Monthly Archives: July 2011

Born With Scars: Second Trip to IHNFA

Today the other interns and I visited IHNFA, the government run orphanage system in Honduras. For all three of us, it was a second trip to this particular orphanage.

This visit, I vowed to go upstairs to the baby and toddler rooms, which I knew not only housed infants and younger children, but developmentally disabled children who also occupied neighboring cribs.

I had been too afraid the previous visit, having heard how heart wrenching the upper floor can be.

Today, I experienced it first hand.

In the baby room I helped the other interns and the IHNFA staff feed the babies and the disabled children who couldn’t feed themselves.

As we held the children and assisted in their lunch, it became clear that they needed people to hold them…even just touch them—and you could tell they never received this kind of contact.

One baby boy in particular—most likely close to a year and a half old—whom I had helped feed, was in my arms after lunch, getting sleepy. As I stroked his little arm, he laid his head on my chest.

It became time to go and as I tried to lay him back in his crib he began to cry, and clung to my shirt with tiny, desperate hands.

I rocked him back and forth while rubbing his back, hoping to have him fall asleep so I could lay him safely in his crib.

The crying stopped, but as soon as I tried again to lay him down, he began to scream and cling.

As I stood rocking him, fighting back tears, I felt angry.

I was angry at the world for having delivered this child such a bad hand, when I had been given such privilege.

It’s like this tiny baby was never given a chance to live a peaceful childhood—innocent and untarnished.

It was as if these children were born with scars.

Suddenly Ana appeared at my side with a knowing look, and I passed off the child to her, and she laid him screaming, into his crib.

The toddler room was similar, with small children fighting for our attention, fighting to be held, to even be noticed.

One child with developmental disabilities walked by who had his hands tied behind his back, most likely because he scratched others or himself.

IHNFA is understaffed, and has nothing for these children except food and a roof. Those with disabilities are given a diaper and a crib, and are often found with hands bound with sandwich bags to keep them from hurting themselves or others.

I want you to close your eyes and imagine your childhood. You most likely had toys, at least one parent who held you, and a clean set of clothes for each day.

I now want you to open your eyes.

You are at an IHNFA orphanage, where you might share a rusty iron bed with 2 other dirty children who haven’t bathed in days. Your skin might have infected cuts, and you probably have lice and a rash. These afflictions will go untreated for days as you sit around on tile floors with nothing to do, no toys.

No parents. No love.

Just fear.

I had the pleasure of getting to know an IHNFA orphan runaway while living in Villa Soleada.

His name is Juan, and he often runs away, and even ran away from his adoptive situation, which wasn’t good.

He came to many projects with us, keeping us entertained as we built soccer fields or painted schools.

He was cuddly, sassy and very intelligent.

However, Juan often slipped into bad moods suddenly, where he would just be quiet and sort of cranky.

I have to wonder if Juan was psychologically affected by living in IHNFA.

Children who live in the IHNFA system have to fight to survive, and often come out angry and violent because of their survivalist lives.

Please do one more thing for me right now.

Realize—no matter how bad your life may seem to be, and I do understand that people in the states have problems too—that you are very lucky.

Tell someone you love them today, tell your parents thank you if you have them, and do something to give back what life has given you.

Juan and I at a construction project at Unidos Venceremos.

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Emotions on High

Last night I sat in the living room, still frustrated with classroom life, and the fact that I hadn’t been able to write a single line of poetry since I’ve been here.

I suddenly remembered the old piece of advice: “Write what you know.”

Well, what I knew know was frustration. Frustration that the children in these communities weren’t being given enough, and that they deserved so much.

As I sat furiously writing, my host mother Natalia asked what I was writing.

I replied “Poesía.” I then asked her if she liked poetry, and she responded yes. Mustering up the courage, I then asked if she would like to read some of mine.

She responded with, “I can’t.”

Don’t worry, I encouraged, I have poetry in Spanish too.

“I Can’t read. I never went to school.”

My heart sunk. She wasn’t declining the offer because of a language barrier, she was declining because she had never received an education even in her own language.

After a brief pause of me most likely looking shocked and incredulous, I asked if she would like me to read the poem to her. At first I was worried that the poem—which is about the poverty in Honduras and the beauty that is there as well—would insult her. So I had my fellow intern Taylor read over it.

After receiving the okay, I began with shaky hands and voice to read my Spanish poem for the first time to a Honduran.

