We are ending our last full week of our trip. We are shamelessly proud of the outcome of WEEKS of tireless work, and we feel that we have created a product that can be easily duplicated and shared in schools across the island to help students learn better and teachers teach better. I’d like to take this time to say a few words about the boxes and our project as a whole. As awesome as these cool plastic shoe boxes are, the purpose of our project was to create something that would affect the community on a larger level. What we have created are the first of what will be many similar lesson boxes. The purpose of the learning boxes is to create a very self-directed learning experience. All the lesson plans are designed so a student can come in and teach himself in a fun and very hands-on way. There are numerous activities to practice and reinforce the skills learned in each box so a student can check his answers and continue improving. The boxes were designed to be very low cost so they can be easily and cheaply duplicated. While we only made the first set of these boxes, PIER’s goal is to remake as many as 35 or more copies and distribute them in local schools. These learning kits will not only be a useful tool for students but also a way to help teachers to be more effective in the classroom. We created a total of 13 learning kits. 4 lessons in English, 4 in Mathematics, and 5 in Science. With that said, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience of creating something that will serve a positive purpose in the community.
Victoria (Sneha, Haritha, KC)
Wednesday turned out to be an incredible mid-week vacation day!
In the morning, Victoria and I got to visit a couple of schools. All of our grammar revision came in handy when the first teacher had us work with the kids on practicing their pronouns. We then played a fun story game, in which the kids got to come up with their own sentences and ideas individually, to put together a whole story. It was new for them but it got them talking and excited about us being there! The second school we visited was smaller, and for first graders and we had a great time there, reading a book to the children. We also really enjoyed all the flowers that a few kids kept running outside to pick and give to us while waiting for class to begin. The adventures of visiting schools was eye-opening and I hope we get a chance to go again before we leave.
After working at the center for a while, Patti, the person in charge of us volunteers, planned to give us a tour of the island of Roatan! This was when the real adventure began. We started our tour by first going to an Iguana Farm. It was incredible to be walking around so many iguanas! We got to feed them as well, which was scary at first because they would all start crawling on top of each other and yanking at the leaves to eat, but really cool. However, the scariest thing at the farm was definitely the turkey! A big turkey was just chilling with the iguanas, and as it started puffing up its feathers and walking towards me, I was definitely scared it would attack me.
We were all sad to leave the iguana farm, but excited to see the rest of the island, and Patti continued driving us along a very scenic route. Learning a lot about the different types of people who’ve settled here over the years, and stopping to admire the picturesque view every once in a while, we had an amazing tour of Roatan. We only got to scrape the surface of Roatan’s history and beauty, but we all loved every moment of it, and we came home exhausted but overjoyed at all of our experiences of the day! 😀
Today KC and I accompanied Brenda to one of the local schools to get a feel for the educational barriers we were facing. The first classroom – a Kindergarten one – had about thirty kids, all decked out in traditional white-collared and navy-skirted uniforms, huddled around two tables. Slightly peeling but colorful posters of the alphabet, basic numbers and the English words for different plants and animals hung from the bright yellow walls and sunlight filtered through the windows, giving the room a bright, positive glow – a precursor for what turned out to be a fantastic morning.
After the teacher introduced us to the class, we split into two smaller groups. KC read from the abnormally large copy of “Bear’s Walk” we had brought over from the Sand Castle Library-
– while I got the opportunity to relive my childhood and work on an art project with the other half of the class. The kids were a little shy at first and preferred to quietly stick their fingers in the small tubs of red, yellow and blue paint to create their own Starry Nights and Girls With Pearl Earrings than listen to my pathetic attempts at broken Spanglish. So instead I painted a flower, which was later admired then subtly taken by a charming little girl named Jemima, who proceeded to add her own sun and blossoms to the menagerie.
The rest of the students painted houses, ships, fishes and of course, more flowers, all of which we ended up hanging on the walls alongside a hand-drawn diagram of the human body, adding an extra burst of color to the already vibrant room.
After a thorough hand-washing which still left traces of blue permanently etched into my fingernails , we proceeded to the first-grade classroom next door, were I was able to get my camera out for their very nice welcome message:
Same drill, though the level of artistic talent was heightened as the kids worked diligently on their paintings and eagerly shouted out answers to KC’s intermittent questions about what the bear saw while walking through the forest.
This time however, the kids were definitely not camera shy as I went around taking pictures. A picture that started off as a portrait of one quickly multiplied as more and more earnestly tried squeezing into the frame, displaying their brightest smiles, salutes and somewhat-suspicious-looking gang signs.
Then it was recess time! The kids ran out for a haphazard, utterly chaotic game of soccer, during which thirty little boys and girls all chased after the ball, boundaries and teams completely ignored, without keeping score or really caring about winning at all. They just wanted to have fun. I couldn’t stop smiling
Unfortunately then it was time to leave and KC and I said our goodbyes and were promptly smothered with hugs, kisses and shy Adios’s from the students. Definitely up there in the Top 5 moments where I’ve felt the most loved. The rest of the day proceeded as usual back at the center with Sneha and Victoria, but I sincerely hope that that wasn’t our last time seeing those kids.
