For those of you who are not on our email list it may come as a surprise to you that we have left Montaña de Luz and begun new volunteer service at a new program. We were familiar with the new program since we visited it in October of 2012 when we were searching out a site. We liked the program then, and the program would have certainly wanted us to come, but the responsibilities were a little bit greater than we had envisioned. Now that we have been in Honduras for some time, and the program offered us a more supportive role, both Laura and I thought we could invest our time here. Montaña de Luz is an excellent program that offered a tremendous volunteer experience. Still, Montaña de Luz has more resources and less of a need for our services as social workers. We felt strongly it was the right time to make a move. We are extremely appreciative for everything Montaña de Luz offered us. We trust they will continue to provide health, happiness, and a home to the children they serve. We left on Wednesday, May 21st.
Our vacation in Guatemala was wonderful. It was nice to have the space and distance we needed to discern our move to the new program. The highlight of the trip was climbing the active volcano Pacaya. The volcano had last erupted in March of this year. We could see where the new lava had flowed out into a new area. We walked over that area that was still steaming and hot. Our guide brought us to a particular hot spot where we roasted marshmallows. We relaxed in Antigua, Guatemala, a quaint, colonial town that had been the capitol before it was devastated by earthquakes and volcanoes in the mid-nineteenth century. Our last day was spent in the tourist section of Guatemala City. It was unlike any experience we have had in Latin America. Even in the nicest sections of Tegucigalpa, there are always some clues to alert you that it is still a developing country. In Guatemala City, we might as well have been in midtown Manhattan. Then we returned to our two-hundred family town of Nueva Esperanza. In less than a week we would leave.
It was emotionally difficult to leave, of course. We have made many close friends and the children will always be remembered in our hearts. We left on Wednesday morning at 5:00 AM with the Montaña de Luz bus that was bringing many children into Tegucigalpa for their health check-ups. It was more comforting to us than they will ever know as one little girl fell asleep in Laura’s lap and an older girl fell asleep with her head rested against my shoulder. There is such comfort in the unsolicited and unconditional trust of a child. Beyond everything else, this is what we learned at Montaña de Luz and what we take away.
In Tegucigalpa we got onto a commercial bus for a four hour ride up, and I mean up, to our new home in the twin cities of La Esperanza and Intibucá. At 5,600 feet, there are no cities at a higher altitude in Honduras. It is never really hot here, nor dry. Laura and I were thrilled to see so many trees and so much green. The sun is strong and warm during the day, but it is always cool at night. We are told that in November and December, we will see frost, perhaps even ice. Some have told us there is occasional snow, but that might be apocryphal. To call Intibucá and La Esperanza cities is something of a misnomer. Separately, neither could be considered a city, but, as they are only divided by a single city street, together they boast an inner city population of 21,000. Within municipal boundaries there are a combined 49,000 inhabitants. We are renting a nice house almost in the heart of the city. It is peaceful here and the residents are friendly. The crime and violence that infects most of Honduras is relatively absent here. There are not as many walls, bars, locks, and barbed wire. The thing that Laura and I are joyfully cognizant of is the dearth of armed guards. We had so well prepared ourselves for the culture shock of leaving the United States for Honduras. We never would have imagined that the greatest culture shock we would experience would be the move from Nueva Esperanza to La Esperanza.
Despite the twin cities we live in, the department of Intibucá is very rural, very isolated, and very agricultural. The indigenous Lenca, descendents of the Maya, work the fertile land. Intibucá features a daily farmers’ market of which Laura and I have already made ample use. Potatoes, strawberries, and apples are not able to be produced at lower altitudes. Despite the oppression of the Spaniards and Ladinos, the Lenca have maintained some of their culture, particularly witnessed in the colorfully, woven textiles and clothing. They also produce beautiful and unique pottery. Unfortunately their language has been lost. We are so much looking forward to learning more of the richness present in this land among the people.
As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, education is a great challenge in Honduras. That is even more so the case here. The people who live in the surrounding villages in the department of Intibucá are so isolated and so poor that educational opportunities are almost non-existent. After the sixth grade, school is no longer mandated by the state. In many communities here, there are no schools beyond the sixth grade level. The program that we work with, Maestro en Casa, recognizes that reality and is attempting to offer an alternative. Young people, for a very small fee, can come into the city one day a week and continue their education. Eventually, they can earn their high school diploma. Apart from asking the young people to transport themselves into the city one day a week, Maestro en Casa also travels out to some of the more isolated communities to offer education there. Maestro en Casa has been operating here for more than fifteen years and has had excellent success in graduating young people. But it struggles to keep itself above water financially. It is very dependent on donations and grants from the states. It is also trying to make itself sustainable and self-sufficient. They have built one greenhouse, producing tomatoes to be sold at market, and are in the process of building another. The hope is to give the program a secure foundation and also to grow it. Maestro en Casa also supports the right and value of primary education and challenges the larger community to appreciate its central place within the greater society.
Why are we here? Much of the reason we are here we will probably find out as we become invested. Still, there are reasons that we can already list. We hope to help support the students and their families. Students drop out for all sorts of reasons as you might imagine. Hopefully we can work with them to find the means to stay. We also hope to support the structure, the very talented Honduran staff, and assist in building resources aimed at making Maestro en Casa self-sufficient and sustainable. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say on that later on.
A lot of you have been incredible generous in your support of Laura and I while we were at Montaña de Luz. Your support meant a lot to us and will continue to mean a lot to the children at Montaña de Luz. If you would like to learn more about Maestro en Casa and perhaps consider how you could support us here, I would invite you to look at the website at http://www.lencaeducation.org.