Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Change in the Santa Rosa de Lima Parish

This past weekend Father Craig, the pastor at our parish, left to return to the Fall River Diocese after almost eight years of service here.  In my time here, his presence has been a blessing, not just because he celebrated American holidays, but because his guidance and expression of faith was a very important part of my own journey since coming here more than a year and a half ago.  I have gone to hundreds of masses here, but I didn't I sleep during any one of his homilies!  More than just staying awake, though, he always had something to say that we connected to and took home to think on more.

On Saturday the Cardinal came with the new priest, Padre Jonathon, to officially install him in his new community and to give thanks to Father Craig for all the work he has done here with the mission.  It was a beautiful mass, with the church more full than I have ever seen it; many people came from the aldeas as well as from town, which is difficult for them to do and doesn't happen often.

Here are some pictures of the mass:

Padre Jonathon with the Cardinal and Fr. Craig sitting

Half of the packed church welcoming Padre Jonathon

Future Extension Volunteers will come to a very different Guaimaca than the one I came to last January, for many reasons, but I have confidence and faith that they will continue to have fulfilling and challenging experiences.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Great teaching moment today

I walked back into my classroom after the break and found all of my students working on a math problem we left half finished in the class time before. Not only were they all working without being told, they were helping each other out!  It's even more incredible because what high schooler actually wants to do Radioactive Decay problems?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lessons from last week

  1. Identity is communal, not individual.  Even if you try, you can never distance yourself from those who have had an impact on your life, no matter how big or small, because you will always carry them with you.  In the same way, you can't run away from your problems, these conflicts will always be a part of you, and the only thing you can do is confront them and hope to learn from them so as to make them a part of your strength, not a part of your weakness.
  2. Hondurans generally don't understand #1.  Especially not young girls, even those here at the school who have one hundred times the education and the opportunities that others in Guaimaca and the aldeas have.  I first dealt with this when Sandra ran away after last this past week Diana, a very intelligent, responsible student in my senior class, one of the strongest personalities and leaders in the Center, ran away with her boyfriend to escape some difficult situations with her mother.  She at least came to the Center and canceled everything, but it was very frustrating and sad.  At this point in her life, 16 or 17 years old, she sees no other option but to run away, when there are so many people who care about her and are willing to help her.  
  3. Nothing is simple, especially not in a different culture.  I know very little about the culture here, even after more than a year.  Last year I was astounded that so many things I took as normal are only normal for where I grew up...and this year as I meet more people, develop stronger relationships, leave our bubble of comfort in the house more, I am learning so much more.  It's hard not to be insensitive at times, when you don't even know that's what you're doing.
  4. I like dancing bachata!  Alex tried teaching us in the beginning of the year, that didn't go so well, but last week some people from the HOPE group who know how to dance taught the girls during our gym class, so I practiced every day with them.
  5. I always tell the truth, and have an impulse to do so that maybe I should try to curb more often.  The truth, in the form of bluntness, certain facial expressions, and unnecessary information, isn’t always a good thing.
  6. Nothing worth having comes easy, and if it comes easy, maybe it’s not worth having.
  7. From my friend’s six year old sister, “Don’t be sad that she died because even after people die they continue living in our hearts.”  The sick woman I have been taking care of every weekend died on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book Drive for the Library

Please help out our school library by checking out the wishlist below and making any contribution you can.  The library is in desperate need of some fresh material, so thank you very much in advance!

Also, thanks to Cassie, who has been putting this together.

