After a Year in Honduras

It’s unbelievable but the time has come and the school year is coming to an end and it makes me think a lot about everything I had learned, seen and done. It’s been an incredible experience. I’m proud that I had the opportunity to teach my kids. I became very fond of them. It hasn’t always been easy, but it was worth it.

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All I can say is that I would recommend everyone who has the time to come for a year and give a little bit of yourself. You will get something back…actually… a lot.

Teaching aside, because of being here in Honduras for nearly a year, I’ve had an opportunity to learn about this unique culture. Whilst there are things I don’t understand or don’t accept, I’ve seen how happy many people are without having much. And I’m not only talking about money. I’ve seen so many broken families, parents who have left their kids to move to a different country for work or just found new partners…or maybe without any good reason. Despite this, people seem to be happy and capable of taking this life the way it is…. Maybe it’s just my perception, but sometimes I think that Hondurans know how to really live (unlike us hurried Europeans who spend so much time working rather than with friends and family or planning our lives than actually living them).

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I’ve also met so many unbelievably hospitable and nice people. I’ve stayed in so many houses of people I barely knew. They have cooked for me, showed me around, and offered their homes.

Once my friend asked me if I wanted to visit a small village in Santa Barbara for some kind of celebration and he met fantastic people there a week before. I agreed, and ended up having a great weekend staying in someone’s house. The mother was so nice – she would wait for us until we got back from the festivities and cook for us, and when we woke up, she was in the kitchen ready to serve breakfast and coffee… I would change any 5 star hotel experience for this.

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Another example is a recent one. I wanted to visit La Ceiba (a beach town in the north) and mentioned it to my Honduran friend. Turns out her aunt has family there. We were there for three days, being fed, shown around… incredible.

Every time I visited any Honduran family, I always felt like I’m at home. There is something about Hondurans…they are so easy and welcoming. It’s hard to describe.

I’m truly happy I was here and I know that when leaving at the end of July, it will be heart breaking as I will miss all my friends I found here.

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Travels Abroad

I am not a blogger! It’s really hard for me to write about things other people might find useful or amusing. Other volunteers have written a lot about Honduras and the school, so I guess our readers have a good picture what it’s like down here. That is why I decided not to write about Honduras. I’ll write about Guatemala instead.

If people decide to come to Cofradia and help the local community, they get a lot in return. One of the things is the possibility to travel in Central America. Being in Honduras means that it’s really easy to get to neighbouring countries. I find it amazing – having the option to go to Guatemala or Nicaragua…

This Christmas I decided to go to Guatemala with my fellow volunteer, Saskia.

Saskia and I during our travels.

Guatemala is really beautiful. I don’t even know where to begin. We started in a small town called Livingston. It’s a quiet town with nice restaurants and cafés. What I enjoyed the most was our trip to Seven altars and Playa blanca. If you like the nature, Guatemala is the place to be.

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Another place worth mentioning is Antigua. With plenty of cafes and restaurants Antigua offers a great nightlife as well as ‘chillout’ time during the day. When visiting Antigua, you can’t miss visiting the volcanoes. I don’t have to say a lot about it, just look at the below picture – I was standing on the top of Paquaya enjoying this breathtaking view.

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After few days in Antigua, I ended up (by accident) at the lake Atitlan. Again – no need for words, just enjoy the pictures.

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All I’m trying to say I guess is that it is worth coming to Honduras for many reasons and one of them is traveling in your spare time.

-Viera, 8th and 9th grade teacher

Intense Science

I don’t take responsibilities lightly. My first year in college, when I was still an acting major (later playwriting), I woke at 6 a.m. to do vocal exercises before conservatory. When I wrote seriously, I woke at 4:30 a.m. to write before work. When I worked as a dramaturge on a theatre production, I went to rehearsal after a full day of day-jobbing (paralegal), got home around 10 or 11 p.m., and spent the next hour or so writing, reviewing, and editing my notes for the director or doing requested research. When my passions are called upon, I can be a little…intense. Or nuts, you can say it.

So when I learned I would be teaching 7-9th grade science, without textbooks or equipment and only the vague but ambitious national curriculum to guide me, I felt a wee panic, a faint nausea, which has never really left. After all, science is serious and seriously fun…but I hadn’t studied it in any serious way since high school sixteen years ago. How was I going to guide these kids through the wonders of the universe’s first moments, animal nutrition, and “various atmospheric phenomena,” and “conceptualize the experimental research process and develop simple experimental designs, systematizing the basic process of the experimental method”?

I did what I could to prepare. I located some very affordable textbooks for myself, thanks to /r/scienceteachers, which also helped translate the curriculum for my layperson’s mind and pointed me in the direction of helpful websites. Still, between nerves and the vastness of my subject and curriculum, I didn’t have my first lesson planned until two days before the first class.

Some of my affordable science textbooks.

Some of my affordable science textbooks.

