It’s tough to have language classes once a week for seven weeks, coming out of nowhere and ending as abruptly as they begin. This year our English classes are supposed to culminate in some sort of final evaluation or exam of our own design that will be worth 25% of each student’s grade. But how to meaningfully teach a language when total class time will never exceed fifteen hours? The students get English class year round, but the facilitators who teach it don’t themselves speak English, and the books they’re given are such a joke as to be hardly worth the trees chopped down to make them (in my opinion). Our classes are entirely apart, based on what the students express interest in learning and what we think is important to know about our native language, but the follow-up to the classes we give is negligible. It’s easy, I know because I’ve done it, to fall into a what’s-the-point-then attitude about it all. Surely some English class is better than nothing, but considering how much English will in the end be taught and retained and be of use to the students, is it worth all the effort put in by the students to trek all the way to class, by FIPAH to host us and arrange our transportation, by us to come and organize and teach these classes?
This is damn frustrating to think about, but also not the whole story. It can’t be, or else no one would make the effort; the students wouldn’t make the trek, FIPAH wouldn’t host us, we wouldn’t come here to organize and teach. There’s a lot of value in the classes, but I think the bulk of it lies elsewhere. Somewhere beyond conjugating regular verbs in the present, or maybe somewhere between everyone’s showing up each week and playing soccer together after class. What that value is exactly I don’t know; it’s got to be different for everyone involved but even for my own part I have a hard time talking coherently about what this experience means to me. If this project is going to continue in years to come, which I hope and expect it will, vale la pena, it’s worth the trouble, to have these discussions, to articulate those things which are the most valuable and important, and rework/remodel/reframe the project’s goals and structure with that in mind.
No conclusion here, there’s still a lot of questions to be asked and thinking to be done. I just want to wrap up this post by saying how very lucky I feel to be doing this all again. Even the downest, most frustrating moments here have been a pleasure, because of the people around me and because of the boatloads I’m learning. Here’s to three more short exciting weeks.
P.S. Mary and Zan tied the baleada competition with an even 20—we’ve got two new Yorito legends on our hands!
We arrived in Yorito 15 days ago. It is beautiful and green. Even the people here are uncommonly gorgeous. There are hilly green mountains in all directions. Dirt roads, roosters, motorcycles, skinny dogs and horses, beans, baleadas, and pepsi. These things are everywhere and there is little else.
After several plane and bus rides, we drove 6 hours squished in the back seat of Ernesto’s truck. “Neto” loves to sing. He made us all sing with him and alone, throwing his fist backwards at us for a microphone. He really let loose to “Let’s Get Physical” and “Red Red Wine” and belted it out to Christian Rock, thumping his chest and pointing up at the sky etc. He had an endless supply of rompecabezas (riddles) and trabalenguas (tongue twisters) jokes, sayings–crude and otherwise.
The day after we arrived in Yorito was the town’s 122nd anniversary. Every year, the town band starts playing at 3am and it plays for most of the night. Sarah warned us, but it was terrifying still. It was spooky music—upbeat and eerie like something out of a scary part of Dumbo. That afternoon, everyone in Yorito was at the soccer field watching a game. Within a few minutes, Asia had at least 15 kids playing pattycake, and Shalini was jumping rope competitively. We were also included in 3 legged, sack and egg on a spoon races.
We have had one week of teaching English and computers for beginners. This year, we are traveling to surrounding communities to teach—Pueblo Viejo, Higuerro Quemado, and Victoria. The communities are higher up in the mountains—each with more fantastic views and less access to resources. On Thursdays, we get a little taste of a home stay, spending the night with families in Victoria, so that we can teach on both Thursday and Friday. The drives are as scenic and bumpy as they get—really, really bumpy and really, really beautiful. Also new—we have a beginner’s English class full of police officers who store their guns and handcuffs at the back of the room when class begins. The outline for class did not change—they, too, were made to yell the alphabet and vowel sounds to practice pronunciation and were taught “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” to learn the parts of the body.
