetings and continuing thanks to those who have volunteered with us since we opened, now numbering around 70.

The last update of this sort we sent out was three months ago.  The ensuing period has been remarkable, in both favorable and unpleasant ways.  We are sad to have lost our friends and neighbors at Helping Honduras Kids (HHK).  They run several projects in the area including an orphanage.  Up until around August this orphanage was located about a mile from us and for quite a while we shared our volunteer housing with the HHK volunteers.  Overall we had a hopping little community out here.  Unfortunately, for varied and not completely understood reasons, they were a target of violence, including gunfire into their building and death threats against their staff and volunteers (no one being physically injured, gracias a Dios), which finally prompted their departure.  It’s weird for Patricia and I to be the only non-locals here now after all the volunteers who have passed through.

Most have probably heard of the continuing political problems in Honduras.  We have all had anxious thoughts as to what might happen, but really the only direct affect we have experienced is larger than expected numbers of kids attending the project due to school being so frequently closed.  We never really have any idea if any, some, or all the teachers will show up and open the school, so everyday brings surprises.  Things had been settling back pretty much into a routine until this past week, when ousted president Mel secretly returned and took up residence in the Brazilian embassy.  Whether for or against Mel, his overall lack of popular support has probably prevented lots of strife and sorrow, things this country certainly doesn’t need.  The most recent events are playing out as this is being written.

As one might imagine not many people are tripping over each other in their quest to travel here.  We have done our errands in La Ceiba without seeing a single extranjero, which is mildly ethereal.  Despite this, we have achieved a record number of volunteers during this session at 30.  Not surprisingly we have no volunteers in these final three weeks of our 4th session, but many thanks to-

From Canada- Stephanie (our very first volunteer, here six weeks this time), accompanied by Allan, and Richard.  From the USA- Kayla (6th visit), Gail and Becky (3rd consecutive annual trip to Honduras), Andrea, Fatima-Karin-Johann, the Hollis family, 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.  Your time with the kids has given them many things, including great joy and wonderful memories that will last for years, and we sincerely hope your time with us has been meaningful and even perhaps fun.

Thanks also to the kind and generous people who donated money (never solicited, hence always a very pleasant surprise) to Las Sonrisas de los Niños- Stephanie, Kim, David and David (both from the Boston area, though they do not know each other), Amber and Fernando, and Project HEAL.  Thanks to Ron Sparkman again for the many little things he does that make things run smoother for everyone.  And thanks to Florence of Adventure in Missions for opening a much needed clinic in the village (and to her three daughters for also spending quality time with our kids during their trip here).

We have to admit we looking forward to being home for the upcoming holidays, but as this session winds down we are very satisfied that the kids have had a chance to play, eat, read, sing, learn, create, color, splash in the pools, push around newly donated Tonka trucks for hours and hours, and blow bubbles in a safe, happy, and nurturing place.  We are attaching 22 photos that hopefully illustrate what we do here.  Again, thanks to everyone who has made it possible, including very much Patricia, without whom this would never have existed.

Adios,

Reid and Patricia, Las Sonrisas de los Niños September 27, 2009

      

 

   

        

       

        

    

          

     

      

   

 

June 28, 2009  Greetings From the Village of El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail update is being sent to family, friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras.  Special greetings and continuing thanks to those who have volunteered with us in the past and present.

We officially reopened on June 22, 2009 but during the couple of weeks we spent getting ready, thanks especially to volunteers Stephanie (our very first volunteer who was here on day 1 in May 2007) and Andrea, we ran small group English classes during the period of preparation.  We also had a chance to put a permanent roof over the porch area, with special appreciation to Ron Sparkman for his expertise, and to Allen and Richard for their help and labor.  Richard also generously bought supplies for, and built, with help from Allen and Marcos (a local teenager who often works for us), a super tree house for the kids. We are sure they will spend many happy hours in it.

All of the kids that come to our project do so voluntarily and we are always hoping for a balance between too few and too many.  This time around many of the younger kids we’ve had since the beginning are in kindergarten and two families whose kids consistently attended in the past moved away.  Considering these factors along with public school being open, we anticipated having fewer kids compared to the last session, when school was closed and we were routinely overwhelmed.  Overall this has proved true in this first (hot and dusty) week of operation during the morning, but so far we seem to have a lot of kids filter in by lunch and, during the afternoon once they are done with school, we’ve been back up to maximum reasonable capacity (albeit, noisy) in the range of 35-45 kids. 

Which brings us to our volunteers present during our first week:

Stephanie (our first volunteer returning after 2 years) and Allen from Ontario, Canada.  They were studying Spanish and volunteering in Ecuador before coming to Honduras.

Richard, mutitalented from Quebec, Canada, who speaks French, English, and Spanish.

Andrea from Oregon, USA (she is a native Spanish speaker, which has been very beneficial with our the kids taking basic English instruction).

Helen, our first volunteer from Ireland proper who functioned like an experienced pro from day 1.

Kayla, from Washington, DC, USA on her 6th volunteer stint with us, arrived essentially unannounced to huge excitement, as usual!

Gail and Becky, Illinois, USA.  They volunteered with us first in 2007, returned in 2008 during a time we were closed and volunteered for Helping Honduras Kids, and are back here in Cacao with lots of things donated by their students and friends.

Many, many thanks to these 8 volunteers.  The kids lives are greatly enhanced by them and all of our volunteers!