Until next time,
Week 3 complete!!
This week Sneha and I officially completed our English Boxes down to the last detail; binded lesson plans, materials lists, progress reports, labeled boxes…EVERYTHING!! And considering that we’ve been putting 4 or more hours a day into this for the last three weeks, this is HUGE. First things first though, they need to get critiqued. As much work as we’ve put into them they have to go through several rounds of reviewing before they will be 100% ready. We took them down to get looked over by the two teachers here at PIER who will likely be using them the most. Since they already work so frequently with the students they are the most aware of the needs and skill levels of the children. We got tons of positive feedback as well as a list of improvements to make. We’re taking our work into the weekend so the boxes will be ready to take to the kids on Monday. Having the kids try out the boxes will be our ultimate test, but we’re very confident in our hard work and we’re sure that they will love them
Now that it’s getting later into the summer a lot of the fruit trees are starting to bloom. We’ve got our eyes on some mangoes in the trees around the library. There are also these extremely delicious little island fruits that have started to bloom everywhere. The kids say the island name for them is kanup. This kid was wonderful enough to bring us a bunch while we were working yesterday morning.
We’ve taken on a really fun project this week. A cultural outreach club from Cornell University made a video and sent it here to the kids at PIER. The video is mainly just a way to introduce themselves and reach out. We showed the kids the video and they are all confident they can make a better one We’ll be filming all next week and I’ll post the video when it is complete.
Like every Saturday we met with the Teen Girls club this morning. Today we had a special project in store for them! Dancing!! The girls are all interested in learning any and all types of dancing. Today we taught them Salsa and Merengue. Thank goodness for dancing classes because between me and Sneha’s minimal backgrounds in salsa we were able to put together a really awesome collection of moves to teach them and they LOVED it!! Next week we’ll be doing hip hop
That’s all for now!!
Victoria (KC, Haritha, Sneha)
We are beginning week 3 of our trip!! We are very proud of how far the boxes have come. KC has been working very hard on the science boxes. She made an awesome lung model out of balloons a plastic bottle and straws. KC and Haritha have started working with some kids to build a robotics club where they can build their own robot and program commands for it. Sneha and I have started reading to some Spanish speaking students in the mornings helping them practice their English comprehension. This is also giving us a great opportunity to practice our Spanish comprehension.
In other news, it’s been raining every day for almost a week. That has made for amazingly cool weather and beautifully haunting sunsets. It’s the perfect working environment. We were able to make it over to the eating/ shopping area on Saturday to enjoy an awesome meal at a restaurant on the beach. Good weather, good food, good work. Looking forward to another week!!
KC, Haritha, Sneha, and Victoria
Today was day seven and the learning boxes are well under way. We’ve gotten used to wearing Roatan perfume (mosquito spray) but the daily walk along the beach still amazes us. We spend the mornings in the shade putting together the lesson plans for the learning boxes. In the afternoon we work in what is called the BrainSpace center where children come in for educational games, homework help, and just a place to hangout. The children have gotten used to seeing us around and say hi to us all the time. Last weekend we met the group of girls that make up the Teen Girls club. We played several team bonding games and spent some time getting to know them. We are planning to help them create their own blog where they can display their writing and anything else they do. Our main focus is getting the boxes completely put together so we can start using them with the kids. We are hoping to have everything done by Saturday and spend a well deserved day relaxing on the beach.
Sneha, Haritha, KC, and Victoria
The numerous Saturday afternoons spent selling Chipotle burritos, the biweekly meetings spent discussing everything from new plans for ventures to membership to project goals, the planning, the phone calls, the advertising – all culminating in this: our morning flight from Houston International Airport to Roatan, Honduras.
Four students from the newly established Rice University Nourish Chapter will be living in the heart of the city, embarking on an education collaboration with PIER (Partners in Education Roatan), working to assemble and distribute “education boxes” to the organization. These boxes include curricula and materials to study English, Math and Science for elementary and middle school-age children.
Need to finish up that last-minute packing but check out this blog, as we will be frequently updating it with our Honduran experiences and how the project is progressing over the next six weeks.
Haritha, Victoria, Sneha & KC
Even as I begin to adjust to life here in Honduras, every once in awhile I catch myself and realize that my surroundings, my activities, and experiences everyday here are unlike anything I would be able to do anywhere else. Whether it be the beautiful mountain drive to the hot springs, being able to navigate my way to the best local Pupuseria (a great local food we´ve discovered) from anywhere in the city, or learning a Honduran perspective on both US and Honduran politics. I think slowly the comfort zones of everyone in our group have expanded and will continue to do so as we continue our travels and eventually find work and friends in Yorito. Despite minor setbacks like attempting to navigate a bathroom in complete darkness (due to occasional power losses) and a general lack of clean clothes, we´re still foraging ahead and loving every minute of it!
The fourth Nourish-FIPAH partnership project wrapped up at the end of July quite busily and quite well. The last days in each location (Yorito, Yoro and Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá) were spent finishing the final classes and workshops, preparing resources to leave behind for future English classes (see below!), making diplomas for students who participated, and saying teary goodbyes to friends in the community, FIPAH staff, and the youth we worked with all summer.