Here is the poem I read:

The mountains,
Like sleeping giants
Each with one eye open,
Watch the people of Honduras
Under the trees.
The houses
Scattered
Like raindrops
Between the tree leaves.
No,
There is not only beauty,
To see this world through windows
Is not to see the truth.
Until I walked away from my world,
Far from the familiar
Until I jumped from the bus stairs
And felt the earth under my feet
Until I felt the heat of the Honduran sun
Was I able to understand.
Among the people that seem to have nothing,
I learned.
With my hands I learned to work,
To sweat,
To come home covered in dirt
And deserve to sit down,
To feel tired.
But I didn’t sit,
Because what I didn’t learn with my hands,
I learned with my heart—
The people who seem to have nothing
They have more than we give credit!
How foolish to see only poverty,
Because beyond that is beauty:
The children that smile,
Who, although their world is full of lies
Have enough trust to fall asleep in the arms of a stranger.
Arms that until now were never open.
And now Honduras,
My arms will always be open for you.

The entire time I read the poem I shook, nervous at Natalia’s reaction, at my pronunciation of Spanish words. My eyes never left the page until the final word.

As I looked up from my journal, there were tears in Natalia’s eyes.

I wasn’t sure if they were good, so hesitantly asked… “Te gusta?”

She nodded, and with that nod, her tears began to flow.

I got up out of my chair and embraced my host mother, a woman who in all her beauty and kind heart never received the gift of education.

I had begun to lose motivation, but this moment had rekindled the anger and the passion required to fight a system of poverty that oppressed so many.

This moment also helped me write another poem, which I finished shortly after reading to Natalia.

I consider this poem a call to arms for educating children in Honduras, I hope that you take it up.

Not Enough
My mind stalls,
A faulty engine in the hot sun
Straining
Again
And again,
Words that once fell as easy as summer rain
Now dry and useless dirt,
Crushed underfoot.
Words that once described the beauty of the mountains,
The open, trusting arms of the children—
No, they are not enough!
Honduras, I once told you my arms would always be open for you,
Yet I am reaching,
And you are slipping.
The boy who does not come to class
Because he has not eaten for days…
He stands in front of a door,
But does not possess the key.
And he is not alone.
Hundreds of tiny fists
Are pounding on this door
And here I stand, on the other side
Reaching,
With only one key pressed in sweaty palms.
Reaching,
Always reaching,
I need more hands—
Two is not enough.

We are doing amazing things here in Honduras, and helping many people. But so much more can be done.

If you are moved by this, please move yourselves into action, because it is not enough to just feel sad.

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Classroom Life

For five out of the seven days of the week I teach English to a group of students from the village I live in, as well as from Las Brisas, a neighboring  community.

Since my Spanish is fairly limited, I teach mostly vocabulary, but as my students have been becoming more and more advanced, I have begun introducing phrases and sentence structures.

For example, during a class on description words, I had them first learn the vocabulary required, then use it in a journal activity independently on their own.

It is important to note that the village school I work at is more a “Learning Center” and not an official school, and that it lacks the resources such as paper and art supplies that might make lessons more exciting, and in turn, more memorable.

However, in my strange ways I have found solutions around this lack of resources.

For example, the white board that serves as my classroom’s chalkboard is not attached to the wall, and often threatens to fall on students as they come to write in front of the class.

(Funny side story: Once I was speaking to the class and suddenly they all screamed “LA PIZARRA!!!” and pointed at the chalkboard. I turned just in time to have it fall and slice my ankle.)

However, this rather precarious classroom object proved to be an excellent tool for teaching clothing vocabulary, as well as parts of the body, to which I had students trace one of their fellow students, and draw and label the new words they learned with the board lying flat on the floor.

I also played a sort of bilingual Simon Says to learn how to hear the English parts of the body, and we often play Telephone—or Secretos, as my students call it—to continue practicing the audio aspect of learning new English words.

Another important thing to note is that my classroom isn’t technically a classroom. It’s the main room of the learning center, and it often invites non-students—other children not in my class—to come in with jump ropes and bikes, running crazily across the poured cement floors, making tons of noise and distracting my students, sometimes taking them with them. It can be difficult to teach in such a distracting environment.

However, the interruption of a flock of hyperactive toddlers carrying lego guns and trailing sticks can be somewhat amusing.

The students in my class are amazing. I cannot emphasize how much I admire their eagerness to learn.

Many of them come from the public Brisas school, which they attend in the morning. The public schools also lack resources, and a lesson often consists of simply copying from the board all morning. So, when they come to me in the afternoon they are often shocked and gleeful that they get to do something like the tracing activity. One can tell they have never done things like that before.

