Delights

Mountain trail on the way to the village of Delicias, San Marcos de la Sierra.

Mountain trail on the way to the village of Delicias, San Marcos de la Sierra.

Generally, the times that I am conscious at 3:00 AM are unintentional.  But last week Laura and I stood outside our home at 3:30 PM to be picked up by a Shoulder to Shoulder driver in his pick-up.  We wanted to see first-hand some of the more demanding work our Equipos de Atención Primaria (EAP) (Primary Care Teams) accomplish.  We wrestle into the extended cab to join the driver, the health promoter, the lab technician, and the dentist.  On the way we pick up the doctor bringing to seven the number squeezed into the vehicle.  We turn off the main highway, such as it is, and head down.  A good forty-five minutes later along this single-lane, rutted, wooded road we meet its end.  It’s 5:10 AM, still dark, and we’ll be footing it for the next two hours toward our destination, the health center in the small community of Delicias (translation – “Delights”).

Why?, you ask.  Once every two months one of these EAP health teams visits Delicias.  This insures health care for the residents of this community and its four surrounding communities.  As we travel, the residents in those communities who need health care also travel, sometimes three hours or more to visit the clinic in operation.  There are no roads out here, only well worn paths through mountain passes.  Out of the truck, the six of us shine our flashlights to the ground to secure our footholds as we continue down the extension of what had been the road.  Fifteen minutes later we reach a river bed, the first small descent accomplished, and we’re pleased dawn has broken and we can see where we are walking.  From here we go up, then follow the edge of a ravine descending more slowly, then up sharply for a good hour to reach the summit, and finally down again to the small complex.  The path is mostly a wide one, well traveled, a main thoroughfare where we meet many men and a few families traveling in the opposite direction.  The vistas are outstanding, looking down into valleys, out onto mountain ranges, with the undersides of clouds circling mountaintops to greet the sunrise.  The travel is not so much treacherous as it is exhausting, but the freshness of the experience energizes us.  Without warning, out from the thickness of the forest, we arrive at Delicias.

Health Center in Delicias.

Health Center in Delicias.

The clinic looks exactly like every other Honduran government designed clinic.  The school here was falling apart.  They tore it down to build a new one with aid from Germany.  The make shift school, roofs suspending over bamboo poles, is set up in the back yard of the clinic.  The newer school, just above the clinic, will be large enough to accommodate the 150 students, its construction to be completed in May.  There is also a small church, presenting as Catholic, but perhaps doubling for any number of other denominations and providing space for secular meetings.  A family has a home where supplies and snacks are stored and sold, and meals cooked at the outdoor kitchen.  It’s surreal, this little oasis of civilization so singularly distant from the rest of the world.  A well and pump provide water, but only within this small development.  There’s no electricity, save for the generator the construction team operates.  The dentist, young, newly hired, transplanted from the city, and assigned here after her graduation from university, questions why anybody would choose to live here.  Good question really, but no one chooses to live here.  They inherit it, bequeathed as it were, from one generation’s poverty to the next.  Walking in and out is hard enough, leaving is virtually impossible.

The kids arrive for the morning session.  There are only two teachers now.  Four more will come for the afternoon session and stay for the week in a room they use in the clinic.  The dentist gives instruction to the kids on brushing and dental hygiene.  She’ll give a check up to each one individual.  She can’t fill cavities out here, too expensive, but in two months when next she comes, the kids will get a fluoride treatment.  The pregnant women’s club arrives.  They, along with individuals seeing the doctor and even the construction workers, get health talks on Chikungunya (similar to Dengue), tuberculosis, and other public health concerns.  They call all this a health fair and there is a sense of celebration.  It’s a reason to gather, to meet up with friends, a special event.  By 1:00 PM, the dentist and the lab technician are finished with their work.  The doctor will probably be seeing patients until three.  But Laura and I, the dentist, and the technician decide to start our walk back.  We’ll walk leisurely and the doctor and health promoter, leaving later, can catch up so we’ll all meet the pick-up at the same time.

Shoulder to Shoulder dentist educating children in their outdoor classroom.

Shoulder to Shoulder dentist educating children in their outdoor classroom.