A lot of the busy final moments were spent making sure that after we left, the infamously difficult English classes could continue at least a little more smoothly than before. The two main problems with English classes in the education centers (at least as we saw them) are that the teachers speak at most only a little more English than the students (making pronunciation a real bear), and that the books provided come with very little explanation or translation and generally make no sense. So, the Otoro team set to work recording a pronunciation CD to leave behind with the facilitators (education center teachers), including the songs that were a real hit in all their classes. Meanwhile Ms. Asia Morris, our Postcards for Progress ally in Yorito, logged many an hour with a laptop on the table and Hi, Honduras (the aforementioned textbook) on her lap, translating the entire 7th and 8th grade editions (six books in all!) We hope that these resources can be useful to students facilitators, and that in the future we can build upon them more to make the English classes more sustainably successful.
Two days before the group’s departure from Honduras, the nine of us said goodbye to our respective lovely host towns and met up on a bus to La Ceiba, the city where we started our trip and where FIPAH’s national administrative offices are. Although Ceiba has a lot to offer in beautiful beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and zip-lining, the team, being the Diligent Dilcias they are, spent all of Thursday in the FIPAH office with the general administrator, Fredy Sierra, for a series of very fruitful conversations about the project, where it was successful, what we learned, and how we can improve it next year.
The definite consensus was that what was most important and fun for us as team members were the relationships we developed over the course of two months – with the students, with our host families, with the FIPAH staff, with the kids we played soccer with. Fredy made the point that one of the greatest impacts of the project is having a group that comes back each summer to support the youth programs and participate in the exchange of ideas and worldviews. Solidarity between the Nourish students and the FIPAH youth, more so than the English classes, computer workshops, and agricultural work, is what this project is about. This makes for what on the surface looks like somewhat of a contradictory position on the continuation of the project. On the one hand, one of Nourish’s core values is sustainability, so there’s something a little discomforting about a project whose success is to an extent contingent upon its repetition each summer. But on the other hand, coming back is fundamental to what has made this project so successful. It’s in the Nourish team’s return each summer that the relationships are made stronger and the solidarity that is the greatest strength of the project is demonstrated and reinforced. I guess another way of looking at it is that the fact that there are always students interested in returning, and that FIPAH always eagerly invites us back, is in itself evidence that the project is sustainable.
So, a huge thank you to all of Nourish’s coordinators, members, and supporters for making the project happen; to the 2011 Nourish team for the work and the fun; to FIPAH for being so welcoming and supportive; and most of all to the FIPAH youth for sharing with us their communities, their work, and these two months of their time.
Our experience in Jesús de Otoro has been a bit different than that of our companions in Yorito. We spent the first week going with the FIPAH staff to various surrounding communities to do work – planting lettuce and corn, harvesting broccoli and cauliflower, and meeting with government officials to negotiate for a FIPAH bean contract. We had quite the time racing up and down mountains in the bed of the truck, hiking up even further on foot, and then trying not to fall down an almost vertical plot of land while chopping broccoli with a machete.
After our first week of adventure we settled down into our teaching schedule. Well, “schedule” as defined by our FIPAH coordinator Omar, who will occasionally, give a 20-minute warning before swinging by our hotel for the day’s mystery activities. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, we do have a pretty unpredictable schedule. We plan our teaching schedule a few weeks at a time, and it is highly subject to change. We generally take day trips to nearby communities and overnight trips to the two “Campanarios” higher up in the mountains. There is no electricity or running water in the Campanarios, but almost every house has a car battery and a converter so they can charge their cell phones and power the fridge. Pretty cool, although it’s a long trip into town to get the battery recharged. What’s really cool is the house with a solar panel on the roof to recharge their battery system.
When we’re not teaching English in the surrounding communities or teaching computer classes in the FIPAH office, we might be out climbing the 1600 meter peak of San Juanillo, answering some questions on FIPAH’s Otoro Radio program, or attending a Honduran wedding. Of the above activities, we were surprisingly most helpful at the wedding. We woke up to a text from Omar saying that he was coming by a half hour early so we could help dress the groom, Lupe (the FIPAH employee who took us to harvest his broccoli and cauliflower). We raced up the mountain in the truck and jumped out at Lupe’s house. Omar supplied the tie, Zan tied it, and Andrea, Kristin and Avani surrounded Lupe and pinned his flower, straightened his coat and tie, and had him looking professional within minutes. We piled in the back of the truck with Lupe’s extended family (the bride and groom got to ride inside) and headed uphill to the church. When we arrived, Zan was notified that his iPhone qualified him as the official wedding photographer, and he was posted at the front next to the ring bearer and the priest. The wedding lasted a couple hours, and afterward everyone went back to Lupe’s place for delicious pork, rice, and tamales.
We’ve had a great time so far, and we’ve felt quite privileged to be included in the local events. The classes are going great, and we recently met with the president of the FIPAH youth committees about a project to do with our funds. Their needs were pretty simple – a table for their computers, a whiteboard to plan on, and a small, bio-diverse plot in each community for new crop strand experimentation. They seem just as excited about it as we are, and we’ll let you know how it goes.