Jessica, an accomplished professional in the world of business, accepted an invitation to visit Honduras and see some of the work we do. She was having a great time visiting our bilingual school, playing with and meeting the children. But she didn’t know Spanish and had little background knowledge on Honduras or Shoulder to Shoulder. At lunch time she sat down alone and apart for a rest. Perhaps she was questioning, “What is my part here? What role could I play in this organization?” Karol, age 10, (far left in the photo) noticed her sitting alone; she went to her and offered Jessica half her sandwich. They talked quite a bit (Karol’s English is among the best), and in Jessica’s own words, “she stole my heart.”
Jessica may have been wondering what role she could play, but Karol inspired her. Jessica now sponsors Karol at the school. They correspond regularly. Jessica wants to bring her daughters to Honduras, and be part of an education service trip.
Don’t know your role with Shoulder to Shoulder? Meet Karol.
For about the price of a “half a sandwich” at a nice deli ($15) you can give Karol and many other children like her the opportunities that come with an excellent education. Our partner, GlobalGiving, is offering $50,000 in incentives on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Your gift to Karol and the Bilingual Lenca School will be increased. Thursday, October 5, please take advantage of this incredible opportunity.
Matt Tibbitts, “Backpack Matt,” has returned for the second time to the Good Shepherd Bilingual School as a volunteer. He has wonderful gifts. You may have already seen his first video with us, “Changing Camasca.” He’s put together a second one featuring the smiles of all our children. Just Click the title below to see it.
We are always looking to receive new groups and individuals to visit us and share in the incredible work of Shoulder to Shoulder. Principle among the reasons for this is that people are the primary resource for development work. Shoulder to Shoulder is built upon the commitment of so many who develop relationships with the people of Southern Intibucá. But the more selfish reason for looking for new individuals and groups is that we have such a great time being their hosts. Generally, it takes us a lot of work to develop relationships with universities and groups to bring them to Honduras. But sometimes our opportunities just seem to fall out of the sky into our laps.
Sometime back in the Spring we got an email from an undergraduate student, Nava, at Duke University. The group, Project HEAL (Health Education and Awareness in Latin America), had been coming to Honduras annually with another NGO. It wasn’t going to work this year, and Nava was a little desperate to find another NGO to host them. We, of course were ecstatic, and even though we had something to learn about what they intended to do, and even though they were coming at a very busy time of our year, we immediately said yes. We figured we’d work out the details as we went along.
Five students, Nava, Noelle, Dahlia, Judy, and Lissa, would come to Camasca for five weeks to conduct four separate research projects on personal and community health issues. It would be during July and early August when Laura and I would be away for a time in the US; MAHEC would be here for two weeks in a forty person brigade; two MSW students from the University of Chicago would be doing an internship here. Then, to top it off, the surprise component would be that we would have to replace our brigade coordinator. Could we pull this off? Could we give Project HEAL a meaningful experience while we had so many other irons in the fire? Of course we could, and we did.
They wanted to live with families while here to get more of a feel for life in Camasca. We’ve done a little of this with volunteers, but finding homes for five students for five weeks was a big challenge. We contacted the teachers at the local primary school, the Urbana, who have been looking for ways to partner with Shoulder to Shoulder. Three teachers agreed to take the five students. There was a little bit of a catch, however. The Urbana wanted the students to teach English to the students while they were here. That wasn’t part of the project portfolio that Nava had given us. But when we approached him with the proposal, he graciously agreed. The students had never taught before. They had some anxiety about it when we picked them up in San Pedro Sula. But we had a feeling they might find some magic among the children.
They busied themselves with their four projects: Teen Pregnancy and Relational Dynamics in Adolescents; Self-Esteem for Adolescents; Cervical Cancer Attitudes, Awareness, Prevention and Treatment; and Trash Disposal and Related Attitudes/Behaviors. They visited families in the town center and among our smaller communities, doing interviews and conducting focus groups. They gathered their data, analyzed it, and put together some community trainings. They returned to the families and groups, shared their results, and taught about healthy practices. They did great work, and they will share with Shoulder to Shoulder the reports on their topics. We’re certain these will become valuable tools as we continue the work they invested in and prepare for their return next year.
I guess we could say they lived up to their project name and this was a ‘healing’ event. But we have a feeling that the really impactful moments of their time with us happened beyond their diligent work in a less anticipated way.