Dinner is a highlight that cannot go unwritten about. Every night, we get baleadas and fresh juice from Doña Francisca. We love Doña Francisca. She is like the town mother and her corner is a night hub. We sit on plastic stools while she makes tortillas over a rudimentary grill. This ritual is essential to our experience here. On Wednesday we will have a baleada eating competition; loser buys. Everyone thinks that Mary will win—including Akhil and Sarah who are competing against her.
Sorry for the late post! We have been kept very busy and flop into bed tired each night. There is still so much to process and cover in this bloguito. Until next time… CARIÑOS! Mary
Bienvenidos! Thanks for joining us. We are thrilled to be a part of Nourish International UNC’s fourth consecutive project in collaboration with FIPAH (Fundación para la Investigación Participativa de Agricultores de Honduras) in the Yorito and Jesús de Otoro regions of Honduras.
Nourish UNC’s longstanding, fruitful partnership with FIPAH models the kind of mutually beneficial exchange our chapter seeks to build in our relationships with every partner organization. We keep sending teams to Honduras because FIPAH never fails to propose compelling projects and our interns return to the US every year raving about their experience. For some Nourish interns, one summer with FIPAH just isn’t enough: rising senior Claire Kane, who established Nourish’s partnership with FIPAH in 2008, returned a second time to film a documentary about the organization, a gem of a film called Saving the Seed. (check it out! www.savingtheseed.org) In addition, one of our 2011 co-leaders, Sarah Cox-Shrader, is already a FIPAH veteran, having led the 2010 project during her gap year.
This year, the project was proposed by the youth committees, or CIALS, with which FIPAH works. They requested that the Nourish team lead workshops on computer literacy, English and photography over the course of 8 weeks. At Nourish, we are passionate about addressing community-identified needs, which made this proposal especially attractive.
Throughout the spring semester, Sarah has worked closely with her co-leader Margo Balboni, who will sadly not be traveling to Honduras with the group. We assembled a wonderful team from a competitive pool of applicants, and and after months of preparation, we are ready to hit the ground running. Team members will be divided into two groups working and living in separate regions. In Jesús de Otoro, we have Alexander (Zan) Lowe-Skillern, Andrea Pino de Silva, Avani Uppalapati, and Kristin Qualters. The Yorito crew consists of Akhil Jariwala, Asia Morris, Mary Craig, Shalini Chudasama, and Sarah. Of these teamsters, all are UNC students except for Sarah, a rising Yale sophomore, and Mary, who will start her junior year at Brown this fall.
Most of the team members will dedicate their time exclusively to the educational workshops, with one important exception: Asia, our Postcards for Progress point-person. Working with local primary schoolchildren, Asia will implement an arts exchange project as part of a wider movement to increase children’s global awareness. She is also using her time in Honduras to evaluate the general model of this dynamic young organization.
All of the team members except for Andrea will converge on Sarah’s house in Washington D.C. on the night of the 28th so we can depart together the next day. We hope you will stay tuned in the coming days and weeks. We will publish weekly dispatches from each region, doing our best to share with you the challenges and joys of what is sure to be a deeply enriching summer for all involved.
The curiosity of children is contagious, but it seems to die with age.
In San Isidro, when one child appears with a plastic bag and a
purpose, surely about fifteen others will follow. It´s a sense of
community that only children are capable of.
Last Friday, we organized a small trash-pick-up activity along the
streets of the town to teach the children about littering and to clean
up about three years of potato chip bags and candy wrappers trapped in gullies, sewers, and pot holes.
After putting up an announcement in the one store in town, three
children showed up at 2:00 p.m. ready to get messy. Within ten
minutes, the rest of the town´s children came to see what all the fuss
was about. Soon after, twenty children were scouring the dirt roads
and grassy banks of San Isidro with plastic bags overflowing with
trash and hands caked with dirt. In just thirty minutes they
collected 14 trash bags worth of litter, litter that these same
children had contributed to, and they admitted it.
Looking at all that trash made me sick, because I knew it would only
enter the atmosphere as methane, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide.