Book Drive Wishlist

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

School Update

I have a lot of classes this trimester, double what I had last year in the first trimester.  I am teaching Biology, Chemistry, and a Math Review for both Primero and Segundo Bachillerato, as well as the workshops--English and theater--and Physical Education.  So, it’s a lot, but so far I’m doing well with all of it.
I really enjoy being in front of the classes teaching, but I’m finding it harder and harder to meet my own expectations with preparing beforehand.  I want to be very prepared, and to engage my students in more ways than a straight-forward lecture, so I’ve been trying to develop different methods and to switch it up.  For instance, I’ve been doing a mix of lecture, PowerPoint, activities, guided work, and of course the labs that we do every week at the farm.  However, I have never been good at continuously working on projects, usually leaving things to the last minute.  Last year and this year with teaching, I have begun to realize that it’s not just that I’m lazy, it’s a big part of my personality.  A lot of times I surprise myself while teaching because I come up with examples or ways to explain things that I can’t do while planning ahead, but when my brain has to work fast, it makes more connections.
So, I’m not sure I would be cut out to be a teacher for the rest of my life and have to prepare even more than I do now.  Like I said, I love being in the classroom, but that time is probably only about half the total time it takes to teach.
My students this year have been great, so far.  Because they knew me from last year and were more used to my teaching style than my students were in the beginning of last year, they are much more open and participate well.  They are also able to think a little more abstractly and critically, and it’s been pretty rewarding to teach them so far.  For example, I have started giving some surprise, short timed quizzes in class, something I didn’t really do last year, and they have been steadily improving and learning how to study between classes and how to take tests.  Last year I really struggled with how to improve test performance, and how to get them to manage their time, and this has so far seemed to be working out.
Outside of class, my relationship with the girls is different.  As I mentioned earlier, they are more comfortable with me.  They no longer see me as the new person/gringo, and I feel much more a part of the daily life.  This has been great with the classes, with being able to relate to them on a deeper level, and with helping out Christina and Alex, but it has also been a little tough at times.  I know I’m not going to be here next year, and it’s hard looking at some of them, who have become such important parts of my life, and realizing that I might not see them much after this.  However, the girls often don’t seem to see this, and act around me as they would for someone who is a constant in their life.  

So far, life at the Center has been pretty tranquil and very enjoyable.  Just as it did last year, the experience there with the girls has already helped me through some really difficult times.  Part of the reason I haven’t been posting regularly is that I’ve been really busy outside of school (I’ll post about that later), but also that it has been really hard for me to reflect and write recently, with some difficult experiences I have encountered.
This is kind of a general and brief update, but hopefully I will be able to get back into the rhythm of posting, and things will be more specific and informative.  Until the next time we talk, God bless you!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Tomorrow is Another Day

I just re-read last year’s journal entry from the day before school.  Reading it through, I smiled a bit as I read last year’s worries and concerns and remembered sitting here, writing about all of them.  
Looking back at last year, the first two weeks seemed to go on forever.  This year, however, they seemed to fly by, because I knew more about what to expect, and because I’m enjoying every moment in a different way than last year.  It’s no longer the new experience (some of it is but not all), it’s a great experience that I want to savor every minute of (I only have one more year here?!).  My perspective and enjoyment has changed and matured in the last year.
One of the biggest concerns last year was the language.  It’s still a concern, but more so that I’m concerned for Christina’s sake, as I’m aware of how difficult the initial couple of weeks are.  But, she has been practicing a lot and already improved, so after a while of keeping her head above water she’ll learn how to swim.
I talked a lot about the relationship with Manuel at the farm and Andrea at the school...those are still two of our most important relationships.  When I saw Manuel for the first time he gave me a huge, unexpected, hug, so obviously something worked last year.  Andrea is someone I really lean on and count on for a lot, and a great friend.  I’m really excited to continue to develop these, and other, relationships.  But, because I over-think everything, again, I’m already dreading saying goodbye.
I’m still excited about that one poster I made last Alex would say, BOOM.
But, this year my workload has pretty much doubled from what it was in the first trimester last year.  Things that I have going for me are that I now speak the language decently well, that I already know the system, that I already know most of the girls, that I know more of what to expect in the classroom, and that I have a lot of material and ideas from last year.  Last year I mentioned that it would be nice to have materials and more of a curriculum to pass on to the next year’s teacher...who would have thought that would be myself?  It will be nice to have another trimester to solidify and expand what I have.  Expand not only in detail but in depth; I am now the science teacher for the juniors in addition to the seniors.  
I’m also excited for some of the workshops we have, including theatre, art, English, and an hour of free “fun” time on Monday nights, in addition to the Gym classes.  
I’m going to close out this entry the same as the entry exactly a year ago and ask for your best wishes and luck.  We’re all a little nervous, but I know from experience that we’ll do well once that rubs off.  And now, I’m more excited than nervous.  I didn’t realize just how excited until tonight during our reflection, but I can’t wait!

