Volunteering With Las Sonrisas de los Niños  We are happy to say we have photos of every volunteer, either here or on the next page; scroll down for the text associated with this page.  Over the years we've had the great pleasure to keep in touch with many volunteers.  During a Thanksgiving trip to the Chicago area in 2013 to visit my son we were able to see six former volunteers: top left is my son Will (aka Forest) who volunteered in 2007 and 2008 and his now wife Becky, who volunteered in 2008; in the middle is Ron, who lived in Honduras for about three years and ended up doing countless favors for us; top right is a photo that includes me, my son, and James, who lived in Honduras for about six months as we were initially developing the project and before we opened; finally


 Gail and her new husband Steve- Gail was one of our first volunteers in 2007and has returned multiple times, in 2010 this Steve guy came down with her in a small group and returned again in 2011, where he proposed to Gail after story time, they were married in Honduras in the summer of 2013!

                       

                                                                                         

                                    Below left Derik and Sean from Pennsylvania, below center Victoria from Arizona, below right Catherine from the UK

           

Below left Mateus from Belgium, below center Paul and Cheryl from California with their 7 year-old daughter Violet (our youngest volunteer ever!); below right from California are Chris, Cherice, Monica, Keith, Jonathan, & Jennifer- Cherice and Jonathan are cousins and had volunteered with Cherice's parents, Amor and Alex in 2010.

         

Below left are Steve O. (orange shirt) and Steve (green shirt), who had also been with us in 2010.  Of interest is that they are both friends of Gail (many photos of her on these pages), who was one of our first volunteers.  During this 2011 visit Steve proposed to Gail just after storytime, and Gail replied, Si!"   Below center is Alexis from Massachusetts, who was our last volunteer of the session in 2011.  Below right is Leonard Jones (with primate friend); Leonard is the head of the orphanage Casa Cielo, who eventually purchased much of our land in order to establish a permanent home for his many kids.

         

Below left opening day Session 5, 2010 with Ron and Patricia; Below center Alex from Wisconsin; Below right Carena and her little buddy Alexi

                

2010 Continued- Below left:  Margo, the girls, and the ubiquitous Presly;   Center: Auburn at the airport with Suni, Maidi, & Maira;  Below right: Auburn, Margo, Carena at neighborhood gathering, Patricia in the background     

   

July 2010 Below left: Gail on her 4th trip, with Elvia; Center: Gail's wonderful daughter Paris with Mauricio; Below right: Gail's friend Steve O as he hoists 2 kids

                     

July 2010 Below left:  Gail's friend Tonya;  Center:  Gail's friend Steve holding a tired Milton;  Below right:  Mallory, who came to us while attending the Central American Spanish School

           

Below left:  Brian also came to study at the Central American Spanish School and spent time volunteering;  Below right:  Gail's group (minus Steve) at the Cacao bus stop

                                    

Duke University Project HEAL/Peaceworks 2010 Below left: Adrian (second volunteer trip), Center:  Katie from Peaceworks;  Below right:  Chou Yi looking pensive

                                 

Duke University Project HEAL volunteers Nicole below left, Lucy with Irma in the center, then 8 volunteers together: Chou Yi, Adrian, Paris, Tonya, Gail, Steve O, Lisa, Kim

       

Below left:  Adrian, Chou Yi, Auburn, Brian, Lisa, Nicole with Eduardo posing in his own way;  Center: Lisa and Jarol have each other to smile about;  Below right:  Amour teaches under a tree

 

Below left:  Lisa with Alex and Amor; the empty space at the right is for photos of Cherice and Jonathan, daughter/nephew of Amor and Alex (actually Cherice and Jonathan returned in 2011 and there is a photo of them with a group of friends at the top of this page)

 

Below left:  Kayla on her 9th trip to the project if we are counting correctly;  Center:  Kim was our longest serving volunteer in session 5;  Below right- see next row for details of who is dancing in the middle!

     

Below: For the first time, 3 generations!  Kim at the left, her mother (a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa) Linda in the center, and Kim's grandmother Jean 1 month shy of 80, with better stamina than most volunteers!