To those who know our local employees, we are happy to say that Mirian #1 is with us full time again.  We are trying to keep expenses down by having three workers instead of four at any one time and are dividing those positions between Mirian #2, Yolanda, Claribel, and Blanca.  We will probably end up however with 3 ½ employees, bringing in someone for the afternoons.

You all have most likely heard/read the news of the peaceful coup in the capitol of Tegucigalpa that occurred last night (Saturday June 27). The president was ousted and sent to Costa Rica. This is probably not bad news for Honduras, as he seemed to desire pretty much a life term as El Presidente.  All is well out here in Cacao we are happy to report!  We will probably e-mail this in 2-3 days so we’ll add any up to date news from Honduras if anything significant happens.

Thanks for your time and interest!

Reid and Patricia, Las Sonrisas de los Niños  June 28, 2009

   

   

      

     

     

      

     

       

Session 3 (Sept. 2008- Feb. 2009), 2, and 1 photos below

             

         

      

                   

   

    

        

           

     

                   

                 

          

       

          

                                       

Greetings From the Village of El Cacao, Honduras, Central America (actually we are in Houston, TX at the moment):

This e-mail update is being sent to friends, family, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras.  Saludos and endless thanks to those who have volunteered with us. 

This 3rd session (since opening in May of 2007) was one tough, though successful, 18-week run, from Sept. 22nd to Jan. 22nd.  Fortunately (Gracias a Dios!), none of the things we worry about most happened- no major accidents or injuries, and the kids had no serious health problems throughout.  We had wonderful volunteer support and continued to have many more kids than anticipated up through the last day, with an overall average probably in the mid-30s each day and perhaps even more.  This was the 1st time we were open at Christmas and, thanks to Rafael Linares, we had a very happy visit from Santa with about 60 kids attending.

We want to give thanks to all of our great volunteers this time around.  First, very special thanks to Ben (Minnesota), the 1st volunteer to be with us from day one (actually before day one as we were preparing to open) until the end.  He is still in Cacao but heading to Bolivia to volunteer at an orphanage shortly.  Theresa (Germany) and Jake (Washington State) were with us from soon after opening and also with us on the final day.  Lisa (Germany) was with us from before day 1 and left in time to be home on Christmas Eve.  Kayla (Washington, DC) made her 5th trip to volunteer with us; Melissa (New York) made trip number 3, as did Matt (Pennsylvania).  Our other wonderful volunteers were Debbie (England), Damien (England), James (Virginia), Sara (New York), Thea-Mariah-Kim (traveling together from New York), Joanne and Frank (Wisconsin), and Dan (California, actually Joanne and Frank’s adult son!).  One of the attached photos is from Ben, Jake, Theresa, and Lisa taking a bunch of kids to La Ceiba (a big deal for the kids); Kayla took a large group of older girls for a night in a hotel in La Ceiba at the same time.

We had a number of special visitors as well, including the parents of Ben, Jake, and Theresa, also Barbara (Canada) made her second trip to our Project, and Les and Estelle from New Mexico visited just before we left for the US.  Thank you for the use of your children and/or for the many needed items that you generously donated.

We are attaching 22 photos with this update.  One is entitled 11 Volunteers! which was just that- on 2 consecutive days we had 11 volunteers; during this time we were really able to give individual attention to the kids that really needed it and enjoyed it.  Another is labeled “VolunteerJames…,” which was taken in front of the mud and stick house of one of our employees, which had earlier been restored with the help of Ben and Jake. 

We want to thank our friends and neighbors at Helping Honduras Kids and its head Dave Ashby for the many things, including little things such as bringing over fresh pineapples that made our kid’s days extra-special.  And thanks to our neighbor in Roma, Ron, for the many little favors that have made life easier for the volunteers and us.

I want to apologize for accidentally sending out a “we want you to be our friend” type mass e-mail from something called Hi5.  This is an internet social networking service like Facebook and it’s perfectly legitimate, however I was simply trying to respond to one person and ended up sending it to the entire address book. 

As always if you don’t want to receive this update please send us an e-mail with your request, and there will be no hard feelings!  We hope to do a major revision to our website (www.lasonrisa.info) in the fairly near future, so please check in from time to time.

Otherwise, thanks for your time and interest!  Adios for now.

Reid and Patricia, February 7, 2009

Las Sonrisas de los Niños

              

     

    

                       

             

            

   

      

    

   

                                                      

Greetings From the Village of El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail update is being sent to friends, family, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras.  Saludos and endless thanks to those who have volunteered with us. 

It has been around 2 months since we e-mailed an update with photos, which is longer than we wanted but we have been consistently busy.  Overall we’ve had about a 50% increase in the number of kids attending our project and with the public school recently let out we’ve been hitting 40 plus kids a day.  We’ve kept on four fulltime local employees, including the overwhelmingly talented Miriam, who has been with us from before day 1, over two years now.  Our other three- Blanca, Yolanda, and Miriam (who we refer to as Miriam 2)- have proven reliable and we are lucky to have them.

We continue extremely fortunate to have a strong volunteer base- Ben and Jake from the US and Lisa and Theresa from Germany.  Damian and Deborah from England had to depart to deal with unexpected realities of an unsold house in Europe- if you are reading this, we all miss you very much and we would be thrilled if you are able to return but if not, thank you for all your wonderful work.  Note that the 5 siblings from across the street moved to La Ceiba and things aren’t the same without them, though the noise level has decreased! 

Though her month here is now almost over, we were extremely happy to receive an unexpected call from La Ceiba- Kayla saying she just arrived for her 5th volunteer trip to our project in a year and a half.  She has developed deep relationships with so many of the kids and we can’t believe she’s leaving next week!