A few highlights from the week

Seeing Frandy Marilyn last weekend in the park, and the two of us breaking into the biggest grins, and then sharing a big hug.  I spent a little bit of time with her after that and gave her some pictures from last year, and was left really happy after seeing her.  She’s cutting coffee now, but hopefully going to live with her grandmother and Ledy in Tegus, the two of them working until they apply to the Pedagogical University (Marilyn) and the Agricultural University (Ledy).
Seeing Sandra in the park this weekend, and impulsively running down the street to catch her.  She couldn’t make eye contact though, and talking to her I felt like I was slipping down a greased slide, trying to catch on to anything.  I told her I was glad to see her, especially since I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see her again, and she said she was glad to see me, but I could tell that we both felt sad after parting.  It was like I wasn’t supposed to see her and I forced Destiny into doing what I wanted it to, and I paid for it.
The pilgrimage of the Virgin of Suyapa to the Basilica in Tegus.  The Basilica is unnecessarily huge and had nice stained glass windows, but they looked better in the pictures I took than in real life.  There’s a legend that the statue of the Virgin prefers to be in the older, smaller and shabbier church, and often moves there on her own.  But, although I couldn’t understand much of the service because of the huge echo, it was great to be in the midst of hundreds and hundreds of people from the parishes in our area, all so enthusiastic and fervent.  That energy was really cool, but what was even better was the ten minutes we spent praying in the chapel where they keep the Holy Eucharist.  It was such a reverent place, filled with so many very reverent people.  While I was praying I felt the Holy Spirit fold me up in a quiet peace and love.  It was a moment of security and clarity, and I received a lot of guidance from just that one moment.  However, I know that it’s not just a product of that one moment, but of all of the moments I have spent since coming here a year ago praying, reflecting, participating, and just listening.  While I was home I felt at times like it was put on pause, but since coming back, especially this week during the various services, I feel more and more at home in myself and in my faith.
Random thought from Holy Hour on Thursday:  Jesus was both Man and God.  If it is Him that we are to emulate and follow, we need to act, think and speak as both Man and God.  That may seem irreconcilable, but it’s really not if we remember that we were made in God’s image.  Not necessarily a physical image (we place too much stock in what He or we look like), but we were made in His image when we were given the Godly qualities and abilities of Love, Peace, Wisdom, Respect, Empathy...and now we have to remember the two greatest commandments, and live as humans in the expression and sharing of God inside of us.  We can’t lean too far to one side--we should not wait until we die to live with God, but neither should we abandon or ignore our human happinesses, relationships, desires--if that was what was wanted of us, Jesus would have come as either a man, or as God, not both.  How have I let God shine through my daily life today?  How have I taken a moment to be human today?   Have I given others the chance to express their own human and God-like nature today?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

More Information

Be sure to check out Alex's, Christina's, and Sister Marta's blogs (links to the right).

Row on left: Pineapple, cabbage, watermelon.  Middle row: Aloe and peppers.  Third row: Oregano, cilantro, mint.

Here's a picture of our garden.  I'm pretty excited to keep it going and to harvest in a couple of months!  Hopefully we'll get some tomatoes soon.

Also check back for another post sometime this weekend.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


This week we have been working every day at the Center, about 8-5.  Ermin has been building the benches in the new gazebo, and Alex and I have been helping.  “Helping” is sometimes a loose term because he has such a clear picture of what he wants to do in his mind that he just goes and does it, and he’s so proficient that he does it very quickly.  Throughout the week I would pick up something and help if I were able to anticipate it or if it looked like he needed help, but most of the time Alex and I have just been watching.  I stayed most of the time with Ermin just in case he needed something, and Alex often went to go prepare for classes.  I figured that, if one of us were to stay, it should be me because I have already taught once, and he would need more time to get ready.
However, it was still a little frustrating because I would have liked more time to prepare if I wasn’t going to be doing anything.  Although, it has been good to learn from Ermin by watching, and the last day and a half we were able to do a lot more, which included nailing the small back pieces onto the benches and coating them with sealant.  It will be nice to have done something that will last and be so useful.