                                  

Below:  We thought Louis and Megan were only going to be with us for a week or two, but to our very pleasant surprise they volunteered for 6 weeks;  Right:  Jake (with Louis and Megan) was our last volunteer of 2010

            

Below left:  John- red bandana- volunteered back in 2008 and returned not primarily to volunteer but to propose to a young local woman;  Center: Patricia and the very cute Julia; Below right: Soon thereafter the see-saw broke in half

          

Below left: volunteers June 2009 front row Gail, Becky, Stephanie, Andrea, back row Richard, Kayla, Helen, Allan.  Below right: Stephanie, Andrea,  & Helen at the volunteer house after the project day

                          

Below: left Nikki from England; Richard in the middle face painting; right Ron Sparkman, Reid, Allan, Richard having just completed the patio roof in June 2009

                

Below: Allan teaching guitar; Nothing keeps Stephanie from smiling; David with daughter Megan and Patricia (David had been in Honduras in the 1970s with the Peace Corps)

                                                 

Pre-med students from Duke University in association with Peacework.org spent many weeks in Honduras in the summer of 2009, including 2 weeks with us, teaching health and hygiene in addition to regular volunteer activities.  Below left Laura, Akul (with guitar), Melody, Anna, and Adrianne; below center the day spa in the village; below right mixed in with other volunteers and kids

             

Below: The Schmidt family, Karin and Johann, their mother Fatima (a fine teacher in the US and with us!), and all 3 together on their last day (you can't see the tears in the photo)

       

Below: the Hollis family, Minoo (an orthopedic surgeon who attended various clinics) with daughter Leila; son Camron and nephew Arshia; Marcus, el papa

                         

Below: Clemetyne playing dolls; Jack teaching the kids whatever it's called; Jack is an artist and taught Edwin, very impressively, about drawing

     

Below: Rikki teaching English (not her 1st time in Cacao, we 1st met her in 2005!); cousins Claire and Emma from Ireland; their Australian traveling companion Karen, sharing a smile with Rosalinda

                     

Text begins below photos:  from 2008, Theresa and Ben boogying to Buddy Holly while Lisa looks on; Lisa playing twister

   

In 2002 while living/volunteering in Guatemala, I had a conversation with a recently retired American woman in which she lamented about the difficulty of finding a volunteer position. She had assumed, with her years of productive life experience, she could simply announce to the world she was ready to help, and she would quickly find a variety of volunteer opportunities. The reality, as she discovered, is generally different, with many organizations requiring a significant commitment in time and or money, and often requiring a complicated application process. This is understandable in many cases, for example when a particular organization needs a specific professional to fill a long-term position. Often lacking in the world of international volunteerism, however, are accessible opportunities for a person who simply wants to do some good. This is unfortunate because too many children, who have very little in the best of circumstances, needlessly go without the simple attention and nurturing that you can offer. This is one of the main purposes of Las Sonrisas de los Niños, to bring at least a few of the poor children of Honduras together with you, a person from the "first world" who wants to make a positive difference in their lives. If you have never experienced it before, you will discover that the smile you bring to the face of a poor child is one of the most satisfying feelings you will ever know.  *text continues below photos: Patricia swinging with Nidinia; Lena from Germany doing body painting with the girls; Will, Reid's son, with Presley)

                    

We have been extremely fortunate to have had wonderful and generous volunteers, everyone of them, ranging from young people to the not so young, and coming from Holland, Northern Ireland, England, Denmark, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Germany, and the US.  Each one has brought special abilities and insights, and have all been loved by the kids.  Volunteers provide energy, ideas, and excitement that bring endless smiles to the kids of our project, and we believe they have all had happy, meaningful, and memorable experiences.  We do not have any particular requirements to volunteer and no application is involved.  Usually, but not always, we've had e-mail contact in advance, and we are happy to accept walk-in volunteers, to work for a morning, an afternoon, a day, a week, or many months, whatever may suit your schedule and desire to help.  As a volunteer, expect to spend time with kids- playing games and sports, helping with crafts, reading stories, or simply sitting and holding them, something many of the kids have rarely experienced.  You are welcome to bring your own ideas and activities and initiative- you are encouraged to round up the kids and involve them in an activity of your own creation or perhaps start your own one-on-one session.  If a kid is found to be crying, he or she will be picked up and comforted!  Speaking Spanish is not required (it's amazing how well kids can interact with adults even through a language barrier), however we believe that volunteering with us can be directly associated with attending language school (click over to Linguo & Voluntourism)*text continues below photos: Volunteer Tim from Northern Ireland introducing hand-painting, he also volunteered in Guatemala at a place for handicapped kids; Sasha from Canada, standing in the light blue tee-shirt, spent a month with us and lots of kids cried as she left us