We planned a debriefing with the group on the day before they were scheduled to leave Camasca. Their visit to our home happened immediately following their going away celebration at the Urbana School with the teachers and the students. We couldn’t start the debriefing right away because the five Duke students all arrived at our house in tears. The children, the teachers, and the families with whom they stayed, all expressed their affection for them and how much they would miss them. The kids had come so close to them — and they so close to the kids — that they had indeed become part of this community. The families now had adopted a son and four daughters, new brother and sisters, to the point that one of the Duke students was speaking to us of her cousin when we realized that it was a cousin of the family with whom she was staying. Their study was very important and meaningful, and yet the memories impressed on their hearts may have little to do with the particulars of their service. Their memories will forever include hiking up mountains, attending a rodeo during the town’s fair, taking a trip to the hot baths of Gracias, Lempira, being cared for by a second mother when suffering a stomach virus, and most especially the joyous smiles of children who are so welcoming of new friends.
I suppose we often consider ‘healing’ a clinical response to persons who present themselves in need. We heal others when we diagnose their need and prescribe and initiate a treatment. But healing and finding health is so much more. It seems that these Duke students have taught and learned that healing is about meeting and being met, and ultimately loving and being loved.
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Nava, Noelle, Dahlia, Judy, and Lissa — you all have homes here. We look forward to your return.
Remember when you were a little kid and you went to the circus? The clowns were always special. The iconic representation of this is when a little, colorful car pulled out into the circus ring with bells, whistles and honks, stopped in the center, and someone opened the door. Then the clowns started piling out of the car, seemingly way too many of them to have fit in the small car. Was there a trap door? Was it an optical illusion? Whatever it was, it was certainly entertaining. This is an apt metaphor from what we recently experience with the Mountain Area Health and Education Centers (MAHEC), brigade. All metaphors limp, and I don’t want to imply that the participants presented themselves as clowns. They were quite serious in why they were here, though they certainly were as colorful as clowns.
There were 38 registered participants on the brigade. As if that weren’t enough, an undergraduate student who was on a different brigade in a different town joined them. Here, we have the expression, “there’s always room for one more on the bus.” There were yet more gringos in the town of Camasca during the ten days MAHEC was here. Four volunteers, two graduate social work students from the University of Chicago, five undergraduate students from Duke University’s Project HEAL (Health Education and Awareness in Latin America), and Laura and I brought the total number of gringos in Camasca to 51. The municipal district of Camasca has only 1,150 residents, meaning almost 5% of the people here were from the US. If they stayed any longer, shopkeepers would have put up signs announcing “English spoken here.” To be fair, in that group of 51, one was a Canadian citizen and another was a Honduran born in the US. Still, carrying on the metaphor, that’s a lot of clowns!
But even as the numbers awed us and the people of Camasca, what was really amazing was their diversity. Even though MAHEC sponsored the trip, many came with other affiliations. Apart from the University of North Carolina, the schools of Butler University, Bucknell University, and Davidson College were represented. The Society of Friends from Lancaster, PA also came with six members of that church. Henry, now sixteen, was on his third trip to Camasca. As he has in the past, he spent a good deal of his time volunteering at the bilingual school. What we don’t usually see on medical mission trips are children or young people, but this trip was a family affair. Aside from Henry, there was: Gabriel (who turned 18 last month); twins Edward and Seth (16); Aislin (14); Kai (9); and Henry and Luya (both 7). All of them experienced the wonder of another culture; making friends among the young people of Camasca. There is always a spirit of joy when international, intercultural relationships are formed, but with children and young people, that spirit of joy seems transcendent and luminous.
What was accomplished in those ten days was truly phenomenal. The medical part of the team visited seven small communities as well as the High School and the Health Center, with hundreds of consults and the delivery of much needed medication. The Society of Friends gave eye exams in the small communities, at the Bilingual School, and at the High School. Many were given eyeglasses and the gift of vision, something for which they had no previous opportunity to receive. This mission of eye care will be followed up on by future Shoulder to Shoulder teams. The Society of Friends also came to the bilingual school, playing and teaching our children. They also helped us install a water collection system at our newest building on the campus.
Their time among us was certainly thrilling, and at the risk of killing my metaphor, it did remind me of the awe and excitement of when the circus came to town. There was a certain exotic character to it. Gringos are easily recognized here. The services they performed were certainly novel. Like high-wire acts, or trapeze swingers, the precision and expertize of their performance (their service) was exceptional. Perhaps, at times as well, their numbers and their colorful characters presented as clowns stepping out of a small car. But there is where the metaphor ends. The circus comes and goes, and whereas the electrifying experiences are remembered, the performers themselves are soon forgotten. They are itinerant, moving on to the next town without even a wave or a look back. But as the team of professionals and their families prepared to depart, we knew that we would miss them even more than the spectacular show they had given us. They are not performers and their intent was not to entertain. No, their presence was a genuine offer of friendship in service and justice. They have impressed themselves upon our hearts. They have given us so much more than their awesome service. They have given us themselves.