Our only real trouble spot has been the advent of the rains, and we fully realized that our main area for outdoor activities is the low point on the land.  In other words we have been flooded out at times but are trying to devise simple engineering solutions to drain the land.  We have closed early on several occasions but are proud we have been able to engage and feed 45 kids in a 400 square foot building.

That’s all for now from Cacao- thanks for your time and interest!

Reid and Patricia, November 28, 2008

 

   

 

    

   

     

Greetings From the Village of El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail update is being sent to friends, family, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras.  Special greetings and endless thanks to those who have volunteered with us. 

We reopened on September 22, 2008 and have had a heck of a first week.  Although we know from experience the number of kids coming to the project will vary over time, we had a record 72 or so children attending the first day and had over 50 yesterday (Friday the 26th).  Though it is difficult to keep track, we believe we served around 600 meals this week.  We are very fortunate to have our main can do everything person, Miriam, working for us again.  We also have returning as our local employees Blanca and Yolanda, and a new woman also named Miriam.  We are extremely lucky and fortunate to have four excellent volunteers starting out with us- Ben from the US, Lisa from Germany, and Damian and Deborah from England.  We think they’ve been a bit overwhelmed along with us but hope they are enjoying the chaos.

Our playground is in full, and very active use, for the first time, which is largely the result of a generous donation from Rikke of Denmark and completed with a very kind donation from former volunteers Chauntel and Ali of Canada.  We are attaching a number of photos from the week, but want to point out one especially- our employee Blanca with her older boy Bryon and her baby Justino, who was named after one of our volunteers!

Thanks for your time and interest!

Reid and Patricia, Saturday September 27, 2008

Las Sonrisas de los Niños

                                 

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 26, 2008

Greetings From El Cacao, Honduras, Central America (actually at the moment outside of Buffalo, NY)

This e-mail is being sent to friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras, including those who have contacted us about volunteering.  Special greetings and thanks also to the wonderful people who have given the project and the kids their time, hard work, and heartfelt attention- our volunteers. 

Our most recent session went for 15 weeks from January through April and was successful and typically eventful.  The last update we sent was mid-February.  At that time we had just finished our 5th week and were recovering from unexpected, almost overwhelming attendance associated with the Honduran school vacation- once their school resumed our attendance went down quite a bit then varied depending on if there were school holidays or whether the teacher for an individual grade didn’t show up, etc.  Our established pattern of mostly younger kids in the morning with older kids coming in the afternoon after school continued.  The fewest kids we had was 8 (in the morning), the most was around 60, and our closing day (which we specifically did not advertise to avoid the chaos of last years closing day!) about 45.  During the 15 week session we had 16 volunteers who remained at least a week and for the most part they worked with us for many weeks, a few up to 2+ months (thank goodness!!).

One of the most significant and unfortunate happenings was that Patricia learned in February that her mother was found to have a terminal illness and she returned to the US in early March to care for her.  It was difficult to run the project alone but at all times there were excellent volunteers that allowed for everything to continue and maintain my mental wellness, as it is.  We are presently living with her mother and happy that she is able to remain in her home of 60 years as things progress.

There is crime in any part of the world and we were quite disturbed that two execution type killings occurred not too far from our project.  In response to this we have offered the community a portion of our land to establish a police station.  At this point we have the site staked out, a rough building plan, and we believe a promise from the Jefe of the Policia Nacional in La Ceiba to staff the new outpost.  There is a lot of work to do on this project but our overall belief is that it will eventually become a reality.

In January we opened the volunteer house, a low-cost hostel type facility for volunteers who prefer to live out near their respective sites, as a joint effort with Helping Honduras Kids (HHK- www.helpinghonduraskids.org).  It was amazing that pretty much every area of plumbing developed leaks at some point (at times full pressure supply line floods), but despite this it has been fairly successful.  The house offers basic comforts (perhaps not quite 5 stars) and we’ve had has few as one person staying there and as many as 10, representing Canada, Belgium, Australia, Germany, England, and the US.  At times it has been The Happening Place between Cacao and Agua Dulce.

A long-term goal of ours was realized with a kind donation from Rikki of Denmark- a playground are/swing set with also included benches scattered around the project property.  As we were building it ourselves and not from a kit, construction was sporadic and not finished until May 4th (the day before I departed Cacao).  The kids seemed to enjoy it greatly and we are now able to answer the question, “how many school-aged kids does it take to snap the wood of a see-saw in half?”  10!  A generous donation from volunteers Chauntel and Ali helped us finish the playground, which included a monstrous $30 piece of wood for the see-saw to replace the original one.

The teachers form the local public school asked us to expand our English classes to include the primary school, which we ended up doing 3 days a week.  They are not going to be reading Shakespeare in the near future, but lots of them now know there numbers and colors.  A number of book donations greatly expanded our library for both children’s books in English and the difficult to obtain ones in Spanish.  Watching the kids listen to stories and at times read on their own is one of the more satisfying aspects of the project.

We want to thank the following volunteers by first name (you know who you are):

Ella (Belgium); Matt, Melissa, Colin (USA); Iris (Honduras, USA); Justin (USA); Lena (Germany); Laura (Denmark); Claudia (Germany); Sonia and Valle (USA), Kayla (USA, on her 4th visit!); Lindsay (United Kingdom); Chauntel and Ali (Canada), John (Canada); and Will and Becky (USA, my son and his friend). 