          

Practical arrangements in terms of living and transportation have varied with each volunteer.  Some have stayed in La Ceiba while attending morning classes at the Central American Spanish School (CASS) and traveling out via bus in the afternoon, while others have obtained only home stays through CASS and taken the bus to the project in the morning (CASS arranges home stays whether or not one attends the school, and at times efficiency apartments are also available through the school).  In January 2008, in partnership with our friends at Helping Honduras Kids (see Helping Honduras Kids & Future Plans), we opened a low-cost hostel type facility near the project as an additional living option for volunteers- click on Volunteer's Experiences & the Volunteer House for more information.  *text continues below photos: Chauntel from Canada making crowns; Claudia from Germany & Lindsay from England with two very cute brothers in our vehicle; Ali from Canada was traveling with Chauntel and together they donated a play swimming pool and many other wonderful things

                     

The bus from La Ceiba is is an adventure, usually about a 45 minute ride and costing about 20 Lempiras ($1) each way.  They are old school buses from the US and tend to be irregular in schedule.  Usually a placard will read "Jutiapa" among other destinations, with the stop for Cacao and the project about 3 miles before Jutiapa.  Except for the most adventurous, if you want to travel out to us by bus you'll need specific instruction, but you'll quickly become an expert and you'll see a lot of Honduras on the ride (at certain points and on clear days the Bay Islands of Utila and Roatan are visible).  *text continues below photos: Gail and Becky from the US brought huge amounts of energy and had the kids dancing every afternoon; Amber and Fernando from Canada taught the kids tricks and helped start our very popular arts and crafts activities

          

If you have particular skills and abilities, be they in the fields of health, construction, gardening, computers, or whatever may be the case, and you would like to share them with Las Sonrisas de los Niños, please let us know. Remember, as a volunteer you can look forward to receiving absolutely free a plate of rice and beans for lunch!  *text continues below photos:  the day in January 2009 we had 11 volunteers- kneeling are Melissa (3rd trip), Ben (longest serving volunteer to date), & Theresa, standing are Kim, Moriah, Thea, Sara, Jake, Joanne, Dan, Patricia & Reid, Frank; then the same setting, kids added

 

If you are interested in volunteering please...Contact Us.  Otherwise please read some experiences of our volunteers to get a feel for what they encountered. 

Below: Kayla, who has now made ten trips, found herself an important mentor to several of the older girls and introduced the card game of UNO, which captivated the kids; Reid's son Will spent over 5 weeks in Honduras during the summer of 2007 and was instrumental in organizing the baseball program.

         

Below: John from Canada at the mountain river with his buddy;; Iris, born in Honduras and moved to the US at age 11, a wonderful bilingual role model

       

Below: Ella from Belgium, came to Honduras by herself at age 18, volunteered with us before we opened  session 2 in Jan. 2008 helping build shelves and many other things and was with us for 3+ months on and off; Justin from the US just showed up one day and stayed with us for about 2 months, he was instrumental in establishing the garden and numerous other activities; both Ella and Justin went on to travel all the way to South America

           

Below- Becky (with Will in March 2008) from the US went on to volunteer in Uganda; Laura from Denmark came to us from the CASS school

              

Below: Sonia with the keyboard and Valle dancing with the girls, from the US, spent 2 months with us and became important not only to the kids but also to our employees.  When they left is was hard to believe their time with us was already over

                    

Below: Claudia from Germany spent about 2 months with us and went on to volunteer with an orphanage when we completed session 2 in May, 2008; Kim from Belgium didn't spend much time with us but brought some very generous donations for the kids

                   

Below: Colin, Matt, & Melissa from the US came together in Jan 2008, a week before we reopened, and did lots of hot manual labor to help us get ready then were overwhelmed when we reopened because we were unexpectedly swamped with kids due to school being out.  Matt was the first person to make a donation to us long before we opened and is currently living in Turkey; this photo from Melissa's second trip to Honduras.

