The summer has quickly come to an end. One can feel the plants and animals preparing for the rainy season. Man included, as vegetables and the staple, maíz
, are harvested and another planting of beans is underway. The heat has only diminished slightly, and I still usually arrive to school in the mornings completely soaked in sweat. But it has begun to rain more consistently in the afternoons, and clouds offer us welcome protection from the intensity of the sun. Recently, I’ve been focusing my energy on the community library project and community members were elected to different positions on a committee that will be imperative to the project’s success. Last month, myself and a few high school students here in El Pital got together as many kids from the town as we could for the first evening storytime at the high school, where the library is planned to take root. After opening the gathering with a few newly-learned Spanish sing alongs, Kensy and Durkis, two of the high school students, shared storytelling responsibilities while a couple of parents and I sat with the group of about 40 kids to keep the peace, if you will. The idea is that this becomes a more regular thing, along with other activities, so that in people’s minds the space is not just where books are kept, but also where communal learning takes place. Next week we will have the second installment!
As far as the library is concerned, I am also working on a grant proposal for this project so that in the next couple of years there are some funds to continue to develop the space into something extraordinary, something that will truly bring about change in the way the community sees learning, and the opportunities which it provides. I’m also just starting to compile all my notes and data which I collected throughout this year while visiting the 22 schools in the cuenca and interviewing teachers and directors. Before I leave in December, I will have a report that, aside from providing demographic and statistical data, will also contain my descriptions and impressions of each school, as well as my suggestions for the best way to tackle the most common needs.
Most importantly, my relationships with people here continue to develop into what I hope will be lasting friendships. I know that I have not learned everything that people here can teach me, nor have I shared all I wish to share with them
The summer has quickly come to an end. One can feel the plants and animals preparing for the rainy season. Man included, as vegetables and the staple, maíz
Here in the Cangrejal watershed, I continue to feel blessed to be a part of the creation of new relationships, of the search for new ways of approaching old problems, and to be able to learn from the people here while passing along to them some of the few things I have been taught. English classes up in the community of La Muralla continue to be the highlight of my time here, with each class resulting in a new world of ideas being opened up to both teacher and students. The students are on break for the week as I type this, and I am using the time away from teaching and carrying out my school assessments to really lay down the direction for the rest of the year. Considering that I only have two days a week with these students and that they are so young (1st thru 5th grade), my goals have more to do with them exploring new ways of learning and thinking than having a command of the English language. That being said, I really am amazed at how much these kids are retaining. Next week I will be joined by a few visiting volunteers to do some art projects on Tuesday and Thursday that will hopefully help us to learn vocabulary dealing with shapes and colors.
I have visited about half of the schools in the cuenca cangrejal and am starting to see some clear patterns. The most glaring issue to me is the inability of the municipalidad to encourage teachers to stay longer than a year or two in these schools where a teacher’s understanding of each student’s stage of development, family life, and strengths is so integral to their learning. There is also an incredible lack of resources and variety in learning/teaching methods. When I have visited all of the schools and sorted through all of the data and observations, I plan on writing a comprehensive report to share with anyone interested so that, in the future, Un Mundo and others can together help to expand the opportunities for children growing up in this area.
Next week I will be flying to Chicago to spend a week in the midwest. Aside from spending some time with my friends and family, I will be picking up books from a couple of book drives organized a few months back that will hopefully be a good addition to the community library that is starting to develop in El Pital. I will also be publicizing a benefit concert for Un Mundo’s work in the cuenca that is going to be held on Thursday, June 25th in Madison, WI. My friends, the Madison-based funk and reggae band Chafo will be performing along with another good friend, Malian musician Tani Diakite and his Malian Blues Band. The following Saturday I will be attending a wedding to celebrate the union of two of my good friends in the northwoods of Wisconsin. Thinking of returning to the United States gives me mixed feelings of course, as I am really excited to see friends and family and for these wonderful events that will be happening, but I am not looking forward to being surrounded by the mindless consumption that can be so prevalent there, the effects of which the majority seldom ponders.