We also want to thank the people who stopped by to visit and brought wonderful items/donations to support the project: Chris and Nancy; Barbara; Matt-Kevin-Andrew (congratulations and best wishes); Kim and her husband, family and friends; and Kim G.  Also, thank you to David, Eve, Karl and everyone associated with HHK; Dave and Amigos of Honduras; the Rotary Club of Tupper Lake, NY; Gail, Becky and their friends who donated Christmas presents; Joan and Don; Susan and Paul; Dr. Amy Corneau and Josh Corneau; Cindy and Mark; Jules; Nissa; and Stephanie across the Niagara River from us in St. Catherines!

We are committed to remaining with Patricia’s mother throughout her illness and do not expect to reopen during the summer months.  We’ve had quite a number of people interested in volunteering during this time and it is difficult to turn them down, but we have no doubt we are doing the right thing in remaining here for the near future.

Attached are photos that are briefly described by the file name and are otherwise self-evident.  Look for a significant update of our website (www.lasonrisa.info) in the near future.  Please note that, though we don’t send out this update frequently and (more importantly) we are not hustling for donations, we will remove you from our e-mail list if you let us know- and no hard feelings!

Thanks!

Reid FitzSimons and Patricia Huenemoerder

February 16, 2008

Greetings From El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail is being sent to friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras, and special greetings to those who have spent time volunteering with us.  We have been reopened for over five weeks now and intended to prepare this update sooner but for the first four weeks we had over three times the numbers of kids attending as compared to our prior experience and expectations and were either been too busy or too tired to write!

During the initial four weeks of operation this session we were having on average 30 to 40 kids per day and a few times over 50.  Since the local schools reopened this week our attendance has dropped back to expected levels.  We were a little ambivalent about the higher numbers- it suggested we’ve been well accepted by the community and that the kids are happy to have a fun, safe, and meaningful place to go; on the other hand it really stretched our resources, with expenditures about 3 times what we anticipated and the need to add a 4th employee on a temporary basis.  We were very fortunate to receive some unexpected donations (many thanks to Stephanie, Kim, Bob, PWE, Joan, Amigos of Honduras, Karl, and the Tupper Lake, NY Rotary Club).  

The other way in which we have been very fortunate has been in the number and quality of volunteers- larger numbers of kids meant less individual attention but the volunteers helped us greatly in meeting this challenge.  Special thanks to our recent and current volunteers: Colin, Matt, and Melissa from NY, Kayla from Wash., DC, Laura from Denmark, Claudia and Lena from Germany, Justin from Arizona, Sonia and Valle from Washington State, and Ella from Belgium, who spent weeks helping us prepare going back to December and is still with us.

Prior to opening we completed several facility upgrades, especially a 10x12 foot computer room, which is currently housing 2 of our 3 computers, and we are presently building a playground area to add to our old and solitary, but always in use, tire swing.

One of our other efforts has been in renting, repairing, upgrading, and making livable a local house for volunteers.  This is a joint effort with Helping Honduras Kids (a group that, among many projects, operates an orphanage about a mile from us), and became a reality in early January.  This building is within sight of the one we currently rent, and provides a low-cost housing option ($25 a week) for those volunteers who would prefer to live near the respective sites rather than commute from La Ceiba.  It is a basic, comfortable enough place with electricity, fans, 2 small fridges, sufficient cooking ability, running water-showers-toilets, and currently 8 folding beds.  We need to do a little more work before it earns a 5 star rating but it’s coming along.

Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Reid FitzSimons and Patricia Huenemoerder, Las Sonrisas de los Niños

           

                    

   

Greetings From El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail is being sent to friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children’s project in Honduras, and special greetings to those who have spent time volunteering with us. We have been reopened for over five weeks now and intended to prepare this update sooner but for the first four weeks we had over three times the numbers of kids attending as compared to our prior experience and expectations and were either been too busy or too tired to write!

During the initial four weeks of operation this session we were having on average 30 to 40 kids per day and a few times over 50. Since the local schools reopened this week our attendance has dropped back to expected levels. We were a little ambivalent about the higher numbers- it suggested we’ve been well accepted by the community and that the kids are happy to have a fun, safe, and meaningful place to go; on the other hand it really stretched our resources, with expenditures about 3 times what we anticipated and the need to add a 4th employee on a temporary basis. We were very fortunate to receive some unexpected donations (many thanks to Stephanie, Kim, Bob, PWE, Joan, Amigos of Honduras, Karl, and the Tupper Lake, NY Rotary Club).

The other way in which we have been very fortunate has been in the number and quality of volunteers- larger numbers of kids meant less individual attention but the volunteers helped us greatly in meeting this challenge. Special thanks to our recent and current volunteers: Colin, Matt, and Melissa from NY, Kayla from Wash., DC, Laura from Denmark, Claudia and Lena from Germany, Justin from Arizona, Sonia and Valle from Washington State, and Ella from Belgium, who spent weeks helping us prepare going back to December and is still with us.

Prior to opening we completed several facility upgrades, especially a 10x12 foot computer room, which is currently housing 2 of our 3 computers, and we are presently building a playground area to add to our old and solitary, but always in use, tire swing.

One of our other efforts has been in renting, repairing, upgrading, and making livable a local house for volunteers. This is a joint effort with Helping Honduras Kids (a group that, among many projects, operates an orphanage about a mile from us), and became a reality in early January. This building is within sight of the one we currently rent, and provides a low-cost housing option ($25 a week) for those volunteers who would prefer to live near the respective sites rather than commute from La Ceiba. It is a basic, comfortable enough place with electricity, fans, 2 small fridges, sufficient cooking ability, running water-showers-toilets, and currently 8 folding beds. We need to do a little more work before it earns a 5 star rating but it’s coming along.