         

Below- We were able to meet up with our first volunteer Stephanie in Canada in Oct. 2007; Sasha with Mick Jagger, or perhaps volunteer Tom from Holland

    

Below- Kayla of Washington, DC has made ten trips and stays in frequent contact with the kids; James from Virginia, US playing Sorry

          

Below- Ella performed many roles in her 3 months with us, including supervising the horse;  Colin and Melissa met a new friend on a trip to La Ceiba

                   

Below- Ella and Lena making tortillas, apparently Ella was quite surprised; Colin and another new friend; Sonia and Valle's last day was very sad for us

              

Below- Justin, Lena, Ella over to our house after work in February 2008; Volunteers over for dinner Oct. 2008 with Damien (from England)  apparently enjoying himself more than the others; Melissa, Ella, Matt, Colin visiting our rented house in Jan. 2008, Damien getting his hair styled by Daniela

                             

Below left: Patricia doing morning exercises with the kids while Justin grooves in the background;  Center:  Arts and crafts with Amber; Below right: Ben and Jake helped reconstruct a house for one of our employees, later Theresa funded a concrete floor

                   

Kim and Moriah receive a Spanish class from Maryeri and Elvia; Jake being stickered; Kayla took a number of the older girls to spend some time in La Ceiba, which included a night in a hotel; meanwhile Ben, Jake, Lisa, and Theresa took many younger kids to spend a day in La Ceiba, including stops at the insect museum and Pizza Hut; Debbie from England with Byron and Angie

          

        

Long-term volunteer partner announcement for Honduras, Central America

Partners Sought For The Operation Of A Very Hands-On Children’s Charity Project in Honduras, Central America

Note we are no longer actively seeking to fill this position but if anyone has interest we would be happy to discuss possibilities.

Las Sonrisas de los Niños is a small children’s project located near the impoverished village of El Cacao in rural Honduras, Central America.  Our goal is to provide the youth in our area opportunities beyond what they might normally experience including play and recreation, nutritional support, reading, exposure and instruction in English, music, and overall a chance for kids to act like kids.  We are somewhat a mix of a day care center and youth center, and the ages of the kids that attend range from infancy to teens.  We are not part of any larger group, religious or non-religious  (though we regularly attend a church in Brewton, AL).  However, we encourage and promote Judeo-Christian values and related activities, especially led by our local employees or interested volunteers, that include daily prayers, Bible stories, singing religiously themed songs, and vacation Bible school type activities. 

Development of the project began in 2004, the site was purchased and facilities were constructed in 2006, and the project opened in May 2007.  The physical aspect of the project consists of approximately 8 acres of land, a main building- 16x30 feet with a 10x12 foot addition- a 10x10 foot storage building (all of block construction), and play areas and sports fields.  Water and electricity were brought on to the site during its early development.

The project was conceived of, financed, developed, and operated by a middle-aged couple, Reid and Patricia (formerly a physician assistant and speech therapist, respectively), now retired from money earning endeavors. Non-Honduran citizens are limited in their ability to purchase land in Honduras, hence we initially formed a corporation under Honduras laws that officially owns the land and we own the corporation.  In the US, we are a tax-exempt organization under the umbrella of a 501c3 entity called United Charitable Programs (UCP) and we utilize donated funds on a reimbursement basis from the UCP.  We do not actively seek donations or grants but have been fortunate to cover our operating expenses (we limit the scope of this definition and do not include vehicular expenses nor personal living/travel expenses) with donated funds to the present.  A major aspect of our project is volunteerism and the majority of our donations have come from former volunteers or visitors.  In fact, interacting with and assisting the volunteers is a significant and very satisfying aspect of operating the project.