Saturday, in contrast, was a very productive day.  First thing in the morning we headed out to the farm, where we worked on covering the top of one of the greenhouses with plastic.  Between the three of us, a couple of guys from a volunteer group that’s here this week, and a few of the workers at the farm, we got three big sections done, now there’s only one more to do.  After that section is finished, the sides will be covered with a more breathable cloth type material, and then it will be ready to use.  Last year Chris worked a lot on the greenhouses, and was worried that it would just kind of falter and stop, but it looks like the momentum has kept going, considering the three farm workers who were there were doing it on their own time, just to help out.
That morning was enjoyable because it was something I had wished I could have been more involved with, and because it gave me the chance to climb the greenhouse poles like a grownup playground, or as Doris said, like a mono (monkey).
Then, after fixing my bike, we started digging up a part of the yard to plant a small garden.  It’s something we always said we would like to do last year, but it was just impossible with the dogs we had.  We don’t have that problem anymore, which is a long story involving rat poison that was put out the day before we arrived.
But, the garden is looking really nice.  The hardest part was breaking ground because, between the thick grass roots and the hard soil, it was like chipping away at rock.  After all that, however, I made three beds, each about ten feet long, putting some of the compost from the farm in the middle.  A little later on today, I’m going to plant some pepper, cabbage and watermelon plants that our neighbor across the street gave us, as well as the aloe, mint, cilantro and oregano plants that we have in pots.  Hopefully we can get some basil soon, and then in a little bit we’ll plant some tomatoes.  After those plants run through their seasons, we can try to plant some corn and beans, and maybe cucumbers, onions and carrots.  All organic, of course.
Gardens are different here because the concept of “gardening” doesn’t really exist.  It’s planting for sustenance or for sale, usually not for relaxation or for making your yard look nice, which may be motives when gardening at home.  Also, like I said, the soil here is hard, and not that fertile, so it makes sustaining projects difficult.  One of my other worries is that, when it rains or when we water the garden, water will pool there and breed mosquitos.  Right now I don’t really have an irrigation system dug in, but I may have to make that if it becomes a problem.
Alexandra helping out

Our garden prepared and ready for planting when it cools off a little

I have found, from daily life as well as from working on the farm, that I like working with my hands, no matter how much whining we may have done as kids.  I guess some of what I did when I was younger must have stuck at some point, so thanks to my parents for putting up with me.  Well, I should mention that right now I am procrastinating from sweeping the house, so I guess I still might not like doing the obligatory chores. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First day of work

So, I mean to post every Friday, but we were traveling all day this past Friday, and today seems like the best day to post after that.

I could talk for a long time about how great (and completely different) it feels to be back here in Guaimaca, but hopefully you'll get the gist of it from this shorter comment on the day's activities.  I have made a commitment, both for my own sanity and your time, to keep the posts shorter than what I routinely wrote last year.

This morning, we met a lot of the parents and saw some of the girls as they came in for a meeting and to receive their final grades from last year.  I already knew most of the parents, so it was really nice to see them again and to be welcomed back warmly.

Last year, I felt like I never actually met the parents, at least not until they or I introduced ourselves later and talked about their daughters, soccer, farming, or something else.  That was because I had a lot of trouble communicating, because there never was a meeting like this last year, because I felt like a gringo outsider, and because last year I was more nervous and less outgoing.

This year, however, was completely different.  I was able to enter right in and converse with the parents, whether it was just small talk or some more meaningful conversations.  It really made me realize how much I still love my job--this isn't teaching, exactly, but it's one of the important aspects of the job that I find myself really enjoying.  Also, it made me realize again how much I grew over the past year.  I not only learned the language, I met and got to know myself and my values, and I am much more confident and centered now.  The worries I had (have) about never finding my place and never finding myself as happy as last year are starting to dissipate a little as I live every day, growing to know myself, communicating myself better, and applying myself in ways I never thought of before.  But, most importantly, I am much more faithful, and find that life is just better each day because of it.

What was also amazingly great today was seeing the girls who came.  There was a mix of all the grades represented, and they were some of the ones I talked to the most and had the most to share with out of all of the girls.  Yesterday during our reflection I mentioned that I was a little sad seeing some of the students around town this weekend, because it emphasized how little we relate outside of school.  But, I forgot that the girls just generally act differently outside of the school walls (the low self-esteem), and I also forgot that it's only true that we relate little with some of them, but not all.  The girls I saw and talked to today reminded me of how much we shared.

Digna, Karla Julissa and Blanca all looked significantly more mature; it makes me feel proud to see them growing.  All of them asked for Chris and Cassie, and several, including Meily, Digna and Suamy Paola, were pretty sad not to see you, Cassie.  Meily kept sighing and saying that she couldn't live without you. I told them that I have a hug for each of them from you, but that I left it in our house.  When they need it I'll give it to them.

One of the parents I talked with was Sandra's father.  He seemed very upset, even saying that she betrayed them (the family).  He talked to me a lot about it, which surprised me.  I didn't think he would open up like that, especially not with the whole machismo thing.  However, he also talked about some of their other troubles; it seemed like he really just needed someone to talk to.  I told him that I plan on talking with her, that I have graduation gifts for her, and that they can always count on my prayers and support.  It wasn't much, but it was all I could do.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I forget

Sometimes I forget that, despite how much I may have learned, I and my faith will continue to be tested, and that even if I work with some goals in mind, they're not necessarily exactly the same as God's goals.