And it’s been that way ever since. I have no doubt that my fellow volunteers, perhaps with affection, think I’m a little crazy, because when our busito gets home I almost immediately am at my desk, researching and planning for tomorrow, and that doesn’t stop until 7, 8, or even 9 p.m. And that’s just for tomorrow, because try as I might, I so rarely get ahead. My books have some but not all of the topics in the curriculum. Even if they do, to break something into digestible bits, I have to understand the topic thoroughly, so I must hasten to Google for details. Then I try to find cheap, minimal material projects, if I can, because science doesn’t come from my notes on the board. Science is experienced. Science is relevant. As you can imagine, my intensity, my desire to give these kids as wow a science class as possible, leads to some exhaustion.

I have become an expert on the hagfish, also known as the slime eel.

I have become an expert on the hagfish, also known as the slime eel.

Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I fail. Last week the 7th graders made edible animal and plant cell models out of gelatin and candy. The 8th and 9th graders blew up balloons with fermenting yeast. I did a lesson on carnivorous plants using a song from Little Shop of Horrors. I lead all three classes in the construction of seismographs using rubber bands, shoe boxes, string, and markers—an endeavor of ultimately dubious value but, for me, a useful personal study in how maturity affects the ability to handle frustration. I try to laugh at my mistakes, because I make a lot. The kids surprise and stump me all the time.

My key to survival is to never take the long view. Come June, I’ll be here, but if I think about the months, weeks, days, minutes it will take to get there, let me just say there’s a small padded room with my name on it.

But today? Tomorrow? Yeah, I can look at that through the window.

Yours in Science (oh, and 7th grade English),

theresa

CBS has a documentary coming soon!

We are very excited to announce that CBS will soon have a documentary about it! Rob Faris, a filmmaker and sibling of a current volunteer, came to visit Cofradía and is currently working on making a documentary about our school.  We can’t wait for everyone to be able to get a glimpse of everything we love so much about CBS.  You can watch the trailer below!

What is it like to volunteer in Honduras?

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A Honduran house with a storm brewing in the background.

My name is Viera and I’m this year’s 8th and 9th grade English teacher.

I came to Cofradía at the beginning of August this year, not knowing what to expect. Despite having information about the school, I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like—not just the school, but Honduras in general.

There are so many things about this place I love. The countryside is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the mountains. We are surrounded by beautiful vast green mountains, and Cusuco National Park, another mountainous area, is nearby.

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The beautiful green mountains that fill much of Honduras.

People here in Cofradía are really nice, too. It was really funny for me at first when people started calling me ‘Miss.’ I’m still getting used to walking down the street and having my kids or their family members greet me with ‘Buenos dias, Miss.’ It’s feels good to get that level of respect from people.

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A quiet street in Cofradía.

And now a little bit about teaching.

When I decided to come to Honduras, I was really curious to find out what it is like to teach Honduran teenagers. Well…it’s fun. They are like any other teenagers in the world, I imagine. They’re funny and giggly, but also easily bored. I like them very much. They are a handful, but on the other hand, my hard work is rewarded when I realize that I will have a positive impact on their lives.

One of my favorite activities with my students is discussing various topics with them, such as current events or a political or social situation. I love listening to their diverse opinions. Now is the time of their lives when they’re determining their moral values and turning into adults, and it shows in the discussions. I could chat with them forever.

We also have a lot of fun together. A couple of weeks ago we talked about Honduran music, which I know very little about. I asked my students to sing songs, and instead of being shy, they actually sang couple of songs, using their desks as drums. It was beautiful and extremely noisy.

I recently had a little party with my 9th grade class to reward their good behavior, and I stupidly started a glitter fight with them (naively thinking they wouldn’t ‘attack’ their teacher—I was wrong). You should have seen me—I was covered with blue and green sparkly glitter. It was almost impossible to get it off of me.

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The 9th graders, spending a little time outside at the lunch tables.

But it’s not just fun and parties down here—last week was a tough one—exams week. But the kids did well.

I can’t wait for the second bimester and for more fun.

Volunteering in Honduras: is this for real?

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It’s been six weeks and I still can’t fully believe this is real. My name is Eliza and I currently teach Prepa (5 and 6-year-olds) and second grade English at CBS. Every single day that I’m here I’m blown away by how much love, energy, and enthusiasm my kids have. I’m also a little bit blown away by their passion for fried chicken and sweets.

I arrived in Cofradía on September 1st, a week after school had begun. The next morning, at 6:30 am, I climbed into the van and headed to school with the other volunteers. At that moment, I became a teacher – not just any teacher, but an English teacher to 54 students. As I walked through the schoolyard, my eyes taking in the surroundings, several little children ran up to me, wrapping their arms around my legs in a hug.

These six weeks have been weeks of experimenting with teaching methods, getting to know each of my students, and adjusting to life in Honduras. I’ve learned to cook a delicious pot of beans, to incorporate bubbles into my lessons, and to structure lesson plans around limited attention spans.