Laura and I will only make this walk once; the doctor, dentist, and lab technician once every two months; and the health promoter once every two weeks.  Some of the people who live here probably never leave, but they’re all accustomed to the hiking.  It’s their routine and they don’t think about it as anything special.  The materials for the school, how do you think they got there?  On the backs of the residents.  We’re told that the men carried three to five cinderblocks at a time, the women one or two.  We are indeed walking leisurely, the sun beating down, and the dentist, the youngest among us, stops every few hundred yards to rest in the shade.  Persons are passing us in both directions, carrying one-hundred pound sacks of corn meal, or beans, or cement.  We have to move off the side of the path when a man balances and guides a 30 foot roll of sheet metal roofing for the school.  Then two familiar women come up behind us.  They were with us at the clinic, participants of the pregnant women’s club, now going home.  It’s not so much that they’re making better time than us.  It’s not so much that they don’t even seem to perspire.  The thing that just seems unfathomable is that they’re wearing flip-flops.  One tells us she’s eight months along, and all I can do is pray.

Construction workers learning about Dengue and Tuberculosis.

Construction workers learning about Dengue and Tuberculosis.

Finally, we make the river.  All that’s left is the last rise to where the path turns back into a road.  It was dark when we were last here, casting our flashlight beams to our feet.  Now I realize that the entire hill is deforested.  A small slip, a tumble, and a roll, and it would have been an unobstructed fall 200 feet into the river bed.  Silly me, I thought we started out in the dark to make better time and to avoid the heat.  We come up on the road, slightly wider, much less gutted.  Though they left a good hour and a quarter after us, the health promoter and doctor join us within twenty minutes.  Another fifteen and our truck arrives to take us home.

The long ride home gives me time to reflect.  I am happy to have had the experience.  It’s so beautiful, romantic even, to live so connected to the rhythm of nature.  I now know what it means to visit the Delights, but I will certainly never know what it means to live there.

If you’d like to read more about Shoulder to Shoulder, click the link below:

Shoulder to Shoulder

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Educate a Child — Save the World

Outdoor classroom - no indoor space available.

Outdoor classroom – no indoor space available.

We’ve been here, in Honduras, almost one year and a half. Is that possible? Tempus fugit. It seems we’re staying now as we just renewed our second year of our two year residency. That will expire in March of 2016. We had so much difficulty getting our residency last year, we expected more of the same with the Honduran bureaucracy. We dreaded the whole affair, particularly now that Tegucigalpa is over six hours away. At best we thought it would be two trips, but at worst, five or six. What a surprise it was when we arrived at the immigration offices at 8:00 AM and by eleven we had new residency cards. Finished. Just when we thought we knew Honduras. The most difficult thing we had to do was to pay the fee. In Honduras, when you make any large payment, or when you’re making payment to a government agency or utility, you pay at the bank and they give you a receipt. There’s not a lot of trust here when it comes to money. As usual there was a long line at the bank. The security guard, who carries a machine gun, decided to make order of the line. He put us up to the front along with this Cuban-American gentleman with whom we had become friendly. He did this in error and the rest of those waiting in line had every right to be upset. They began arguing adamantly with the security guard. This is when I decide to pretend I don’t understand a word of Spanish. The gun almost always has that effect on me. The Cuban-American gentleman had gotten into the bank. I saw him speaking with the other security guard inside the bank before he came back out. Coming out, he leans down to me and says, “You’re next.” The inside security guard opens up the door and whispers to the outside security guard while pointing at me. I overhear what he says, “Tercera edad,” translation, “Senior Citizen.” To the complaints of the other fifty persons that were legitimately ahead of me, he lets me in. I consider, very briefly, telling him I am not over sixty, but realize this will make everyone even more angry, especially the guy with the gun. So I somewhat ashamedly go into the bank and pay. After that, another hour getting our pictures taken and our cards made, we’re done.

Kindergarten class at Good Shepherd Bilingual School.

Kindergarten class at Good Shepherd Bilingual School.

Apart from the bank, the rest of the process was really smooth. But lest we think we died and went to a developed country, most things here in Honduras don’t go so smoothly. For instance, today is a Sunday and we are in La Esperanza. We have running water every other day in La Esperanza. Today it’s on. Yipee!, showers! But, just as we were ready to take our showers, the electricity went off. We still had water, but the heater unit on the shower head depends on electricity. It’s still cold here, believe it or not, so neither of us wanted to take a cold shower. We could heat up water on our gas burners, but taking bucket showers isn’t fun either. We decided to wait for the electricity to return. It finally came back on at 5:00 PM. Unfortunately, because this is about dinner time and everyone is using their water, the pressure is very low. The heater does not come on unless the water pressure is strong enough. So even though we have some water and electricity, a hot, running water shower is still not possible. Maybe by seven or eight, there will be enough water pressure to turn the heater on. Let’s hope. Because we haven’t had any electricity, we also haven’t had any internet all day. Our landlord’s modem on which our internet depends has been off all day. He’ll have to reset it. He’s not home. Something else we’ll have to wait for. At least we no longer have to do our laundry by hand. Oh no, spoke too soon. We had a long spell in Concepcion when we were water challenged at our house. That was a little rough, but we carry our laundry to the clinic where we work and where there is a machine. They always have water there. About two weeks ago, however, we started getting a great deal of water at our house. That was great. Unfortunately, this miracle corresponded with the clinic running out of water. So our laundry has been sitting up at the clinic, waiting for sufficient water to run the machine. On Friday we had to take some of it home and do it by hand. I wonder how long I can go without washing my jeans. Jeans are just not fun to wash by hand. Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to… do the laundry.