Four days later, two children stood outside our property with shovels
in hand, ready to dig a grave for the trash. We´d invited them to
demonstrate a more environmentally-friendly alternative to burning
every scrap of trash and polluting the blue, mountain skies.
As we began to dig, curiosity served us well. By the time we were
ready to bury the trash, about 7 shovels and 14 children taking turns
with them were covered in dirt, singing Enrique Iglesias, and learning
But we were slow. Eight year olds aren´t exactly the best at using a
pick-axe, and ten year olds are a little weak when it comes to picking
up a shovel-full of dirt.
Yet that day, a group of children working together, learning together,
laughing together, drew the rare curiosity of an adult. Busy with her
eight-month-old baby boy, her corn fields, her five other children,
and her jelly-making business, the last thing Lupe needed to do was
come up to the house in her pretty green skirt and black heels and
take up the pick-axe. But she did.
She broke more rock than 14 children and three gringos put together,
the muscles in her arms straining, her black hair glistening with
sweat on her temple. We applauded her when the hole was deep enough, and she watched with a smile on her face as the children, two of whom were hers, jumped into the pit, dancing to compact the trash. She looked on as we covered it with soil, and as the children thought to plant a make-shift wooden cross and put white flowers on the grave of our community litter.
We always hope that the activities we do with the children will be
passed onto their parents at the dinner table, but to have adults and
children working together is the best way to get anything done, to
learn, and to enjoy ourselves as a community, as a family.
As we were washing our hands, a few of the children ran off to climb a
mango tree, and it began raining mangos. We sat around sucking the
sweet, yellow flesh off the pits, chatting about what we learned,
boasting together of our successful community effort, feeling closer
Vallecillo and Yorito mingle at the Fair.
Admiring the hand-made clay pots.
FIPAH staff (including President Jose Jimenez, pictured on the right) serve free lunch to fair-goers.
Blast from the past: the crews of Otoro and Vallecillo depart La Ceiba.
Our Yorito-Isote-Jalapa-Wisilka-Sabana-Destino teaching program has been going excellently. It has been a joy to work with the facilitators and youth here. They have absorbed us completely into their work, including CIAL projects and activities. I wish to tell you all (yes, kind reader who checks the blog) about Rachel and I’s afternoon last Thursday with a youth CIAL from Yorito that was unforgettable.
It began strangely, when the facilitator called and said we would not be having class, but should instead meet at her house. We waited to be picked up, and two girls from her class walked over to the apartment to meet us. We joined them and were off to the facilitator’s, which was just up the street, close by. We passed into a neighborhood of Yorito we had never explored, and it was great to see the houses just off the center of town. When we arrived at the facilitator’s home, we saw the results of the project that had taken them the day to execute: tiny pots of clay were spread out on a makeshift table, all fashioned from locally harvested clay. They will be the stages on which to showcase the seed varieties the CIAL has acquired for the Feria de Semillas (Seed Fair) at FIPAH on Monday. The Yorito youth CIAL hopes to win the prize for best presentation.
Each tiny cup could hold perhaps a handful or two of seeds – a good thing, since this CIAL alone hopes to present four varieties of rice and many kinds of beans (amongst other species), some heirloom varieties. I don’t doubt that they can and will fill each of the dozens of pots with a unique seed. Their knowledge of not just agriculture, but flora in general, is impressive. They can point out species of mango from trees off a path, or recognize that a farmer is growing coffee just from the small sprouts in her/his garden.
