I’ve had a few rough months recently and in October I decided to move to the South of Italy to teach English, hoping it would give me a fresh start. The job was fine and the town, just a hop, skip and jump away from Pompeii, was beautiful, but still I couldn’t quite snap out of the rut I was in. I tried sticking it out and ended up staying for around 4 months but I began to realise in January that it wasn’t the place I needed to be. So one day in mid-January I handed in my notice and booked a one-way flight to Honduras. I was going back to the place I’ve spent the best, most meaningful and most enjoyable years of my life…..CBS.
There’s this conversation that I’ve had repeatedly with some of the volunteers over the years. I’ve tried to write it down before, but it comes out sounding either conceited or self-deprecating and I can never quite seem to get the words right. So please forgive me if this sounds clumsy.
When you tell people that you’re a volunteer teacher in Honduras, there are two main reactions. “Oh my gosh, you are saving the world! You are changing lives!” is the first one. The second one is “But how much are you really helping? It’s just one class in one school in one community in one country.” Both are valid responses, but seem to miss the point of the whole thing.
I’m not saving the world. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that I am. I do not pull babies out of burning buildings with the power of English. I don’t believe that I am personally changing the lives of every student in my class. I am only a small part of the school. However, the school does change lives. The education the kids receive has the potential to change their lives, but in the long term. These students can go on to get better jobs and provide better futures for their parents or their kids. They also get to spend time with an adult who really cares about them every day for a few hours. For some of them, there is no one supportive at home and having stable adults in their lives can help get or keep them on the right path.
While we’re not changing lives on a daily basis, I do believe we help. The volunteers are here every day. We show up and work every single day, often taking our work home with us or tutoring after school. We tie shoes, clean up skinned knees, give out plenty of hugs and love, and listen to small children tell long, rambling stories. We make sure kids have food and are there for them when there are problems at home. We teach the best we can, and we really love these kids.
The volunteers here, past, present and future, together can change the lives of the students we work with, but only as a group. The same way that most kids can’t learn English in one year, one volunteer for one year does not change the lives of these kids. It’s the fact that we have volunteers come every year and work hard that helps these kids. We need every volunteer we get. We do not get millions of applications or people knocking down our gate to come and teach. We search and search for people to come and usually continue recruiting the whole year because we never have a full team. The people who do come work their butts off and give their all to these kids day in and day out.
The point of the whole thing is that I’m the lucky one. No one reacts to “I’m a volunteer teacher in Honduras” by telling me “Wow, you’re so lucky to be able to do that.” But that’s how I feel. I am lucky enough to be in a financial situation where I am able to volunteer. I am lucky that I have supportive parents who, when I told them that I wanted to move to Honduras, did not react in shock and horror, and who have continued to support me through my almost 3 years here. And more than anything, I’m lucky to get to spend my time with some amazing kids and the most incredible families here. I’m content with the idea that I might not be changing lives, but am happy just to help in some small way with my work. I’m not saving the world, but my time here, added to a whole lot of time with from other volunteers, can help these kids have a better future. And that’s what I believe in and why I wake up every day and come into work.
Miss Liz, Kinder Teacher and Volunteer Coordinator
Because I am only a short-term volunteer – just three weeks – this blog entry will be short and sweet.
I admit I may still be in the “honeymoon period” but I am honestly loving it here. I love the town, the school and the students, and the other volunteers. I feel like it took me about two days to feel right at home here.
One of my favorite things here has been exploring Cofradia. The thing about Cofradia is that there are no street names, at least as far as I can tell. You have to figure out directions by really observing your surroundings. You have to remember the landmarks: the bright green pulperia… the bright yellow house with the Minnie Mouse painted on it… the purple house with the hammocks… the orange house with the little old lady who is always sitting on her rocking chair… the corner with all the cows and chickens… the guys selling roasted corn in front of the church…the baleada place… And one of my favorites, the “thrift store”. Not what you might picture; it is a house with well-organized piles of clothes set out on the sidewalk in front. But you can get some great deals there.
The school and the students are hard for me to describe without sounding cliché. Two weeks is not nearly enough time to really truly know my students, but I’m already feeling like they are indeed, “my” students. Teaching here is not easy. I have taught for many years in the USA, and my experiences here have really made me appreciate the resources I have there. But it’s a challenge I welcome. Right now, there is no teacher for the 8th and 9th grades so those are the grades I am covering. My experience has mostly been with elementary, so 8th and 9th are not the grade levels I am most comfortable with. Or at least I thought I wasn’t. But now I can’t imagine not teaching those kids. Each and every one of them. The cliché word I am trying to avoid is “rewarding”, but I think in the end I just can’t avoid it.