This Thursday I will be holding a meeting in El Pital to try and generate some excitement around the library and the formation of a group of people who will ideally become the leaders and guardians of this community space that has yet to be a reality. I am confident that, with the right people involved, this space can eventually become more than a room with books in it, and evolve into a place where community members of all ages can access ideas, information and resources that will ultimately help expand and open up community consciousness.
A lot has changed since the last time I wrote my blog. I really feel a part of the community now. Walking down the street I hear ‘Hola Mauri’ from every direction. I am currently living with the same family I stayed with the second two weeks I was here. I moved into another house for a month which was nice because it gave me a chance to get to know another family. However, their brother was moving home so they needed the extra room, so I moved back with Lourdes and Ramon. It’s perfect; my relationship with Lourdes is amazing. I can definitely say she is my best friend here in El Pital. There building a new house which is almost done so we should be moving into that house very shortly. I know the family is really excited to move especially because the father built the house by hand so it is quite an accomplishment. I am definitely going to miss my current neighbors though. I play cards and draw pictures with all the little girls almost every night. But at least I am only moving across the street a little ways so it’s not bad at all.
As for my work, it has really picked up. I am still heading to the clinic in El Pital and in Yaruca two times a week. The clinic in Yaruca has a lot more help than that of El Pital so it is interesting to see the differences. The clinic in Yaruca has a Cuban doctor who will be working with them for the next two years. They also have a technician, Don Rey, who does mapping of all the aldeas around Yaruca. One of the first days I went to the clinic I had the chance to go out with him and give rabies vaccinations to all the dogs. You can only access this village by walking up a small path for about one hour. It was really interesting, especially because I have never stuck a needle into anything let alone a dog that is trying to bite my head off. He also taught me how to check for mosquito larva that can spread dengue and malaria and then how to treat the water. I think I will get a chance to learn a lot about the surrounding areas from him, which will be interesting.
Elly and I recently had our first women’s group meeting with the women of El Pital. We hope to use the women’s group to organize the women and give them a sort of representation in the community. It is also just a chance to have some fun and enjoy each other’s company. I am really excited to get to know the women better and have a chance to hang and and talk with them more. I have also started working on the health clinic surveys. These surveys allow Un Mundo to get a better idea of what the needs are of the health clinics in the area and also what each health clinic offers in terms of medical care. I’m excited to learn more about the Puesto de Saluds that are set up in the mountain communities, because I currently know very little about what their purposes are besides they help with treatment of malaria. I have also begun to locate and talk with the parteras or midwives, in the Cuenca. I hope to partner with the Rio Viejo Health clinic and hold midwife trainings with the doctors there. It isn’t going to be easy to find some of these midwives since some live far in the mountains and are of elderly ages. Since many of the midwives are of such old ages I hope to find new interested people so that the practice does not fade away. Especially since many of these women in this area cannot get to a hospital to give birth it would be nice to have someone in their community who has training and can assist. I am excited to talk to them all and see if any traditional medicines are still being used and to learn about their experiences being a midwife in these rural communities.
To think that just two weeks ago I was sitting on my couch listening to the newscaster talk about the cold and windy day we were going to have. Now the thought of cold weather is at the back of my mind and air conditioning is like a dream. I think I can get used to the weather, though, along with a lot of the everyday life in El Pital and La Cuenca Cangrejal.
The Cangrejal river valley is beautiful, including everything from the mountains to the people. I have been living with the family of Lito and Suyapa. They have three beautiful girls, Ericka, Jaime, and Miley, along with a son who I did not have a chance to get to know while living with the family. However, he recently came home from working in Copan and I did get to meet him. He seems just as amazing as the family described and I can see why they are so proud.
Don Lito is a pastor at one of the Evangelical churches in town. There are currently two Evangelical churches and one Catholic. It’s safe to say that religion is a big part of the lives of many families in this community. I had the experience of accompanying the family to Mass a couple times. It was much different than the typical Catholic masses I am used to and much longer. The pastor and other speakers are very passionate and full of emotion and the whole church is involved in singing and dancing. It was a great experience and I was really happy they invited me to come.