This afternoon I was again struck with a deep appreciation for my family because, in my despair over the situation with Sandra, they reminded me of my faith.  Sandra may not immediately be doing what we discussed, but I need to have faith that what I did was part of God's plan, just as her current choice was.  Even if I understand none of it.

And, I was reminded again of how fortunate I am with my friends.  Today I received some wise teacher advice from one, which helped put things in perspective.  Then, after reading some simple words in an email (not specifically about the current situation) from Meg, my friend volunteering with the Peace Corps in Thailand, I was reminded why I do what I do.  These three lines, "I am really proud of you. You found happiness in the process of providing happiness to others. What more can we ask for?" reminded me of the little things that make it worthwhile.

I wanted to delete the last post because I'm not exactly proud of my reactions and doubts, but it's honest. We all forget sometimes, right?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Take the good with the bad...

Or is it the bad with the good?

One week until we're in Guaimaca!  I'm pretty excited, but a little nervous.  Last year I was nervous for many definable reasons, including the community life, the language, teaching, cultural differences, safety...and this year these concerns are all present again, but differently.  For example, I still have a decent handle on Spanish, and it's going to come back quickly, but what if I never progress beyond where I was last year?  Last year I was scared to step into the classroom because I had never done it before, this year I'm nervous to step into the classroom because I will be teaching new students, and I'm afraid to find out that the only reason I enjoyed the experience so much last year was that the group of girls I was with and I developed a strong relationship, and that my new students and I won't do so.

But, like I said, I'm mostly excited.  I know that last year was last year, that, except for the mark it left on me, it's gone.  This year will be a completely new experience, and I'm looking forward to finding out what that entails.  I will be much more comfortable in my surroundings than I was in the beginning of last year, so I will be able to start enjoying life and pulling as much as I can out of the day to day interactions.

This excitement comes at the tail end of two difficult and worrisome weeks.  Honduras has recently received a lot more news coverage, and the safety situation has been called into question.  Safety is always an issue in Latin America, especially Honduras, but this year the concerns surfaced strongly enough that Kris and Stonehill really had to evaluate the program.  Fortunately for us and the Center, they were able to contact several groups working in the country, including the sisters and Father Craig, to get a real idea of how things currently are, a perspective that I was afraid would be overlooked in the face of the recent news, which like much media coverage, is either not entirely informed or at least slanted.  So, the possibility of not going was very hard to deal with, but we received an email yesterday informing us that, based on all of the investigation they performed, we will still have the opportunity to go to Guaimaca and live this incredible service experience.

In all I was really pleased and happy with the response Stonehill took to the situation.  Kris made a lot of calls to organizations in Honduras, and considered the situation from every angle.  The prompt and responsible response they made strengthened my already strong trust and faith in our program, and helped lend me a bit of peace, which I need as I go back...especially in light of the news I received recently about Sandra.

Sandra, always the top of my class last year (with academics and with daily expression of the school's values), wanted to become a math teacher, something I was really pleased about.  Her succeeding and rising from an aldea to a very well respected profession, teaching and motivating younger generations, is exactly what I would hope to see as the outcome of my work.  That situation is so much better than a culture dependent on foreign's great that young people want to go and help, but the most we can do, the most I can do, is lend a helping hand to the start of this process.  Neither I, nor any volunteer, can create the type better future that Sandra could contribute to.

Before I left last year, I sat down with each of the seniors and had an exit interview type reflection with them, about where they had been, what they have learned, and where they will be going.  I am not going to write more about that--it was pretty personal and emotional--but I had high hopes for all of them, especially Sandra.  

And now, this week, I heard that she was having problems in her house and that she had left to go to her boyfriend's house.  It's not that unusual for a 17 year old Honduran to run away from her problems, it's actually not that unusual for a Honduran of any age to run away, at least not from our experiences with some of the girls' families.  But, the message that I got from Sandra in response to something I sent her, saying that she was there for good, was unexpected and...very hard to read.  I'm going to try to talk with her when I get back, but there's a good chance she will already be pregnant, or that I will just never see her again.

What good is it, in the long run, that I go to Honduras for a year and teach the values that the Center and I share, if even the most promising students can't escape their cultural history?