There was a time when all these things would drive us wild. But after a year and a half, it’s all just a part of what it means to live in Honduras. Joking with other Americans, we use the initials TIH – This is Honduras. We smile at one another, we laugh, and we wait. Not getting personal amenities in a developing country is understandable. Not getting other more essential things is another matter entirely. Also after a year and a half, our experiences have driven home the fact that the education system here is dismally inadequate. Children are only required to go to school through the sixth grade. The school buildings we have visited make most farm barns look like palaces. Crumbling, unpainted concrete walls, often dirt floors, rooms designed for twenty housing forty children are just some of the obvious shortcomings. If the buildings are poorly constructed and maintained, the teachers are as poorly trained and prepared. Children may only receive instruction during about half of the day while the teacher is busy doing something else. There aren’t any books (maybe a bible if the teacher is religiously zealous) or educational materials. Here in the Southern Intibucá, in one of the most rural and poorest areas of Honduras, over 60% of children will not receive any further, formal education after graduating from sixth grade.

Kindergarten student at Good Shepherd Bilingual School.

Kindergarten student at Good Shepherd Bilingual School.

Over our year and a half, Laura and I have had first-hand experience of the failure of the Honduran education system. It has become painfully clear that development in Honduras is dependent on improving this system. Imagine how much talent and how many resources are lost, trashed really, because children are simply not educated. Shoulder to Shoulder, where Laura and I are now, recognizes this fact and has dedicated its efforts toward improving education for the children and families of the frontier region of Intibucá. For years they’ve had a scholarship program to assist children in continuing education beyond the sixth grade. They also have a highly successful girls’ empowerment program that challenges the poverty cycle of girls becoming pregnant at a very young age and gives them viable alternatives and builds self-esteem. In the last three years, Shoulder to Shoulder in collaboration with the Good Shepherd Catholic community of Cincinnati, has built and operated an accessible, public, quality, regional, bilingual, primary school in Camasca, Intibucá. The school now features grades kinder through third grade with about sixty students. Construction on a new building to accommodate more students and grades will begin this year.

This is where Laura and I step into the picture. The school is a most ambitious project. It needs a tremendous amount of commitment and financial support to continue to offer a quality, bilingual education. Laura and I were charged with designing and implementing a sponsorship program for the children at the school. We have done so and have enjoyed some success. Nine of the children at the school have full sponsorships at $100 per month. Some of you who are reading this are sponsoring children and we are extremely grateful. But we need more. We are doing two things. We have initiated a campaign to raise $12,000 by the end of this year. We are also trying to expand our donor base. We are looking to you to help us. We are not necessarily asking you to help us by way of a financial commitment, though we would be extremely happy if you could. But you have families, friends, and associations. Please help us to get the word out.

March blog - Juan Carlos

Laura and I are extremely committed to this endeavor. We think that right now it is one of the most important things happening in all of Honduras, and we are honored to take a small part in it. I have outlined below the various ways that you can help us.

  • Sponsor a Child:

You can begin a relationship with a child that will support an ongoing, quality, bilingual education for all our students at the school. The financial commitment is $35, $70, or $100 per month. Go to Sponsor a Child to make that commitment.

  • Make a one-time gift to the campaign:

Go to Educate a Child – Save the World! Make your donation through razoo.com.

  • Facebook:

If you have a Facebook page, here’s what you can do that won’t cost you a penny. Just go to our Facebook page at StoSFacebook and repost our campaign post on your timeline. Our campaign post, “Educate a Child – Save the World!” should be the first or second post you see on Shoulder to Shoulder’s timeline. Like us and follow us.

  • Email your friends and contacts, talk us up, and promote us at your church and other associations.
  • Website: Read about Shoulder to Shoulder on our website at http://shouldertoshoulder.org/.