The second family I am currently living with is that of Lourdes and Ramon. They have one beautiful daughter together named Joselin, who is 12 years old. It has been a great experience living with two different families. It has definitely allowed me to really get a sense of different family life in the community. In the second house, due to its location, I have had the ability to meet a ton of the children living in El Pital along with other mothers. I can definitely say playing dodge ball is still one of my favorite sports.
During the week I have been spending my time getting acquainted with the nurse, Mundo, at the El Pital Health Center. He is fairly new to this health center so I think together we can make big improvements. Since he is the only worker at the clinic as well, I think he enjoys the help. To help me get an idea of the health concerns and issues in the area I have been giving consults with him and looking over different statistics of the area for the past year. Soon I will have the chance to meet the members of the health committee in El Pital, which I am really excited about as well.
Kency, a highschooler in El Pital, also joins us in the afternoon. She has become a good friend of mine and recently invited me to the Father’s Day celebration at the high school. All the high-schoolers got together and put on drama shows and dances for the fathers in the area. It was fun and I was happy to see they have such a great celebration for fathers.
I have also had the chance to meet Dr. Black, who is from Texas and currently lives in La Ceiba. He runs a health clinic in Las Mangas, the closest aldea to El Pital. He has been working is this region for eight years now, so he will definitely be a great resource for any issues or concerns Un Mundo may have. I am excited to begin planning different projects related to health and really start making things happen.
As of now though I can definitely say I am glad to be a part of Un Mundo and I think they work they have already done and the work we hope to do is an amazing thing. Can’t wait to tell you more soon. …
Each morning, waking to the sound of the roosters of El Pital crowing even before dawn blesses the valley, I must be thankful for finding myself so fortunate (as we all must, as we see each new day). I have spent my first month in the cuenca cangrejal spending time in three different homes, the hosts in which have all been incredibly gracious. Rob and Elly have been very helpful in sharing their thoughts, time, and living space with me (not to mention food) as I become acclimated to my new environment. Waking up one day in the middle of a Wisconsin winter, and waking the next day breathing tropical air can be funky for the body and mind. After the first few days and nights just getting to know the area a bit, I spent two weeks with a wonderful family who taught me many Hondureñismos, the art of tortilla making, and a plethora of things about daily life in the cuenca. Living with this family was truly a heartwarming experience.
During the days here, I’ve been focusing my energy on developing a curriculum for teaching twice-weekly English classes in the mountain village of La Muralla, establishing relationships with people of all ages in El Pital and neighboring aldeas, and brainstorming, writing down ideas, planning for the year. The latter mental activity has been primarily directed towards: the “Biblioburro” program we are developing which will bring books and magazines, as well as a book- making workshop, to some of the more remote villages in the area via burro, or donkey; a potential music program, most likely centered on learning about different musical cultures around the world as a vehicle to increased awareness of different people, places and sounds; and developing a questionnaire/survey to take with me to all of the schools in the cuenca so that we may gain a better understanding of the educational opportunities offered in all of the communities here. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I make the hike up to the village of La Muralla to give English lessons to the twenty or so elementary school kids there. It’s a multilevel classroom, with a handful of kids in each grade, first through fifth, so I have my work cut out for me. Nevertheless, it is a blast working with these children, as well as learning from the teacher there on how to accommodate such a wide age range of learners.
I was also invited to play guitar at the wedding of a newly made friend the second week I was here, which was a great opportunity to meet many people and “break the ice” so to speak. The church was packed and I think people enjoyed my rendition of “Is this Love?” by Bob Marley. Also in the music vein, I’ve been organizing a couple of music fundraisers for this summer, as well as a small book drive (both back in the U.S.) to raise awareness of this area of the world in the case of the former, and to get a start on building a library for the Biblioburro program.
