Me Encanta Cofradia

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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. img_3156Working 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”. IMG_3292.jpgThe 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”.

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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

 

Showing Up

kinderThere 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 ch9thange 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. 20150713_133514[183].jpg

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 pre1st.jpgtty 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 questidia tipico.jpgoning 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

In Comparison

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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.