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Schools helping schools: TGS’ footprint in Honduras

Students helping Honduras

At the beginning of my March 2015 trip to Honduras, I had a chance to sit through Shin Fujiyama’s opening speech to an incoming group of student volunteers from Clemson, Stony Brook, University of Maryland, and University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I’ve heard versions of this talk several times before when I’ve brought groups of high school students down to volunteer at Villa Soleada and El Progreso.

It’s always inspiring to hear, and it is a streamlined way for me to remember the whole story and get news on the latest developments. “I didn’t come to build a community, I wanted to build relationships,” Shin explains modestly when describing his first trips to the impoverished shantytowns of El Progreso, Honduras. Over the last decade, Students Helping Honduras has constructed homes; installed a water tower, plumbing, and sewage; and built a boys orphanage, a girls orphanage, and a bilingual school in Villa Soleada. Shin highlights his goal was to “give hands up not handouts” when explaining the concept of sweat equity and community buy-in. He tells American university students that the house and village were designed by the villagers, drawn on sheets of computer paper with pencils, and then voted on. He wanted to provide the resources for the community to create something on their own that they can be proud of. For more information on volunteer opportunities or the projects of Students Helping Honduras, visit their website.

The THINK Global School Connection

I have hoped to take the students of THINK Global School down to Honduras since I began teaching here. In 2013, I had the requested funds for my professional development to go down to Villa Soleada and plan a TGS weXplore or intersession trip to volunteer and immerse ourselves in Honduran culture. Shin and I had sat together and pondered service activities for my students to participate in, enthusiastically trading ideas like constructing a computer lab, stocking it with our old technology, and running software workshops for the local schoolchildren.

Unfortunately, the plan never came to fruition, largely due to timing; however, that summer one of my students, Melissa M., decided she wanted to see firsthand what her Global Studies/Anthropology teacher had been raving about for years. Being a Spanish speaker from Mexico, Melissa had the advantage of being able to communicate fluently with the locals in their native tongue. As Melissa worked alongside Shin and others on projects that summer under the scorching Honduran sun, she was able to fully conceptualize the endless possibilities for service in rural Central American communities. To that end, when Melissa returned to THINK Global School in the fall, she couldn’t stop thinking about how she could recreate Shin’s model in her home country of Mexico. I found myself energized through our conversations, and we both agreed that getting THINK Global School linked up with Students Helping Honduras was imperative.

The Donation

After years of planning and brainstorming, a chance for action finally presented itself: while on a weXplore with the ninth and tenth grade in rural Costa Rica, our head of school, Jamie Steckart, learned that the government provided internet service to the entire country. As progressive and wonderful as this is, most schools, unfortunately, don’t have the technological capabilities to take advantage of it.

Jamie told me of his plan to donate some of our old technology to one such school, and I in exchange explained my previous plans to do so in Honduras. He quickly agreed that we could help both schools with providing, as Shin would say, “hand ups not handouts.” Not long after this discussion, I was boarding a plane to Honduras with a carry-on bag filled with a MacBook Pro, ten iPads, and chargers — hoping that I would pass through customs hassle free!

Villa Soleada Bilingual School

The Villa Soleada Bilingual School’s mission is an “ambitious pilot project that is serving Villa Soleada and nearly 10 surrounding villages. Inaugurated in 2012, its mission is to provide the poorest children in El Progreso with the quality of education that only children from the wealthiest families would normally have access to. The VSBS curriculum emphasizes English, technology, and critical thinking. Currently with grades K-4, the VSBS aims to “expand the school by one grade each year and become a fully equipped K-9 school for up to 250 students by 2019.“

THINK Global School hopes that the addition of these seven iPads and a MacBook Pro computer will aid the students in developing their essential 21st century skills. These skills combined with their bilingual education should make them ideal candidates for universities or higher-paying jobs in the El Progreso workforce.

Villa Soleada Children’s Home

In Honduras today, 56,000 children have been orphaned due to violence alone. The Children’s Home at Villa currently has ten girls and twelve boys in two separate houses, and they are each looked after by a local Honduran house mom/dad. The Children’s Home aims to “help each child in the home become self-sufficient adults, with a university degree or some form of vocational training. By 2016, we hope to have the capacity to house up to 50 children at any given time.” After days of playing games of cage soccer with these great kids, Shin and I thought that they should have access to some of our technology donation as well. This picture was taken in the library for the Children’s Home, where students have time to work on their homework, receive extra help on assignments, draw, paint, and play music. The iPads will stay in here and will be used to help with homework, using apps such as DuoLingo and Khan Academy, which the kids are already very well acquainted with!

The future

Every time I am with Shin, we discuss the following quote, and it stands as a running mantra for both of our lives:

“Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.”

Not only has Students Helping Honduras constructed an incredible village at Villa Soleada, but they have also embarked on their “1000 Schools” project. Their extremely ambitious goal is to provide access to an adequate school facility for “the children in approximately 1,000 villages across Honduras.” In March of 2015, I joined student volunteers from Clemson, Stony Brook, Maryland, and UMBC in making progress on schools number 20 and 21. Now that the connection between THINK Global School and Students Helping Honduras has been established, we aren’t about to let it break. A huge, heartfelt thank you to all those involved with this project.

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