We are attaching 15 or so photos with titles that describe our activities. Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Reid FitzSimons and Patricia Huenemoerder, Las Sonrisas de los Niños, February 16, 2008

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           December Dec. 29, 2007  

Greetings From El Cacao, Honduras, Central America

This e-mail is being sent to friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in, our children’s project in Honduras.  Special greetings to those who have volunteered with us and current and future volunteers.  I (Reid) returned to Honduras on December 4th, with Patricia due to arrive on New Years Eve.  We returned to the US in late September and had a busy and productive time.  We were able to buy many items for the project and received many donations of items and money, for which we are very appreciative.  Special thanks to Stephanie, Joan, Gail & Becky, the Burton family, Amber & Fernando, Patricia’s mother Pat, Susan & Paul, Amy, Josh, Amigos of Honduras, Helping Honduras Kids, and the Rotary Club of Tupper Lake, NY.  Also to Melissa, Matt, and Colin, college students who are scheduled to arrive in a few days for 2 weeks of volunteering and are dedicating a significant portion of their baggage to things for the project.

We’ve had several major goals since I returned- constructing an addition to our project building that will serve as our computer room (should be finished in a week or so), continuous taming of our land and ball field, storage space in the project building (2 large shelves are now built and installed), and making arrangements for a local volunteer house.  This latter goal is a joint effort with Helping Honduras Kids (a group that, among many projects, operates an orphanage about a mile from us), and is close to becoming a reality.  The plan is to rent a fairly large house close to the one where Patricia and I currently live, and make it available at very low cost to those volunteers who would prefer to live near the respective sites rather than commute from La Ceiba.  The house has been neglected for a while and I’ve been doing annoying things like plumbing repairs, dispatching wasp nests and cleaning termite debris.  Ultimately, and necessarily soon (as Melissa, Matt, and Colin will be staying there) we’ll have a basic, comfortable place (it’s not going to be luxurious by any means) with a small fridge, some cooking ability, and basic beds, 5 of which are currently in the house supplied by Helping Honduras Kids.

We’ve been very fortunate to have Ella, a hard-working, talented, and courageous (she’s 18 years old, recently graduated from high school in Belgium, and traveled here by herself!) volunteer who has been helping me with every aspect of the work so far.  She’s planning on being here through April and hopefully will choose to continue with us for the duration.  We had a very special and unplanned gift- Kayla, who volunteered with us for 3+ weeks last August, decided to spend her holidays here.  Yesterday afternoon (December 28th) she sponsored a celebration at the project, which included baleadas (a kind of Honduran burrito), cake, ice cream, and a craft project.  She had prepared little gift bags and we anticipated perhaps 20 kids but had around 50 show up.  Kayla and Ella sat in the bodega and calmly packed enough bags so no kids left empty-handed.  Sadly, she’s leaving in 2 days, departing on the same Delta plane that is bringing Patricia here.

I’d like to include photos with this update but unfortunately our newer digital camera doesn’t seem to be working and I can’t find the correct USB cable for our 6 year old back up camera.  Oh well, there are bigger problems in the world!  Thanks for your support and Happy New Year to all!!!!

Reid FitzSimons and Patricia Huenemoerder,

Las Sonrisas de los Niños                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           October 5, 2007

Greetings From El Cacao, Honduras (actually Tupper Lake, NY at the moment):

This e-mail is being sent to friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in, our children’s project in Honduras.  GREETINGS also to those who have volunteered with us and future visitors or volunteers!  We have just returned to the US after completing 17 weeks of operation- our last regular day of the project for this session was September 14th (a day of chaos with 70 some kids showing up by the afternoon!) followed by “el dia de beisbol” on the 22nd.  We are in the US now to take care of various personal and business matters and to rest a bit.  We are attaching many photos, which hopefully show our activities more effectively than words.  The titles of the photo files offer brief descriptions. 

Our goals have included enhanced nutrition, exposure to books and reading, English instruction, meeting new people through volunteers and visitors, meaningful play and learning opportunities, and overall offering poor village kids a chance for fun and worthwhile activities where they otherwise would just sit around.   Overall this first phase of Las Sonrisas de los Niños was gratifyingly successful and we to a large degree realized our goals. There are a few specific points we want to mention:

-Our employees, poor women from the village, had been preparing breakfasts and lunches for 40+ people at times on a single gas burner, until Rafael Linares, of the Central American Spanish School, and his wife made a generous donation of a full 4 burner stove with oven!

-We finally were hooked up to electricity in late August, allowing us especially to power fans (you have to be there to appreciate how hot the building gets by the afternoon!) and computers, among many other items.

-In regards to computers, we were able to buy 3 units at very low cost from a group called Helping Honduras Kids, which runs a nearby orphanage and many other projects.  There is a general belief that knowledge of English along with computers is the best way for Honduran youth to have the opportunity to be successful, and now we are able to do both.

-We were very pleased to further develop our relationship with Helping Honduras Kids (www.helpinghonduraskids.org).  They have given us a lot of support and we’ve been very happy to bring some of the kids from the orphanage over to play with our kids and use our facilities, giving them a chance to have some different experiences.