 

Since we opened in May 2007 we have run the project in sessions, i.e. we’ll be in operation for 4-5 months, then close down for several months in order to live our US life (rest, visit friends and family, work on our small house and land in southern Alabama, etc).  We would like to have more continuity, which prompted us to consider trying out what we termed on-site managers in our absence.  This was never brought to fruition for a number of reasons, but our goal remains.  Hence associated with an April 2010 update to our website we are posting a request for partners, perhaps a retired couple that has been looking for a meaningful challenge and has the financial wherewithal to run the project in our absence.

This is beyond a volunteer position in that you will be required to provide not only for operational costs but likely your own living and vehicular expenses during your period operating the project.  Operational costs include wages for the locally hired employees, food and milk for the kids, routine things such as cleaning supplies, electricity and cooking gas, and program activity supplies.  Costs vary with the number of kids attending, which varies according to a number of factors, but at maximum capacity (typically when public school is not in session, hence increased attendance, and we hire four local women full-time) about $1000 a month.  More commonly the program costs in the area of $600 a month. 

Now before we sound too draconian from a financial viewpoint we want to emphasize that the capital development has long ago been accomplished and paid for.  We also have everything needed to run the project- from pots and pans to soccer balls.  We are certain we could either integrate any fundraising efforts you are involved in with our tax-exempt status, or perhaps you could develop (or already have) your own.  Overall, we could describe this as a “move-in” or “turn key” opportunity for someone (almost certainly a couple is necessary) who is looking to really do something meaningful in their lives to help truly poor children in a very poor country.  It can be exhausting and challenging but it is always very satisfying!

In general, operating the project includes supervising our local employees, supervising and scheduling volunteers, doing all the shopping for the project, planning and directing the program activities (this can be partly delegated to volunteers and some volunteers, especially long-term ones, actually might be given this responsibility), ensuring the maintenance of the vehicle(s)- land-buildings (including the volunteer housing), acting as the primary focal point for interactions with the community and, most importantly, ensuring the safety of the kids. 

The basic skills and responsibilities that are pretty much required for this position are:

·   Excellent interaction skills with children

·   Planning, directing, and participating in activities for children of all   ages

·   Knowledge of first aid and ability to make decisions if confronted with injuries or illnesses

·   Desire/ability to work long hours 6 days/week

·   Current driver’s license and ability to drive a manual transmission 4WD vehicle

·   Solid functional/conversational Spanish

·   Able to economically purchase, organize, store, and account for project supplies

·   Supervisory skills with employees and volunteers

·   Lots of patience!

Basic abilities in plumbing, electricity, and carpentry; accounting and bookkeeping; land and building maintenance; small engine and automobile maintenance are extremely useful

To get perhaps a better idea of the project, below is our typical daily schedule.  As partners in our project you would certainly have flexibility in such matters:

As we mentioned, volunteers are a major aspect of the program.  Our goal is to make volunteering easy and accessible and this has proven very successful.  Volunteers enable many of the activities and allow the children a wonderful amount of attention.  They also form a little community that can prove interesting and enjoyable.  An important aspect of running the project is facilitating the volunteer’s participation with the project and the kids as well as make sure our hostel type facilities are functioning well.

Here are a few more thoughts and observations if you are considering this position: while all of the kids are cute, many live in difficult situations where abuse is common, hence their behaviors can be very problematic.  The project partners will need to ensure not only a safe environment but a fair one in which discipline (in the most positive sense of the word) is maintained; we have been fortunate in that usually our local employees are hard working but they have their own conflicts that may require intervention; the Honduran culture is prone to theft and security of the project and the living area needs to always be in one’s mind; after a busy week of the project one can expect to spend many Saturdays in La Ceiba shopping for the project and a portion of Sunday cleaning and organizing.

Almost no days go by without something remarkable happening.  Visitors often stop by, the rains may flood the outside play areas, the water or electricity may be absent, etc.  There are always decisions to be made and problems to solve, but the partners running the project can expect to be a very important and very positive influence to the life of many impoverished children.  Running even this small project is a great challenge, mentally, physically and spiritually but he rewards are immeasurable, humbling, and life changing.

For more information, please contact us at lassonrisasdelosninos@gmail.com