And finally, I want to say some things about the other volunteers. They are spending months and even years here. I have huge respect for them. They work so hard and obviously care immensely for their students. But they all still took the time to answer my many questions about, well, about everything. And despite my being old enough to be a mother to any one of them (and if I’m quite honest with myself, a grandmother to a couple of them) they still made me feel very welcome. We have fun too. There is an interesting mix of backgrounds. Right now, the house has volunteers from the USA, Canada, England/Eastern Europe (that’s the same person), Scotland and Australia. And Luna the dog, who is a native Honduran. There are definitely some unique personalities here (which I mean in a good way), there have been some lively discussions, and interesting senses of humor. Or, in the interest of international goodwill, senses of humour. Despite what spellcheck is trying to tell me.
As I read back on this, my first ever blog, I realize it is not so short after all. There is certainly a part of me that is taking that to mean that it wouldn’t be so bad if my stay here also wasn’t quite so short. Well, we shall see what the future brings!
Mrs Linda, Short term volunteer teacher for 8th and 9th grades
There is no other place that I would rather be! Sure, life here comes with small struggles, but it is 100% worth every single minute. I decided to come to CBS, for one year, almost two years ago and I am now in my second school year here and dreading the end coming in July, when sadly my leave from work in Australia runs out.
I started packing my bags in April 2015 to leave Australia towards the end of September 2015. I, of course, over packed trying to prepare myself for all situations. I was recently diagnosed with Coeliac disease (not able to eat any food containing wheat, oats, barley or rye) and I have had type one diabetes (insulin dependent) for just over 10 years. Most importantly I was packing my diabetes supplies to ensure I could get through the year with enough supplies and extras if anything happened!
I packed 120 pump sites, 15 boxes of 100 blood testing strips, an extra pump (one of the reps from the company that my pump was through said it would probably be an issue if anything happened to it while I was here), 3 different blood glucose meters, ketone strips in case I got sick, enough insulin for the year (I am still using that halfway through my second year here) and the list could go on and on. In the end one of my 2 big bags was practically all diabetes supplies, with a couple of Cadbury chocolates stuffed in the side in case there wasn’t any great chocolate here! Realistically I was a massive worry wart because living here with diabetes is no different to being at home, except when I want a little advice from my awesome network of friends (& Angels) back home I need to wait a while until they are awake as we are 16 hours behind Australian time here.
The food is good too. I did get a little bored with rice and corn tortillas after a few months, but then I was introduced to a supermarket in San Pedro Sula that has a whole gluten free (GF) section. Of course it is expensive, a bit more then back home, but it has some great food that gives me a little break from the rice and corn diet occasionally. Recently one of my good friends and house mates from last year visited and he brought down 4 different packets of GF baking mixes. Thanks Avery, you rock! When visiting student’s houses we are always given food, all of the families are so kind and understanding of what I can and can’t eat. I can now explain in Spanish that ‘I can’t eat anything that contains wheat flour because it makes me sick’, because one of my students gives me Spanish class.
Yes, I have talked food and ailments in this entry rather than about the experiences at school, because if you are reading this and are considering coming and have anything that you are worried about like this, it really is no problem and the school is amazing as you can read in other posts! I am a strong believer in doing whatever I put my mind to and like to try and treat every obstacle like a positive challenge. Being here in Cofradia is the best decision of my life!
Miss Sarah, 10th & 11th grade teacher
Before I begin, I need to explain three things. The first is that due to busyness, slow internet on both ends, and being in different time zones, I don’t get to communicate with my parents as often as I would like. The second is that I spent an embarrassingly long amount of time trying to decide what to write for this blog post, simply because I have so much to say and want to say all the right things. The third it that after over an hour of attempting to write the perfect blog, I was given the advice to simply begin writing and say whatever comes to mind and to be honest. I have chosen to accept this advice and run with it. I know that the best, and perhaps only, way for me to do this is to forget that absolute strangers will read this, so this one is for my Mom and Dad.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I have a lot to tell you! My second time in Honduras has been even better than the first. I have eighteen grade six students and fourteen grade seven students. We are nearly four months into the school year and they still find ways to surprise and amaze me almost everyday. They are all both clever and curious which I have decided is the perfect combination. Some mornings when my alarm rings at 5:40am and I am still tired from the day before I feel like I would give anything to be able to roll over and go back to sleep. But as soon as I get to school and see my students I remember how lucky I am to have something worth waking up so early for. I am so proud of all my kids and I make sure they know it.