-We have been neither particularly good at fundraising nor particularly aggressive in doing so, but despite this we have been very fortunate to receive a number of donations.  We especially want to thank Dave Riley and a group called Amigos of Honduras, Sam Burton (a high school student who stopped by one day with his father and sent us $200!), Kim Heath Van Maren, and the Rotary Club of Tupper Lake, NY. 

People living in the “first world” take many things for granted, not just material wealth but also basic experiences and knowledge.  In some of the attached photos you’ll notice arts and crafts projects, which are a very basic part of growing up for us but is an entirely new concept for many of the children living in the villages.  Several volunteers brought with them rather impressive amounts of materials for arts and crafts and this enabled the kids to discover a whole new world of creating things with their own hands.  This was enjoyed by not just the younger children but kids in their teens as well.  We were thrilled when our kids excitedly took their creations home to show their families.  The same can be applied to various card and board games and, with this in mind, WE ARE ASKING that people look in their closets (and the closets of friends, neighbors, and relatives) and send us (not to Honduras but while we are in the US) the following items if you are no longer using them:

UNO cards, “dress-up” items, Monopoly, soft rag type dolls, Lincoln logs, kids DVDs with Spanish language tracks (especially sing along ones and ANY involving baseball, such as The Sandlot), anything with wheels on it that is well made (the toy cars and trucks available in Honduras are at the bottom of the exports from China and last sometimes only a few minutes or seconds!), and ANYTHING else in the category of arts and crafts, toys, and games that are not too heavy and can easily fit into a suitcase.  If anyone has these items, please send them to 33 Park Street, Tupper Lake, NY 12986, and THANK YOU!

We are lucky that Miriam, our friend, primary contact in the village, local advisor, and main employee who cooks, cleans, engages the kids, plays baseball, and everything else is living in the project building with her family while we are in the US.  We plan to return in 2-3 months- Reid after Thanksgiving and Patricia after Christmas, and we should have the project back in operation early in the New Year.  We have learned a lot, including things we need to do such as make storage space in the building and enlarge it to allow for a computer and library area away from the very active and curious hands of the younger kids.  One thing we have learned is that we need on site help so…if anyone knows anybody that might have interest in volunteering on a long-term basis as the Activity Director, LET US KNOW.  We’re not sure of how we will arrange things, but we’re thinking about providing a place to stay along with meals, and maybe other inducements.

We are going to do a major overhaul our website in the near future, so please visit us from time to time at www.lasonrisa.info.  Otherwise, thanks to our supporters, contributors, visitors, people that help us out in many little ways both in the US and in Honduras, and everybody taking the time to read this.  SPECIAL THANKS to those who have volunteered- each of you has shared with us your unique gifts and the kids will never forget you!

Adios y Nos Vemos, 

Reid and Patricia

A family we think never had a photo before                                  Andrea's turn at the piñata

    

At bat                                                                                            Chaos at the piñata closing day

    

Craft time                                                                                     Doing the Hokey-Cokey with volunteer Tim

   

Doing the Tooti Ta                                                                            Fernando, one of the best students in English class

    

A field trip to the Cacao Lagoon                                                    A field trip to a mountain stream

      

Face painting                                                                                   Kids from Agua Dulce looking serious, except note the fingers

   

Making headbands                                                                          Music time

   

Making mariposas (butterflies)                                                           Perhaps the cutest kid at the project

    

Playing outside by the lemon tree                                                   Reid's son Will with the recently created baseball team

   

Reid's son and kids posing by the computer                                         Romel on his horse

       

Clarisa and her baby sister at the tire swing                                 Baseball team leaders

     

The truth is, some kids liked the hats more than baseball itself!         Brushing after lunch

      

Group photo with volunteer Kayla                                                    Volunteer Sasha cooling off with some kids

     

July 27, 2007

Greetings From El Cacao, Honduras:

 This e-mail is being sent to friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in Las Sonrisas de los Niños, our children’s project in Honduras.  GREETINGS also to those who have now volunteered with us and future visitors or volunteers.  We have just completed our 10th week of operation (the last update was sent after the 1st week) and can pretty well say our successes have outweighed our disappointments.  We have developed a pattern- the morning is devoted to what might be called the daycare portion with mostly preschool-aged kids, and in the afternoon we drive down to the town center and pick up the school-aged kids.  Our daycare attendance has been as low as 4, whereas today (July 27th, 2007) we had in the mid 20s, and ended the day with a 10 week record of 45. Generally if all or part of the local school is closed our morning attendance is fairly high.  The afternoon influx is usually 15 to 20, so we typically end the day with 20 to 30 kids.  Recently we started picking up now and then a few preschool-aged kids from a nearby orphanage for a few hours, which seems a great opportunity for them to get out a bit. 

 We were finally able to acquire two bio-sand water filters (free from a group called Living Water International), so we can feel better about using the water from the local supply (what the kids drink at home anyway), but more importantly we are able to use our well water with confidence when the local supply is out, which is fairly common.  We still lack electricity though our small generator is finally repaired after 6 or 7 weeks out of service.  Just this week we received an estimate for installation of electric service, which was both a shock and almost anger inspiring; this is a work in progress, but something we will do sooner than later, especially because we want to get a computer center functioning (we have the chance to buy three Pentium 2 type systems for around $35 each, which is an opportunity we can’t pass up).  Probably the two best things we can offer these kids in terms of any future success, besides enhanced nutrition and reading ability, are basic ability in English and computer skills

 We try to maintain three local women as our paid staff and fortunately we have a list of substitutes available, which we’ve had to employ quite a bit recently as two of our regulars have been out with sick kids and one quit- her reasons had nothing to do with not enough money or the other usual concerns but simply she was too exhausted- this is hard work!  We enjoyed the comment of one of our volunteers, more than half our age, who said we had more energy at the end of the day than him, though we find it hard to believe as we can barely stay awake past 8pm.