But, of course, much of this first month has been simply soaking in the new, and listening. More to come soon…
When conducting an official census, what are the unofficial, unaccounted for questions of a community? Are some facts more significant than others? Who asks the questions and who gets to answer them? In this project, we set out to explore the questions that go unaccounted for in an official census by inaugurating a “census of the senses.”
The seed for the idea emerged from that fact that El Pital recently went through the census process to gather information and capture facts related to livestock, literacy, yearly income, number of people per family, etc. Rachel and I thought about how the official anything always omits the unofficial everything of life. We wanted to pose the idea of politicizing a census through a poetic investigation of it. Some might call this a kind of “mocking” of official census gathering, but we like to think of it more like a lovely counterpart to the official work of gathering community information.
In partnership with Un Mundo, the students of El Pital, and Break Arts, we designed a workshop that would encourage students ages 13-16 years old to investigate the hidden and layered feelings of a community. We knew we wanted to combine the power of text and image with the public performance of a cordel, based on the tradition of “string literature” hanging from ropes in the public squares of Brazil, dating back to the 1500’s (appendix A). Beyond that, we invited the students to guide the direction and scope of this project, asking the students to direct the content and questions (appendix B). We wanted teenagers in El Pital to consider the differences between qualititative and quantitative research, and to consider the poetics that exist behind census numbers. Finally, for ourselves and for our students, we wanted to use the arts as social practice to help us “make sense of a census” by playing with the notion of “official” when speaking about feeling. In this way, all of us were digging for and illuminating a kind of intelligence rooted in feeling.
We hoped that this project would instigate meaningful and otherwise muted conversation on a question of collective interest and significance. The project is multi-disciplinary to capture voices and perspectives. This was a four day project, limited by the fact that Honduran teachers had been on strike due to not being paid for over 6 months of work.
For more information on this workshop visit:
Written by Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein
Thanks to the many generous donors, in December, I was able to return to El Pital, Honduras. During my week back, teaching dance to thechildren I had worked with this summer, I was able to reconnect withthe Lobo family, organize a community art project for Maria’s memorial,and put on the dance concert that was postponed this summer.
As you may remember, I spentfive weeks in Honduras this past July teaching jazz, ballet, and hip-hopto children in the five-hundred-person village of El Pital. The dayof the concert, we learned that Maria Lobo, an incredible woman thatI stayed with my second week in Honduras, had died in childbirth.
When I left Honduras this summer,I felt my work there was not complete, and I wanted to help the communityhonor Maria in a way poverty had not allowed. I have been overwhelmedby your response to my story and am thrilled to share that togetherwe raised over $1,600 for the people of El Pital.
Those funds made three majorprojects possible: First, I was able to return to Honduras the firstweek of December to teach refresher dance classes and lead a dance concerton Sunday, December 8th. Second, the community was able toexpress their thoughts about Maria on ceramic tiles that we decoratedand will cement over her resting place. Finally, ten children with specialneeds will be able to attend a school in La Ceiba, Honduras for thefirst time in their lives, starting in February 2009, as the funds willcover the transportation and entrance costs their families cannot afford.
The dance performance was awonderful experience for me, and I believe equally so for the kids andtheir families. Although the power went out for two hours before theperformance, leaving us without music to practice, it was restored justin time for the show. After the boys and girls performed their individualnumbers and did a coed merengue dance, the kids continued dancing whenthe show was over and wanted to know when we would have our next practice!I hope to return to El Pital in a summer or two to teach classes again,but for now, I feel so thankful to have had this opportunity.
Dear Supporters, Family and Friends:
THANK YOU!!! As of today, November 17, 2008, we have raised a total of $1,255 for the dance concert this December. I am speechless with gratitude and feel so excited to share your generosity with a community in need.
We were able to find very affordable transportation for my return to Honduras, so your support not only fully covers that transport, the concert, and the permanent art memorial, but has allowed $500 to be set aside to help start the “Special Needs Scholarship.” This Scholarship will help get children with disabilities in Honduras into school for the first time. It will cover the cost of transportation to a special school in La Ceiba, as well as school supplies that families in El Pital cannot afford.