After gazing at the pots and observing the students mould them for a bit, we were asked if we wanted to go on a hike to gather more clay. Immediately we accepted, and set off with three boys and a young woman from class. One of them, who is particularly excitable when it comes to English, was bouncing around identifying fruits, trees, crops, everything. Another was tossing his machete between his hands, occasionally coming down with a slash onto a tree stump or thrusting into a discarded soda bottle (yes, garbage even litters the hillside trails). I am awed by their knowledge, and it brightens me to see a new generation interested in the complexities of agri-awesomeness. We walk for about twenty minutes uphill, and come upon two more young ladies from the class – one a teenager and the other a young mother. They carry two mounds of clay, which has to be hacked from its source with a machete. They stop to rest for a bit at the crossroads with us, then tell the boys to go acquire more clay while we all go on a tour of nearby sites. First, we are taken on a short walk to the land of a man who is our facilitator’s partner, and who has small ponds in his yard. We climb over wood laid across deep puddles (makeshift bridges) to get to his parcela, where there is a rectangular plot they call a lagoon, full of fairly small fish. Every now and then they flop at the surface and we look excitedly, scrutinizing the surface for another glimpse. Eventually, the climb back over the puddles and mini-lakes as they call them, just having a relaxing and adventurous afternoon.
Next, the girls decide they will take us to see a freshwater spring where people often go to bathe. The young mom tells us there is a spout of water so fresh, cold, and clear that you can drink from it (at this, Rachel and I exchange nervous, knowing smiles). We join the on the path to this brook, pausing at a woman’s farm to drop off our clay under her watchful gaze. Before long we are at the rocks of the water, climbing upstream to the place that our friend spoke of. We reach a small waterfall, where there are various little springs of water seemingly drilled into the earth. Our friend insists the water is pure, naturally filtered into a drinkable state. We oblige, and take sips of the water (it was quite good). I dip my feet and sandals into a little current, and the feeling is blissful. We depart from the water source, content with our explorations. Rachel heaves the pot full of clay onto her head, while I hold mine to my torso, arms wrapped securely around. Away we go on the return to the facilitator’s house.
On the way, the girls have posed many questions about English and where we live. They tell us of their lives, while Rachel and I listen and respond intently. It feels great to bond with the students and to feel mutually less intimidated by the curiosity for each others’ origins. Near our final destination, our older friend insists that we must have mangoes at her house. On the return path, we stop at a white-washed house to our right. Our student makes her way in and returns with a little boy beside her, shirtless and serious in his too-high pants. He looks at us like we are extraterrestrials (not uncommon) and after some persistent waving on my behalf, he returns a brief wave before scampering off. Our friend beckons us to come on in, and we climb the carved earth steps into her home. To our left is a room in which sits her father, who greets us warmly, and to the right is a kitchen, where her sister stands over a mud oven. Our friend waves us in and asks if we would like coffee and tortillas. Not wanting decline their generous (and delicious) welcome, we agree to have some, on the condition that we can help. Honestly, we had been dying to learn how to make and toast our own tortillas ever since first watching how wonderfully the Doña with baleadas made hers. I asked our friend’s sister if she could teach us how to make them. She grabbed two balls of the flour dough and handed each of us one. It was white and very sticky, but easily malleable. At one point we were each given a dab of butter to lather over our hands to prevent the dough from sticking. Her sister was rotating the disks between her fingers, flattening them with enviable ease. We tried with the ultimate effort to imitate her, but failed. After doing our best to make them thin, even, and circular, we decided to go with what we had and threw them onto the hot stove above the oven. I tried flipping mine, but my hand felt heavy and confused so close to the flame, completely unlike the technique of the women. The sister would snatch an edge of the tortilla up and have it upside-down in the blink of an eye.
As we finished the tortillas, we sat and enjoyed their delicious, local coffee. Their generosity is immense and I couldn’t believe how the afternoon had turned out so fantastically. We returned to the facilitator’s soon afterward, and dug into the clay. The raw earth first must be refined with water and much crumbling by hand. Eventually, all of the clumps were worked out and the clay was in good condition to be shaped. It was a repeat of the earlier tortilla-making attempt: we tried to make small bowls with a flat bottom and even width, just like the girls around us, but could not succeed (yes, it was hilarious). It is harder than you could imagine using only your hands and a bit of water. Eventually, we got our clay to form into a semblance of the other finished products, though they were… interesting. Seeing all of them laid out on the table, ready to be filled with seeds, was impressive.