We will remember them fondly and await their return. For all that they have done for us, but even more so for whom they are, we are grateful.
Laura and I always try to be as present as possible to the medical service trip groups that visit us. They are the backbone of this organization, embodying an ethos of compassionate and just service to those in the most desperate need. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible as other demands can draw us away. It has been a hectic couple of months for Laura and I. We have two social work intern students with us, and volunteers coming and going. The education mission is advancing. Duke University and Project HEAL has five students with us for five weeks holding investigations into some pressing social issues for Camasca and Southern Intibucá. But the real kicker was spending two weeks in Washington, DC and Ohio with seven high school students and two professors for the FIRST Global robotics competition. In the midst of this, Brown / Wingate came to Guachipilincito.
It was a very small brigade, seven, unpretentious if you will. The competent and veteran leadership of Dr. Wayne Hale and Shawn Taylor, a Doctor of Pharmacy from Wingate, led the small group. One pharmacy student, My Linh Tran, and one dentist, Herbert Vu, filled out the small team. David and Jack, two undergraduate students, also joined up with the brigade team. Both of them stayed on in Honduras for an additional week; Jack coming to Camasca and David staying in Guachipilincito. Joseph Swartz, a construction expert, who had come with the group last year, repaired and renewed the plumbing system at the clinic.
I was so happy to meet up with the group. If not for them deciding to visit us at the bilingual school we would have missed them entirely. According to Dr. Hale, with just one provider they still managed to see about thirty patients a day. Brown is so familiar with their community that whether they are a small group or a large one, they serve the people with ease and familiarity. They do what they do so well and have built lasting and meaningful relationships with the community.
We had the good fortune to show off the bilingual school. Judging from their smiles as they presented themselves in the classrooms, they enjoyed their time with us. They also saw Camasca and our house. It was such a pleasure to host them. Laura and I play such a small part in the incredible service Brown / Wingate offers. We are really nothing more than facilitators. But with each team that comes here, and especially Brown / Wingate, it is so nice to have the opportunity to extend our gratitude. We do this on behalf of Shoulder to Shoulder, but as importantly on behalf of the people they serve so faithfully. We were honored to have had the opportunity to host them.
Thank you Brown / Wingate for visiting us. We most certainly appreciate the steady, humble service you offer without a demand for recognition. Come back and visit us anytime. Our door is always open.
Absolute folly! A complete waste of time and resources! A recipe for disaster! An olympic-style, Honduran robotic team, particularly one from the backwoods of Camasca and Concepción, Intibucá is equivalent to the Jamaican bobsled team. This was the reaction to the lame-brained idea of Shoulder to Shoulder assisting and supporting the creation of a seven person, high school robotics team to compete internationally. I have to admit that I shared some of those reactions when we decided to do this in February. How could kids living in extreme poverty — who had little or no resources at their high schools, many of who had never played a video game — design and build a robot, travel to the United States, and compete among 157 other nations? I and all the other naysayers were proven wrong. Not only did they meet the challenge, they excelled. They achieved 40th among 163 different teams (the top 25%) and third among all teams from the Americas. They had an experience that will shine on for a lifetime, and hopefully inspire them to achieve previously unimaginable goals.
They dedicated themselves to working on this daily at our bilingual school with two committed teachers from their high school. They accepted assistance and support with grace and humility. Alan Ostrow and his robotics team from Pennsylvania Skyped weekly with the team, and he made two trips to Honduras. The team initially received little encouragement, even from other Hondurans, and in spite of this found the courage to believe in their inherent dignity and worth.
In the last few weeks before they left, things started to change for them. They started getting some media attention both locally and nationally. They were invited to the Presidential Palace to meet the First Lady. They secured passports and visas. The robot was built and functioning well. What had started out as pure folly was about to become real.
The travel day itself was one of the most exhausting days of my life, as well as theirs I’m sure, both physically and emotionally. We woke at 2:00 AM to board a bus for a seven hour trek to San Pedro Sula Airport. We thought we arrived with sufficient time at the airport. But none of these kids had any familiarity with air travel, and Honduras has strict laws and legal procedures for traveling with minors, particularly those unaccompanied by a parent. We literally all got on the plane minutes before the doors were closed and it pulled away from the terminal. In one sense it was fortunate that our connecting flight was late in Houston. It gave the seven young people time to begin soaking in all the sensory stimuli they had never before encountered or even dreamed of. They walked through the airport from gate to gate, heads spinning, drawn this way and that by what they could only understand as exotic attractions. The plane was delayed for a long time, and we would not get to Washington until early the next morning. Between retrieving our robot and luggage and hooking up with the FIRST Global driver who would transport them to their dormitory, it was at least 3:00 AM. Personally, my head did not find a pillow until 4:00 AM.