A couple of weeks ago I walked into my class shortly after the bell rang following recess. All of my students were already sitting in their chairs (something we have been working on recently) and recited in unison “Good morning, Miss Dana.” I smiled and said “You guys are…” and before I could finish my sentence a student named Axel said, “amaaaaazing,” the exact way I would have said it. When I asked how he knew I was going to say that he replied, “you always say that.” I realized he was absolutely correct so I am currently thinking up a few other things to say to them. Any ideas? I’m thinking perhaps “Grade six, you are superb!”
All of that being said, teaching the ages twelve to fourteen sure does keep me on my toes. I’ve taken to calling them the puberty grades because, well, the reason seems obvious. I’m nearly certain I was given these grades as a way for the universe to get revenge on your behalf for the way I acted when I myself was fighting my way through the puberty grades. It’s safe to say I deal with my fair share of sass and attitude from my students. Regardless, I consider myself lucky to be teaching a group of students whom I get to watch develop more as individuals with every passing day even if that means tolerating the unpredictable moods, unexplainable grumpiness, and an overwhelming smell of body spray which never seems to go away. Not only are my students and the entire school itself amazing but also there are many things I love about Honduras. I love the people here, they are so friendly and generous. Even when they have so little they give so much and spending time with the families of students has become my favourite thing to do outside of school. I love the mountains that surround the area where I live. I have started taking time each day to look up at the mountains and take a couple deep breaths while reflecting on how grateful I am to be here. I love the opportunity to learn Spanish, I love the food, I love the music, and I love riding in moto taxis.
To summarize, I hope you don’t miss me too much because I won’t be coming home anytime soon. At least not to my Canada home.
Love and miss you,
Miss Dana, 6th and 7th grade teacher
I have lived in Cofradia for 115 days. Out of these days there has been a total of 0 days that I haven’t awoken in the morning and felt gratitude. To be able to be in the exact place you were meant to be, doing exactly what you want to do is an amazing feeling. Every day I am overcome with thankfulness and gratitude. From the incredible kids at our school who make my job exciting, challenging and most of all rewarding, to the beautiful home we have here, to the new people we have met that we now call our friends and the opportunity to truly assimilate into a new culture. My thankful for list is endless and continues to grow each day. When you have an attitude of gratitude your outlook on life exudes positivity and this in turn causes a peace and happiness that is difficult to be shaken when difficult circumstances come your way.
When I was deciding what to write about in this blog, my mind kept coming back to the people. The people are why we are here. There is something so uplifting about seeing people happy when their circumstances are often quite the opposite. Living here has showed me that happiness is a choice. It doesn’t depend on what the weather is, how much money is in your bank account, what your furniture looks like or how many friends you have. There are people here that live in concrete houses without windows or doors, without kitchens, without clean water, and sometimes even not knowing where their next meal will come from. Even with these challenges, I see them with smiles on their faces, inviting guests over and cooking for them, sharing what little they have. Regardless of their life situation, they are choosing happiness.
The kids that I have the privilege of teaching bring such a light into our lives. They are filled with wonder when you teach them a new song or a show them an experiment to learn about hard and soft foods. They squeal with excitement when they get to do a fun craft or when they earn their 5 stickers from good behavior and get to pick from the prize bin. They have the most beautiful smiles that can literally melt your heart. Between their hugs, their giggles, the pictures they make for me, and their love of using newly learned words I have never enjoyed my days more.
Entering into the holiday season, I want to keep sharing love and spreading happiness. I can’t wait to experience the traditions of a Honduras Navidad. Being here with my children and being able to give away donations sent from family and friends will help us live out the true meaning of Christmas spirit. Giving is far more gratifying than receiving could ever be. Embrace your family, make new memories, continue your holiday traditions and Feliz Navidad!
Miss Pam, 1st Grade Teacher
When I told my parents I was going to Honduras to teach they laughed and asked, “are you sure that’s a good idea?” My grandma remarked, “I hope that is in Ontario.” Honduras is certainly not in Ontario, and coming here has been one of the best ideas of my life. I saw the listing for Cofradia’s Bilingual School and was immediately drawn to the school, I applied for the position the same day I saw it.