We finished the project, washed our hands clean of the clay (forgetting our elbows and legs, of course), and left the facilitator’s house in a total daze. It was unreal that we had just spent the entire afternoon bonding with the CIAL, able to enjoy their company with a reversed teacher-student dynamic: they awed us with their plant identification prowess, tortilla -and pot-making skills, and their absolute knowledge of the tropics. Needless to say, I’ve come to love them.
Hola todos! Greetings from Yorito. The crew from Vallecillo is here,
and needless to say, this has been quite an eventful past few days. We
have been gaining bits and pieces of information about the military
coup from the internet, FIPAH staff, and other community members, and
it appears that the situation is relatively peaceful, at least for
right now. Thankfully, life in Yorito has remained practically
unaltered. We continue to give English and computer classes in the
different communities, and as always, they are so much fun. The kids
we teach are all so friendly and eager to learn – its inspiring to
see. While we work within the set curriculum, we try to supplement the
material with art, theater, and poetry, and we even hope to put on a
theatrical production within the next month!
Today was especially exciting. In the central park in town, FIPAH
hosted a Feria de Semillas with youth CIALS from at least six
different communities. It was great to see the young members of the
community come together with all their different varieties of seeds,
fruits, vegetables, and other kinds of plants. Seeing the work of the
youth CIALS on display really demonstrated their collective efforts to
become stewards of biodiversity and sustainability, as well as
pioneers of their own futures as successful farmers.
The Feria de Semillas took place on the same day as the Feria de San
Pedro, which is the local annual festival. There was a show of
cowboys, dancing, food, and music, and we all enjoyed the opportunity
to take part in the local culture.
Well, that’s all for now!
Greetings from San Isidro! The past two weeks have been busy,
productive, trying, and fun. The three of us (Sarah, Rebecca, and
Tomás) have spent most of our time getting into the swing of a regular
schedule for teaching at the 5 schools we are working with in
Vallecillo. As adorable as these kids are, we’ve always discovered
that teaching for hours at a time is physically and mentally
exhausting. With every lesson, though, we recalibrate and talk about
what worked and what didn’t so we can improve the experience every
time we teach.
In our classes thus far we have covered salutations, numbers, ages and
asking about age, and colors for English, as well as deforestation,
climate change, oral health, and hygiene. Some of the highlights from
our lessons so far include playing a numbers game called Señor Tigre
and seeing the artwork the students at the Colegio produced depicting
their reasons for why trees are so important. We were truly touched
when one little boy wrote, ¨Cut one tree, plant two,¨ and when a
little girl wrote, ¨Plant a tree today, harvest life tomorrow.¨ These
children are really very thoughtful. When we taught the high school
students about climate change, we asked them to write a diary entry in
the year 2050 and imagine how their lives would change due to climate
change. Some of the kids had some really thoughtful ideas, and some
didn’t hesitate to say that cars would be illegal!
On days when we don’t teach we regularly go with Marvin (our FIPAH
coordinator) to the fields to work with some local farmers. Usually we
learn (along with the farmers) about new, more sustainable farming
techniques from Marvin and then spend several hours helping plant and
clean the fields. All of this has been rewarding work and has helped
us integrate ourselves even further into the community. We have been
planting a lot of experimental seeds to see how different varieties of
corn and potatoes will grow in the region.
It hasn’t all been work though. We’ve had ample free time to explore
San Isidro and also had the opportunity to travel to Jesus de Otoro to
spend time with the other Nourish folk. In San Isidro, we love to walk
down to Las Quebradas (a small river and waterfall that dries up
during the summer months) to cool down. This is especially enjoyable
when the running water isn’t functioning and we haven’t showered
In our free time we´ve also helped out some members of the community
with their own farms, played games with the local children, and spent
time learning how to bake bread and make tortillas from our friends
and neighbors. Our trip to Jesus de Otoro the weekend before last was
enjoyable because we got to reunite with 4 of our original group
members that we haven’t seen since we were in La Ceiba and because we
learned a lot about how FIPAH operated in that region. Otoro is
metropolitan compared to San Isidro and all group members were very
happy to return to our wonderfully small and close-knit community of
Next time we´ll be writing from Yorito where we´ll be attending a
Biodiversity Festival and helping out with FIPAH operations in that
region. Hasta pronto!