One child in particular that will benefit from the program, is a nine-year-old boy born with Cerebral Palsy, who doctors believed would never speak. Remarkably, this boy started speaking at six-years-old without any formal education. This August, Elly and I worked with him one afternoon on learning the alphabet. We showed him “A, B and C” and noticed him the next day, tracing these letters into the dirt outside. His desire to learn was so inspiring, and I can’t wait to see him in school for the first time.
There are many children in the area that hope to attend this special school, and further donations to Un Mundo on my behalf will go directly to the operation of the “Special Needs Scholarship.” A gift of just $50 will allow a child to attend school for a month. If you are interested in donating to help children with special needs in Honduras attend school, you can donate through this secure website.
Thank you all again for your encouragement, generosity, and support. The people I met in Honduras changed my life. They treated me with such kindness, hospitality and generosity. I am so glad, to now share those things in return. If you would like to know more, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Your continued support means so much to me, Un Mundo, and the families in El Pital.
Dear Supporters, Family, and Friends:
The first week of December 2008, I will be heading back to El Pital, Honduras to teach a week of refresher dance courses to the students that I worked with this summer. At the end of the week we will hold a performance for the kids to show off their incredibly hard work to their families and friends. This performance will also be in honor of the woman who passed away this August, and we will offer everyone the chance after the show to participate in making an art piece that will be displayed at her resting place.
I am working to raise $1,000 to cover the costs of transportation back to Honduras, funds for the food, drinks and set-up for the concert itself, and finally, funds for a permanent art piece in honor of this woman’s memory for the community to participate in creating.
All of the funds raised over this amount will support Un Mundo’s on-going projects, including building the first public high-school in the area, starting a library in the community, and securing funds to help children with special needs afford transportation to attend a special school in the city of Ceiba. Un Mundo, also, will continue to work over the coming years to provide improved health services to the people in and around El Pital.
If you would like to find out more about my fundraising project, please email me directly at email@example.com. Please click on this link to donate to Un Mundo and to help us reach our goal of $1,000: http://www.unmundo.org/en/howtohelp/donatebyweb
Thank you for your continued support!!
I came down to Honduras in July 2008 with some cds burned with dance music, my tennis shoes, and very little knowledge of Spanish. The first few dance classes were, well, exhausting. I taught one group of girls, and one group of boys, mostly ages 8 – 12. My first class, I showed them clips from “Step Up,” and tried to introduce myself in my very sorry Spanish accent. These beginning classes showed me how much the kids wanted to dance, as they stared glossy-eyed at the dancers on the screen, and moved shyly to the music, but also how much I would need to keep them on track if we were going to get any learning accomplished, especially in time for the concert at the end of the month. When I pressed play on the ipod, the entire town was enticed to come and watch the classes, especially the young children who during two classes, chanted and threw the pits of their eaten mangoes into the high school while we tried to learn.
Into the second week, I started to nail down some Spanish words and realized that I needed to keep the kids moving throughout the entire hour to make sure that they stayed focused on dancing, and not on the spectators. I started to teach them each a specific dance combination, and then started teaching plies, leaps and turns. As El Pital adjusted to my loud music in the afternoon, the classes became more focused, and the kids came back every week, showing off their leaps during the final minutes of class and enjoying the free dance that included some of their favorite style, Reggaeton.
By the final week, my boyfriend Evan had joined me in Honduras, helping me communicate much more smoothly with my students in Spanish, and encouraging more of the older boys to join in the dance classes. Now, both the boys and girls finished learning their dance combinations and we started to discuss costumes and final details for the performance. We did a dress rehearsal the night before the show was to happen, and I can truly say that seeing them dance with such enthusiasm, filling the room with their stomping and leaping, with their shouts and turns, and showing me how well they had learned the combinations, made the entire trip worth it, in just those two short hours.