There is something so compelling about CBS, that sets it apart from any other teaching setting I have encountered. The students and teachers are the most wonderful group of people I have witnessed, and the love and admiration they have for each other is what makes the school so successful. The school is so incredible that sometimes you forget that you have not had running water for four days, sometimes.
My two month stay is almost at a close, I leave later in the week, and although I look forward to hot water, and Canadian poutine, I do not look forward to having to leave behind the people I had grown so close to. I have never met a more welcoming, appreciative and loving group of students than the one’s at CBS. Cofradia is the most impressive place I have visited, and I think forever it will hold a deep place in my heart.
Cofradia’s beauty lies in the people who live here. Teaching these students is so rewarding, and their eagerness drives you to constantly improve everything from your teaching methods to your outlook on life. Kneeling down to give a kid a hug and then being mauled by twelve first-graders, gives someone a feeling that cannot be replicated. Or sitting with a child in your lap colouring together, when he turns to you and says, “te quiero, Miss. I love you.”
I want to thank the students and teachers of Cofradia’s Bilingual School for showing so much appreciation and dedication, you have changed my life and I will miss you all.
Miss Scarlett, Resource Teacher.
CBS, a small school in Cofradia. Made up of about 300 students. It’s where I’ve been volunteering my time for the last 3 months. I am teaching English, Social Studies, and Science to 4th graders. Working with these children has easily been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. In just the three short months I’ve been here I have fallen in love with my position as a teacher and with the students of CBS. The students here are different than the ones from back home in America, they’re overall a bit tougher here and seem to have stronger wills. Personally I have found that this leads to both more challenges with my students but also a much stronger bond with them. Most are not shy and their blunt honesty shines through and lets you see exactly who and what you’re dealing with. Like I said, sometimes you really appreciate their honesty and other times you think “Wow, am I actually getting fat?”… (The answer to that is probably not. I’ve lost roughly 15 pounds since I have been here! Beans and rice will do that to a guy.)
“Me encanta Cofradia” is always my answer when people ask what I think about living here in Honduras. Life here is totally different than it is at home and I couldn’t be happier with that fact. Not so much that I don’t like life at home, instead I embrace and enjoy the challenges of every day life here. I will not lie to you, if you’re not ready to adapt to a new lifestyle, then I suggest you either volunteer for the shorter duration or not at all. You can look at the grueling heat we undergo and think “Wow, this is horrible…”, or, you can think “Praise Jesus, I have a fan!”. I choose the latter. The challenges I have faced here, in only three short months, have already made me a stronger person with a better outlook on life. I have taken joy in every thing I possibly can and try my best not to take advantage of what I have. I pray that I can uphold this mindset when I return home to the land where nothing is quite “good enough”. The beautiful thing about this country is they know how to relax and just roll with the punches. You order food and it takes 30 minutes to be made. Big deal. Hang out and talk for a bit. When you get it, it has a taste that you’d be willing to wait twice as long for. One thing for certain, I am a food enthusiast. When people ask how I’m doing, I usually end up ranting about the delicious flavors this country has to offer. Beleadas, fried chicken, tajadas, meat plates, gringas, fried fish, and now I’m hungry. The options they have here are out of this world and I officially give Honduras a ‘food lovers stamp of approval’.
Lastly, I want to tell you about the people in this wonderful country. They are the main reason why this country gives such a breath taking and life changing experience to people like me. They are some of the most grateful and generous people I have ever met. Many families here have close to nothing yet they still want to give you everything. I can think of one such interaction with a family in which they did me great favor and would not, no matter how many times I tried, accept money for the favor. Instead, they decided to provide dinner and entertainment for the evening for both me and my girlfriend. Quite an unorthodox and unexpected exchange it was, to me anyway. The happiness here is contagious. Communication with Hondurans is not always easy for people like me, being that the extent of my spanish when I arrived was “hola”. It’s possible that it has something to do with the communication gap. That being said, If you take the time to interact with the people here, you will not be disappointed. They are patient with non-bilingual people like myself and do their best to help the conversation move along “smoothly”.
I have enjoyed myself immensely for the last three months and I look forward to what the next seven months bring for me. I still have quite a lot to learn!
Mr Graham, 4th Grade Teacher
There is a certain humility that comes with being a long-term volunteer. As a white American, I learned very quickly that I needed to know my place and my role within the community. Many people approach volunteering in a developing country with the notion that they are going to change the world and experience new and wonderful cultures and be met with gratitude for all that they are doing. While that can be true, what my time at CBS has taught me is how important it is to realize that it is not about you at all. I saw many volunteers come through with a sense of entitlement. They felt that they were making a big sacrifice just by showing up (which to be fair, they were) and that that in itself should earn them the respect of the students at our school. They then became deeply offended when such respect was not always instantly awarded and instead they found themselves having to learn how to reach rowdy, difficult children who did not want to do their work or apathetic, unimpressed teenagers, not to mention the parents who constantly questioned their child’s marks but did not want to take an active role in helping them learn.