We are here representing Nourish´s first group to work in Vallecillo.
What an amazing initiative FIPAH has here! We arrived at night, after
a 10 hour trip from La Ceiba through bumpy mountain roads. When we
woke up the next morning, we were amazed by the beauty of our town,
San Isidro. We are surrounded by rolling hills dotted with grazing
cows, horses, chickens, pigs, and donkeys, and an angry burro who
brays every hour on the hour.
On the morning of our arrival we met with Marvin, the
FIPAH–Vallecillo director, and staff member Carlos to discuss the
role of FIPAH and our role here this summer. FIPAH–Vallecillo works
with 15 communities and 12 CIALs (Local Agriculture Research
Commitees) on participatory research. One of the projects that the
Vallecillo staffers have been working on is the S.O.S. seed banking
campaign, where they are working towards conservation and maintaining
biodiversity in the region. We have already visited three sites where
members from different CIALs are planting avacado, plantains and
coffee plants together to measure how an increased biodiversity will
increase the yields come harvest time. FIPAH has also been working
with the adult groups on climate change programs. By spreading
awareness about the effects of climate change and how to adapt crops
to these changes, the FIPAH workers help farmers prepare themselves
for possible increases in droughts and floods, like the ones they
experienced last year when almost the entire harvest was rained out.
FIPAH has also conducted personal finance workshops to dozens of
people in the villages. In fact, just this week, we bought jelly from
a very successful new microempresa (very small business) in town and
went to visit a small scale organic fertilizer business operated by an
18 year old farmer.
This week we also met with three of the five schools we will be
working with. The teachers were all excited to allow us to come and
share time and knowledge with the students. We have been working hard
to improve and make each lesson plan specific to the needs of the
different schools. Marvin and the teachers are both really open to the
idea of promoting knowledge about the upcoming elections, as well as
about sexual education–topics that are a bit more sensative than just
teaching English. We´re looking forward to exchanging points of view
with the kids on these important issues.
It is so exciting to observe and learn about the work that FIPAH does
here in the communities of Vallecillo. Having already seen the impact
of the organization thanks to the kind members of FIPAH, we have each
been inspiried to find a focus in the various activities FIPAH is
involved in. We know two months will fly by, but for now we are
excited as every day will bring new adventures and new knowledge.
el equipo de Vallecillo
Yesterday we arrived at the FIPAH office at aroud 10am or so, and got to work right away. We were able to accomplish most of what we had set out to do, thanks entirely to FIPAH’s internet connection. After getting a preliminary idea of how we could be of best use to the facilitators of English classes in the communities of this municipality, we decided to develop some pronunciation guides, extended glossaries, and various activities to supplement the intruction. At about noon, we called our good friend who makes the most delicious baleadas, and said we would be dropping by to enjoy some of her delicious chocobananos (frozen bananas dipped in chocolate).
Just as thoughts of chocobananos were brewing, however, we heard the first hesitant drops of rain! It was intensely amazing hearing the fat droplets land on the tin roof, soon making a racket. We stepped outside to feel the downpour and were surprised to find that it was only sparsely raining.
I went back inside to continue working and in the meantime the storm really gained strength. The next time I looked out the door, the rainwater was actually flowing in streams across the grounds of the FIPAH office. The gutters were gushing and a whole population of ant-moth insects (not sure the proper name) had erupted from somwhere. Birds were swooping across the swarms, enjoying a feast. The gray of the sky really contrasted with the greens in FIPAH’s research plots. The air became so cool I actually felt my first goosebumps since arriving in Yorito!
Locals describe the town as ¨fresh,¨ which is extremly fitting after experiencing the weighted heat of La Ceiba. Everyone seemed glad after the rain and the usually dusty roads were temporarily dampened.
Also, in a show of unbelievable kindness, our friend had her niece bring over eight chocobananos for us all the way to the FIPAH office under umbrella cover. It was unbelievably generous of her and I can’t wait to spend more time with her (hopefully learning how to make baleadas).