 Please note we need to return to the US in late September for 2 to 3 months, and will reluctantly suspend the project while we are gone.  Our ultimate goal is to have the project able to function with local management, but we are not there yet.  We are attaching 15 or so photos covering the last couple of months, with the file name generally describing the photo.  You’ll note we invested heavily in a pool ($5) that has become a popular activity (today we had 7 school-aged girls splashing about at the same time!).

 That’s it for now- thanks again to everyone for their interest and support and donations, and especially thank you to those who have volunteered their time with us- you know the kids miss you very much and we do as well!

 Reid FitzSimons and Patricia Huenemoerder

Las Sonrisas de los Niños, www.lasonrisa.info

Get ready, get set.....                                                                              Laying about

        

Jeffery always enjoys lunch                                                             Pool time with Patricia

    

We got a lot of mileage from our pool that cost 100 lempiras (about $5)

    

Teatime with volunteer Sasha                                                           A special treat

    

Spoonraces                                                                              Tim, volunteer from Northern Ireland, on his last day at the project

    

May 26, 2007

Greetings From El Cacao, Honduras:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  This is being sent to friends, relatives, supporters, and people who have expressed an interest in our kid's project in rural Honduras- WE ARE NOW OPEN as of Monday, May 21st!  After about 3 years of thought, planning, and increasing reality, it all came down to anxiously waiting at the project site early Monday morning wondering how many kids would show up and how it would all go.  We know that poverty here tends to create fear of new things, especially a couple of NorteAmericanos saying bring your kids to us!  We were worried there would be poor initial attendance, and were hoping for maybe 6 or 8 kids.  By Wednesday afternoon we counted 35, varying in ages from a few months to mid-teens, and we had a new anxiety- TOO MANY KIDS.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        All in all our first week has been successful beyond our imagining, though it's been exhausting.  Perhaps the most satisfying moment was as we were closing on Friday afternoon for the weekend a bunch of kids asked it they could come again tomorrow on Saturday.

We were fortunate to have a young volunteer with us from Canada during this first week, along with a young local woman from a few villages over who has expertise with kids, and we quickly realized how valuable they are.  So- THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE EXPRESSED AN INTEREST IN SPENDING TIME WITH US, WE NEED YOU!  If possible, to those who come, bring 2 suitcases, one filled with your things and the other filled with used children's items.  We quickly learned we need coloring books, more books for children in both English and Spanish (there are essentially no books available in Honduras), toys in general and especially things with wheels, dolls, balls of any type, and if anyone has a source, chewable vitamins for kids.  Old baseball gloves would be great as well.  Having people here to volunteer is the best way to benefit the kids, however (for the first time ever!) we are soliciting money.  Our first
week's experience shows it will cost $20-$30 a week to provide milk (something we started this first week and plan on doing everyday) to the kids, so that's one reference for a donation amount.  You are welcome to send us much more as well!  Food costs are probably
going to be much higher than we anticipated due to the higher attendance- we are serving cereal and milk to anyone there as we open and a full lunch (we provided around 150+ lunches the first week).  There is a mention of how to make donations on our website at www.lasonrisa.info.

Instead of writing what transpired during our first week, we are attaching 8 photos which shows a variety of activities, except there was a lot of baseball going on but we didn't have any particularly good pics of that. Thanks to everyone for their support and interest, all of which helped us get to this proud and happy moment!  Please let us hear from you if you get a chance.

Nos Vemos,

Reid Fitzsimons and Patricia Huenemoerder

   

 

 

April 29, 2007

Hola From El Cacao, Honduras:

This e-mail is being sent to friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in Las Sonrisas de los Ni ños, our children's project in Honduras,. We've been back in Honduras for around 6 weeks now and living near the project village for about a month (this is being written April 29th, 2007). After a somewhat slow start due to illness we've made pretty good progress, to the point that we should open the project in about two weeks.

Our secure 10 by 10 foot bodega (storage building made out of block with iron bars over the windows and door) is now finished, the inside of the project building is painted, we have a little patio in front of the building, and our pila (kind of a large concrete sink with a washboard built in) is now done. Originally we planned to have our electric service in place before we opened the project, but this has proven to be a complicated process in Honduras. We decided that, since our main stove is gas and we will be open during daylight hours, we will temporarily substitute our planned refrigerator for an ice chest and use our already purchased 2,500 watt gasoline generator for occasional electrical needs, such as fans.

Otherwise we need to clean up the surrounding area, especially from the construction of the bodega and keep clearing bush, which is an endless (at times it seems almost hopeless!) endeavor and a major source of employment for the people of the village. We have been on several shopping sprees, buying everything we anticipate needing from diapers and baby bottles to kid-sized hammocks and toothbrushes. We were very fortunate that a group young people from Belgium donated some toys and puzzles that will help us get started. The one thing we lack is a water filter- although the kids routinely drink the same water we receive; we know it's not sanitary (and they live farther down from the source than us) so we are going to install a low-maintenance bio-sand filter. There is an American couple here installing these filters as a project with the Rotary Club and a group called Pure Water for the World, and they have promised us a filter in the next couple of weeks.