Some students come everyday without fault. 12 year old Ena—my go to girl—is the most mature, poised young lady I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She often helps me when I am not sure if the class understands the assignment. I will look over at her and say “Entiendes?” and she will smile and nod. I then know that I have made sense to the class with my broken Spanish.

Rocio, Keylin and Genesis are spunky and full of energy, and I can always count on them to bring energy to the class and the work we are doing…sometimes too much energy. Genesis is much like Ena in that she is put into helping roles, often by Sergio, the center’s director. She helps call attendance on trips we take with the students, and she once helped me run a Gym class!

Jose Fernando makes me feel like I am not speaking to a Honduran child. He always greets me with an English, “Good Afternoon, Teacher!” each day, and likes to use and learn as many English words as possible. He is also quite a dancer!

Luis and Elder are my oldest students—I mainly have ages 8-12—and at 15 years old, they can sometimes be a pain and a little bit of trouble to work with. However, they are both capable, intelligent boys, and come to class…everyday.

One day, I was frustrated with Luis because he came and sat down in class, then proceeded to walk around elsewhere for almost the entire class. I told him I was going to mark him absent because he wasn’t really here in class.

Sergio then came and asked me why Luis was sad. After I explained to Sergio my frustration and confusion, Sergio explained to me that Luis’ family hadn’t eaten in two days.

Was this why Luis was acting out? I’m still not sure, but it both saddened me, as well as gave me insight to why some students act out.

All my students are incredibly poor, but there are still some that are better off than others. I needed to keep in mind the factors that went into behaviors I observed as these children came to me to learn.

I feel guilty because I can’t give these children everything I want to give them. I want to give Ena a full ride to college because she is so intelligent and capable. I want Keylin to have sports lessons to get out her aggression. I want infinite amounts of new notebooks and pens so that Wilfredo doesn’t have to borrow one each day. I want my Spanish to be better so I can give the students more knowledge in English, so that hopefully they can get a better job and make money for their parents.

I’m frustrated that basic vocabulary is not enough, that my month of teaching is not enough…that they will forget what they learned, or worse—give up learning.

But every afternoon when my class tells me “Good Afternoon!” and every time they come and try to hear me speak, broken Spanish against a torrential rain downpour on a tin roof…each time they lean forward to strain to see the board, or share their friend’s notebook just to write down words in English…these are the moments that show how capable,diligent, and eager these children are to learn.

But they aren’t getting enough.

And they deserve everything.

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Thrown to the Lions

It’s Day 3 of my internship at Villa Soleada in El Progreso, Honduras!

I got here in the afternoon on Saturday, and was the first of the three interns to arrive.
This was really intimidating, because it meant I was alone until about 9:00 PM, when Taylor (my roommate) and Lauren got here.
Shin picked me up at the airport, and then got dropped off at the SHH office in the centro (the city). He told me he would see me later and that Ana Lucia would take me to Villa.
I was nervous about being left alone, but it turned out that Ana Lucia and I had a really fun time talking in the car, and the conversation began to flow naturally. I was beginning to feel comfortable.

I live in a house with Natalia (the woman who taught me to make baleadas on my first trip) and Ramon. They are extremely kind and humorous and I love them already.

At orientation the next day, Shin explained to the interns that we were to be teaching our own English classes to the village children. He said “We are throwing you in the lion den, and you are to crawl our way out.”

…and that is exactly what happened.

Today I taught my first English class in the Centro Educativo. I had over 20 children, all of whom spoke zero English. it was surprisingly a huge success, and despite being super nervous and receiving absolutely no assistance in lesson planning or what to expect, I taught a 2 hour lesson about dates, days of the week, and the months. The class was responsive, and volunteered both at the board and in their seats…it was an unbelievable feeling and I can’t believe I did it all by myself…

It is very difficult to live here, the water only runs twice a day, meaning most of the time we take “bucket showers” (pouring water on yourself from a communal bucket) or we wait and take a very quick shower when the water runs. Oftentimes we have to manually flush the toilet by pouring water into the top and replacing the cover.

The food is amazing, although I was a little sick this morning, but I toughed it out to teach today, and now I feel a lot better.

I still can’t believe what a challenge it is to live here. The two other interns and I have practically zero guidance, but I think that in the end it will be good, because we are already learning to be more independent.

Now I’m off to lesson plan for tomorrow!

Hasta Luego.

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