I learned we all have to work much harder than that, because at the end of the year the international volunteers get to leave and the children have to stay here. That is their reality, and for some of them it is pretty grim. Many live in poverty, some are absolutely destitute, and many of our students come from broken families and serious abuse. It is not our right to be accommodated as if we are living in a developed country or to expect automatic openness and trust from every student just because we showed up. It is a privilege to be granted access into the reality of the people who live here, and we must learn how to live and help within their reality rather than try to impose on it.
I taught at CBS from 2013-2015 and I was also the Volunteer Coordinator/Vice Principal during my second year. After counting the days until I could return, I am finally back here visiting and teaching for two months. I am so impressed with this year’s group of volunteers. They are giving it their all and have so much genuine love for their students. Many of them are constantly questioning and assessing their teaching methods, and how to better help their students learn. Evenings lesson planning around the table turn into brainstorming sessions on how to teach a tricky concept or how to best help a struggling student. It is very encouraging to work with a group that is always trying to figure out how they can give their students more. I was gone for 15 months and I thought about and missed and worried over the kids at CBS every day that I wasn’t here. Now I am trying to slow down time because the weeks are flying by and I don’t know how I am going to bring myself to leave again. But at least when I do I am leaving behind a group of people whose actions have told me “We get it, we love it here, we love the kids, and we’ve got this.”
Amanda, 8th and 9th grade teacher
Earlier this year I woke up to the skyline of Dubai with the Burj Khalifa in the distance. I was tanning 1000 metres up in the Transylvanian mountains after a long day of teaching at camp. And I was riding a Ferris wheel from the 1950’s in Eastern Europe in the pouring rain while looking at soviet style apartments that lined the horizon.
This is my first time on this side of the hemisphere. I am currently watching my friends send me autumn pictures with a pallet of orange and browns at the end of October. I check outside the window, still green and blooming. It’s over 30 degrees some days. Baleadas or platanos are for breakfast after my first lessons of the day, and then lunch is usually some sort of meat and rice, or tajadas, enchiladas and the such. I write ‘I eat fish and chips with my best friend after school’ on the board when I give an example of my timeline at school to my children. They point it out, say it’s cool.
I don’t really miss Brexit Britain. I do miss the gourmet microwaveable Tesco finest meals, and hot running water, maybe even some pate on toast, but I love it here. Even when I’m sweating like a hot mess over a gas stove trying to make bland pasta for the second time and cursing that I will never attempt to cook while I’m here. So it’s pretty much the same as University. Except that I sometimes hang around with ten year olds after school as their family keeps offering me food. I walk home stuffed and sticky from the heat. And then I get home and the water isn’t on.
I actually feel rewarded after a day of teaching, rather than writing another rushed essay on linguistics and dreading whether this time it will be below a B grade. I taught the word ‘proud’ the other day. One of my students came up to me and told me that she is proud of me for being a good teacher. And I told her that I am proud of her too.
I put off teaching for so long. I didn’t want to be that cliché English graduate who becomes a teacher. I wanted to be more ‘cool’, spinning on a chair in an editorial office, checking for errors in texts. I still do that, correcting the perfect tense and spellings in notebooks, but minus the crippling knee pain and eye soreness from having a 9 to 5 office job. Been there, done that. I am Miss Andreea now, and I own it.
To whoever is reading this, probably wanting to know what it’s like to live here and whether they should dedicate their time and resources to come here, I’m not going to sugar coat it for you: it’s insanely rewarding but it comes with its own dangers. San Pedro Sula, the city next to Cofradia, is notorious for its murder rate. You constantly stick out here and you get stared at a lot. But I assure you, the community is friendly, the scenery is gorgeous and the kids will love you from the get go.
(P.S, it’s amazing what you can teach with just a printed sheet, a whiteboard and some penguin roleplay. I’m pretty sure the words ‘incubate the egg’ is forever stuck in my student’s mind. As well as the spelling of ‘reproduction.’ And Grammar lessons are To be or not to be, because that is always the question!)
Cheers for reading, yours sincerely,
Miss Andreea, 5th Grade Teacher.