One thing we knew we needed but dreaded buying was a vehicle. Commonly vehicles take up the largest part of the budgets of projects such as Las Sonrisas de los Ni ños, which is something we were and are determined to avoid. With a great bit of luck, and American who had been living in the mountains and studying birds for a PhD was going back to the US and needed to get rid of his vehicle, which ended up being the coolest vehicle in the world, a Toyota Land Cruiser, the same type we used when I was in Africa. These have a reputation for low maintenance and total reliability and in this case it proved to be a 1980 Jeep-style 4 cylinder diesel with indeterminate mileage. $3000; so far running great though lacking certain luxuries such as a passenger side windshield wiper and a speedometer.

The other day, with the help of Mariam (our main contact in the village), we gathered up 5 kids to have kind of a test run of the project. Patricia was not there when they arrived but soon thereafter, as she walked back, she heard the sound of children laughing coming from the building for the first time, which was very gratifying to her. We are attaching several photos from this, and also one of some instruction in baseball with the Land Cruiser in the background.

We are fortunate that many people have expressed an interest in coming to Honduras and spending some volunteer time with us, and a few actually already have tickets in hand! We greatly look forward to meeting them and hope they will have both an enjoyable and meaningful experience. Anyone that would like to come is welcome, perhaps combining time with Las Sonrisas de los Ni ños with a vacation…as mentioned on our website ( www.lasonrisa.info ) there is everything here from river rafting to learning Spanish to tropical beaches and islands to learning SCUBA diving (supposedly the least expensive place to do so in the world is on nearby Utila island). A note to those already planning on coming- scour your closets and hit all the garage sales for children's book in English and Spanish, tennis balls (we want the kids to learn the basics of baseball without risk of a hardball to the head!), crayons, baseball equipment, dolls, and toys in general. If anyone has a source of chewable children's vitamins, they would be highly coveted.

I guess that's it for now- thanks again to everyone for their interest and support, and for taking the time to read this e-mail!!

Reid FitzSimons and Patricia Huenemoerder

Las Sonrisas de los Niños

New photos:

         

     

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April 1, 2007

 

Greetings From El Cacao, Honduras:

 

This e-mail is being sent to friends, supporters, and those who have expressed an interest in our children's project in Honduras, Las Sonrisas de los Ni ños.  We are using a new e-mail address, which is a little easier to access from here as well as manage mail groupings.   Hopefully we won't be blocked by too many spam filters!

 

Patricia and I arrived on March 19th and immediately spent the first week sick (acquired mostly in the US).   We were fortunate to have been invited to stay en la casa de nuestros amigos, Rick y Digna, but feel bad we spent much of the time there coughing, shivering, and all sorts of other things.   Finally we were both well enough to travel about and had a happy reunion with Rafael (Director of the Central American Spanish School), Jesus (our contractor), Miriam (important member of the village board, the Patronato), Emilio (caretaker of our project site while we were in the US), and many others.   Also we saw our completed project building for the first time, and were pleased in all aspects- it's really a nice looking building with plenty of room inside plus all the plumbing works (bathroom and kitchen sinks, shower, and toilet).   Miriam very kindly kept the foliage cleared around the building but our future ball field has fully re-grown.

 

Before I go on and before I forget, Cacao has an important geographic feature in the form of a lagoon, which includes impressive mangrove trees and eventually leads to the Caribbean.   Since we were last here in November, the lagoon was used for a large portion of a Survivor type reality show produced by a Columbian TV network.  It's all over now, but during the process the wooden walkway was extended to the full open portion of the lagoon and there are ancient looking Mayan sculptures (actually made out of foam) about.   This did provide at least temporarily economic benefit to the area.

 

Two things quickly became obvious to us.  First, we are good at maximizing our allowable luggage on airlines and we carried down about 300 lbs. worth of materials on each of our last two trips; we have gradually acquired a number of tools and other items, including a generator and roto-tiller (a rarity down here); we received an unexpected donation of clothes and toys from Belgium- all in all we need storage space, so as this is being written Jesus is building a 10 by 10 foot bodega out of block (it should look like a smaller version of the project building), which should be completed in around two weeks.  

 

Second, we determined that living in La Ceiba and commuting to Cacao via "chicken bus" (a common, slightly pejorative but somewhat accurate name for the old school buses from the US that are the mainstay of the public transportation system in Latin America) on a daily basis was not going to be practical in terms of getting the project going.   Hence, I am writing this at our casita (little house) as night approaches on our second night living here near Cacao.  It's a nice little place with electricity and water and only a five-minute walk from the project site.

 

Today is Sunday April 1st, 2007, and things we need to do in the next several weeks include getting electricity installed in the project building AND getting it set up for its intended purpose, such as little chairs and tables and bright happy paint.   As we're doing that, we'll start locating the kids that will benefit most, and hopefully with the next update we'll be either very close to commencing this long-planned project or perhaps actually have it running!

 

Thanks to everyone for their interest and support, and for taking the time to read this!

 

Reid FitzSimons and Patricia Huenemoerder

Las Sonrisas de los Niños

 


Las Sonrisas de los Niños is a project of Congressional District Programs, Inc (www.cdprograms.org)– a registered 501(c) (3) public charity.  Those making donations are encouraged to review the following policies:  Privacy Policy   State Fund Raising and Solicitation Guidelines    Nondiscrimination Policy    All moneys raised by Las Sonrisas de los Niños are received by Congressional District Programs and become the sole property of CDP which, for internal operating purposes, allocates the funds to the Project. The Program Manager makes recommendations for disbursements which are reviewed by CDP for approval.