At 7:00 AM, they were all up and at DAR Constitution Hall to begin their practice rounds. I and Laura, staying at a different dormitory further away from the hall, did not arrive until 9:00. Still, we were beyond exhaustion. I took great pride in having gotten them there, something I would never have imagined possible. I also found myself in tremendous admiration of what they had already accomplished against what seemed insurmountable obstacles. There was something these kids had that was tremendously special, but I hadn’t as of yet named it, or understood it. What was the purpose in doing this, in exerting such great effort and resources, overcoming entrenched obstacles, simply to bring seven poor kids from Honduras to the United States with a robot? What would be the gain for these kids, for Shoulder to Shoulder, for Intibucá, for Honduras, or for the world? What was the meaning of it? I sat in the stands watching the practice rounds, hoping, perhaps even praying, for some insight.
Team Honduras was paired up with Kazakhstan and another country against three opposing countries. Alexis stood next to a young man from Kazakhstan. Alexis is a gifted student to be sure, but he was even more sleep deprived than me and he speaks no English. Just as I considered this whole odyssey a folly back in February, now I would never in my wildest fancy believe that Alexis from Concepción, Intibucá could manage conversation with a sixteen year old from Kazakhstan. Clearly impossible! But I’m watching something that defies all logic. The teenager from Kazakhstan throws his arm around Alexis’ shoulder and they open their bodies to one another. Both have wide smiles on their faces. Alexis says something and they both are laughing. They are engaged. They are forming a friendship, and they are doing it with such ease and grace, and I am thinking this moment should be enshrined and worshipped. I have received the insight I was searching for.
Alexis and the teenage boy from Kazakhstan yielded a reflection for me. There is so much in our world that belittles and demeans us. There is war, oppression, and poverty. These are born of fear, mistrust, and insecurity; a basic unwillingness to risk relationship with someone who seems different than me. These terrible sins against the dignity of human life are born in fear, but sustained in cowardice. It takes a great deal of energy and resources to maintain that cowardice. But peace is born in the simple belief that all others, no matter how different they appear, are worthy of attention and engagement. Peace is born in trust, but sustained in courage. Oddly, cowardice is so costly, so consuming, whereas courage demands only the natural response of a heart. One teenage boy lets his hand fall softly against another’s shoulder and suddenly all things are new and nothing is impossible.
Please forgive the length of this blog. There is just so much that happened for us and the robotics team in their journey to the US that I want to do it justice. After the competition in Washington, the team traveled to Ohio. They met with people who are supporting them and will support them and the education mission of Shoulder to Shoulder. This is not the end for the robotics team, but only the beginning. They will continue to meet here in Honduras and invest themselves in transforming their amazing experience into hope and service for other young people and all the people of Southern Intibucá. We have many people to thank for the success of this incredible journey and much more to share.
Alan and Wendy Ostrow and the young people they work with in robotics, Team 341 “Miss Daisy,” who journeyed along with our seven students.
Angel and Joe Allen who have visited us in Honduras and will come again. The families they enlisted to take our students into their homes and treat them as members of their families.
The robotics teams from Ohio that gathered at Beaver Creek School to share with our Honduran team.
Ross and Stacey McNutt who opened up their airfield, their simulators, and their planes to us. Our students flew across the skies of Ohio in single-engine aircrafts. They also received us in celebration at their home.
Our trip to King’s Island was particularly memorable.
Dick and Bonnie Buten of Cincinnati, who have already given so much to our education mission in material support and passion, gave us two days rest in their home. Their neighbors shared their pool.
Daniel Wade, who volunteered at the Good Shepherd Bilingual School, gave us a tour of his high school as well as some insights into the struggles for Latin American teens living in the US. And Fide Gehner from Concepción, Intibuca, who shared with us for that entire day.
Wayne Waite, his wife Christina, his son Daniel, his daughter-in-law Nidia, and his two grandchildren Jonathon and Matthew (Mateo). It was Wayne that initially said yes to this folly and has offered unwavering support.
Dean Kamen, Joe Sestek, the FIRST Global team, and an unnamed teenage boy from Kazakhstan.