Making friends and changing lives in Honduras
We arrived in Honduras well briefed through international news and foreign office advice to expect one of the most violent and dangerous places in the world. Instead we've spent our time amongst some of the friendliest, most genuine and generous people of any country we've travelled to, in a country that contains some incredibly beautiful, unspoiled geography.
The program is very much in its infancy, having only run as limited trial for three months at the end of the previous school year. My partner and I made up the other 50% of the team required to run the full bilingual program teaching every grade from Kinder to 9th Grade. As one would imagine, there have been a few teething problems, as we get used to the students, and the students get used to having a teacher they can't understand at all, using a much more interactive teaching process than typical Honduran education seems to follow. As we move through the second bimester though, we're running in a groove that feels like it's of real benefit to the students. With a fifth volunteer at the moment, we are also able to offer resource to help the slower students keep up with the pace, which is really helpful because the Honduran government doesn't allow us to stream the students, hold them back a year or bump them up a grade.
In Cofradia, the nearest town (10 mins by bus) there are a few bilingual schools, one of which has been running its program for 20 years, so there are a handful of other English-speaking international volunteers to meet up with should you want to, and in can be helpful to share experiences over a coffee or beer. Brisas de Valle, where the school is located is quite a basic village with plenty of pulperias or basic convenience shops to buy fundamentals, and street food stalls, but for a supermarket or restaurant you'll need to take the bus to Cofradia, or to San Pedro if you want a mall, cinema or anything else you'd expect to find in a major city. Walking through Brisas from the excellently appointed volunteer accommodation to school is a lovely trip, with most people waving or saying hola as you go by.
I teach 2nd and 3rd grade, with a class size of 16 in 2nd grade and 9 in 3rd grade. The class sizes to seem to dwindle as the kids' approach to education, or need to work to help out their family changes as they get older. To my 3rd graders I teach English, Art, Music and PE, all in English; to my 2nd graders I also teach Natural Science.
The more we've got into the program, the more the kids have warmed to both us and to the program and we are seeing some huge leaps forward in ability and attitude to learning in general. I feel like the kids and I have a much better understanding of each other, and our expectations from each other, which makes the classroom and increasingly fun and enjoyable environment to be in. Break times can be a lot of fun as the kids can be desperate to put their burgeoning English to use and identify the colours around them, clothes they are wearing, parts of the plants, etc. and it's easy to spend the whole break time playing and chatting with the kids.
Outside of school day, which runs 7 am - 2pm, Monday - Friday, we have a lot of independence. The grocery shop is done for us weekly, to a list we provide, so all we need to do is plan our lessons, keep the place tidy and relax. We have a hammock and a decent-sized self-standing pool at the house, which is pretty much all you need after a day of teaching excitable young kids. The bedrooms are all air-conditioned and we have a water tank that is topped up every three days when the mains water is turned on.
Javier, the IT teacher at the school also lives on the same plot as us, so is always on hand to help sort out any maintenance issues, etc. and his English is really improving. He's a great guy and always happy to join us for a swim or an evening meal.
On weekends we can either entertain ourselves by relaxing at the house or making trips away to the beach, lake, city, local swimming pools, etc. and then there are always offers from parents to join them on family excursions, or to go round to their houses for lunch or dinner.
Overall it has been a fantastic experience, and as our time here comes to an end we're getting pretty emotional about the thought of having to say our goodbyes; to the amazing kids we've had the privilege to teach, and their families who have welcomed us so warmly into their homes; to our fellow volunteers we've shared these experiences with; and to the many other friends we've picked up along the way. I can't recommend this experience enough, and although living in a developing country and helping a fledgling project get off the ground with limited resources isn't without its challenges, there been no shortage of reward in the smiles we've got to see from all of those around us every day.