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From early-morning granola, to after-school stops at the one supermarket in Cofradía, to lesson-planning around the big table with other volunteers, this has become my every day. This has become my home, a place where I’ve developed a routine and found a comfort zone. This comfort zone is broad enough for the drinks that come in plastic bags, the unreliable running water, the diet of beans and fried food, and the farm animals that roam the streets. I love my kids, I love the challenge of teaching them, I love the beauty of the surrounding mountains, and I love the simplicity of Cofradía.

The other thing I’ve come to love about Honduras is that it is a place to be taken in stride. It’s hard to ever know exactly what’s coming. A shapes-review running game on the patio was thwarted upon arrival with my 30 Prepa kids to an already occupied patio. A five-day weekend was announced one day before it began. The laundry machine ran one load of laundry for three days. A taco turned out to be basically a large Honduran eggroll. All plans have been cancelled everytime it rains. Everything keeps me a little bit more on my toes and a little bit more ready to improvise.

From becoming a teacher overnight to writing bimester exams for this week, I’ve had six eye-opening weeks in this country. When one of my students handed me a shiny red apple one morning, it all became that much more real – I’m a teacher in Honduras now.

Volunteer Coordinator Amanda starts us off!

Emely soccer amanda This year at CBS is off to a great start! I’m Amanda and I am this year’s Kinder teacher (4-year olds) and Volunteer Coordinator. This is my second year at CBS and I am so excited for all that we will accomplish this year. We have an outstanding group of volunteer teachers this year (three of which are also second year teachers at CBS) and I am so proud of all of the preparation and dedication they have demonstrated so far.

Many volunteers who come to teach at CBS have never taught before, and it is always astounding to see the enthusiasm with which they jump in and start doing their best to educate their new students. This year’s team took it a step further by participating in multiple trainings, soliciting advice from teachers they know back home, and putting a ton of time and effort into lesson plans and visual/teaching aids for their class before school even started. Based on this group of volunteers and their dedication, and how much the kids have already learned in the first 7 weeks of school, I believe it will be a very productive year!

The first few days of school were spent getting acquainted with our students, reviewing, and guaging our class’s English level. It is hard to believe we are coming up on exam week for the first bimester. We have participated in a lot of school events so far, my favorite being the desfile de antorchas (“Torch Parade”). The desfile de antorchas is a beautiful event in which many schools in Cofradía march through the town of Cofradía with candlelit torches. It starts just before sunset, and each school arranges its students by age and height, with the smallest children in front. The parade includes a marching band that provides a charming soundtrack to our stroll through the streets. As night falls, the torch that each student holds provides a soft, peaceful light as the parade snakes through Cofradía. The parade is certainly beautiful, but it is also my favorite event because of the feeling of community it elicits. Parents keep pace with us and hand their children water or Gatorade to keep them hydrated. Onlookers line the streets with smiles, and a large crowd of families and an announcer await our arrival at the town park, where the parade ends. Afterwards, students and families want pictures with us, there are ice cream cones and snow cones for sale, and everyone just seems happy to be out in the open air together. While Cofradía is safer than many other small Honduran towns, the dangers that plague most of Honduras are still present, and one should proceed with caution when walking the streets at night. But not on the night of the desfile de antorchas . On this night Cofradía feels like the happiest, most peaceful place you could imagine.

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Another celebration we took part in was Día del niño (Children’s Day). This holiday is not celebrated in the U.S. and I was a little puzzled by the concept during my first year here. It is like Mother’s or Father’s Day, but with a lot more sugar and piñatas. Día del niño is about honoring children, which is done by serving them large quantities of cake, soda, and candy. Once they are properly sugared, games and prizes ensue. The favorite event for the children, and the most frightening for us teachers, is the piñata. The kids whack the daylight out of the piñata and charge at the first sign of candy, while we desperately try to hold back the crowd to keep them from getting belted by the child currently swinging the big wooden stick. But the kids enjoy themselves and school gets dismissed early, so we soldier on through the chaos of the morning. Never has a school day felt so long or exhausting. Especially one that only lasts until 11:20 am. amanda blog pinata Last Friday our school soccer team had their first game of the year! They played against the top team in Cofradía and tied 3-3! Some of our dedicated volunteer teachers went to support our boys and said they played impressively. It is really great for these older boys to have a constructive afterschool activity that gets them more involved in our school by letting them do something they love: playing soccer! I can’t wait to do see the next game! CBS  amanda soccer This past Monday we began what will be a yearlong school event: House color competitions! We divide all of the students from first through ninth grade into “teams” or houses (like in Harry Potter). Each house has it’s own color and several teachers assigned as the house leaders (Volunteer and Honduran teachers). Throughout the year, students can earn points toward their house for various achievements. There are daily and weekly points awarded for good behavior, work ethic, etc. but we also do school-wide events like Olympics and Academic Olympics. The winning team gets a lot of points toward their overall total. The house with the most points at the end of the year gets to go on a school-funded trip. Last year it was a water park in San Pedro Sula. This year I am thinking the beach…we’ll see! amanda olympics blog We will be posting updates on life in Cofradía and at CBS each week, so stay tuned! Comments and Shares are welcomed. Thanks for reading!