The day of the performance came, and we rode in the back of a pick-up truck to the school with pizzas, watermelons, sodas and scarves. The kids waited in front of the school gate in their “costumes:” white or black shirts and jeans. Shortly after we pulled into the school, however, we learned that a wonderful woman in El Pital had died in childbirth that morning. My second week in Honduras , I stayed with this woman and her incredibly accommodating family, and the blow of this news was too great to even think about continuing with the performance. One of her daughters was in my dance class, and out of respect for her, and her family, we cancelled the concert.
Looking back, I have several memories about my time in El Pital. I remember the fantastic views over waterfalls and in the mountains that I had no idea existed there. I remember the families I stayed with, their baleadas and soda and constant attention, and I remember sweating like crazy with a bunch of kids while the music blasted. I am hoping to return to Honduras in December for a week to put on the performance that was postponed, and to honor the memory of the woman who we lost that day. And finally, to see those kids get a chance to show off to their families and friends all of the hard work, joy and dedication they put into learning to dance.
Meredith Ferrill, Un Mundo Voluntee
The new High School in El Pital has made incredible progress; the second phase is just about finished with only
small details required before classes can be held in the new three-classroom building. We’ve run into obstacles
with the price of building materials constantly rising, although, the Director/contractor has found ways to cut
costs and finish the project on budget.
Community participation with this project is necessary in order for the funding to come through so the Transparency
Committee, whose job is to make sure money is being spent wisely, has also made it a priority to organize the people
of El Pital and the surrounding communities to donate labor to the school. On August 8th, 45 people from the
community came out and volunteered their time from 5am to 6pm in order to lay the roof.
With the recent additions to the High School the number of students have increased, leading the Ministry of
Education to allocate funds for more teachers and for the formation of a career specific education (trade school).
Students at the High School will now have the opportunity to learn many skills that were previously only offered in
the city of La Ceiba. Classes offered at the school include electrical engineering, carpentry, metallurgy, computer
literacy and home education.
Following the completion of the first phase of the project the Departmental Chair for the Ministry of Education came
out to the community of El Pital to inaugurate the formation of the trade school. The town of El Pital and
surrounding communities are excited for the improved educational system in the Cangrejal River Watershed.
We’ve had a busy couple of months, during April and May; we worked hard on a community survey to assess the needs in
the towns of El Pital and La Lucinda. We surveyed every single house in both communities, gathering census, needs,
and assets data, a task no other local organization had ever done. Visiting every house in El Pital was a fun but
daunting task. Many people were so welcoming and forth-giving with information, which sometimes made it difficult
Mapping El Pital with local kids to prepare for implementing survey
We’re compiling the data as I write this, so keep an eye out in the near future for the results on our website.
Once we obtain GIS (Geographical Information Systems) software we plan on mapping the areas of assessment. We feel
that this information will be beneficial when applying for grants and when writing reports on the work we do. We
plan on surveying one more community before the year is over and three in the coming year. With these results we
plan on developing programs in the villages farther up and down the valley based on the needs identified by each
Rob Tuebner, Un Mundo Co-Director
It’s been seven months since Elly and I arrived in Honduras to begin working in the Cangrejal Watershed. During our
time here we’ve witnessed many changes to the Un Mundo building, we’ve had some set backs but we’ve also had some
pleasant surprises. Our next major project is constructing a retaining wall below the building so that when the
rains come in October all the hard work will not be destroyed.
The building looks great though, the interior is painted, there’s a full kitchen, a composting toilet, an outdoor
shower, an office and the most recent addition was a much needed fan.
Getting electricity connected to the house was difficult to say the least, but after hassling the electrical company
and having to deal with the bureaucratic paperwork, a team finally came out and connected us to the grid. The new
high school students who recently began their electricity program have been kind enough to come out on their
Saturdays and donate their time to wire the inside of the building.
Now with the building is pretty much finished and our lives some what in order, we’ve been able to concentrate on
much more important issues around the work Un Mundo does in the River Valley.
Rob Tuebner, Un Mundo Co-Director