Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Project Funded, Donation Complete!

I would like to announce that all remaining project funds have been transferred to a selected Honduran non-profit, Comixmul Cooperative Mixta Mujeres Unidas Limitada ( Comixmul's mission is to improve the social, economic, and and cultural standing of women. Some of the services they already provide include family planning and nutrition and health education, and this is an organization that we were in touch with while in La Esperanza. This donation will make possible a project to provide education in the areas of reproductive health and family planning, to be organized in eight groups of twenty women each.

This donation was especially timely because for the past months all governmental aid to Honduras had been cut off. I am really relieved that although we had to leave the country, that the work that we wanted to see will be carried out, and not only that, but we have contributed to women who are working to empower other women. Thank you again to everyone who has supported this project, even though it didn't go as planned! It was a really amazing experience.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's Happening in Honduras

This is a great update. While in Honduras we were dismayed that the international community, including the United States, would take a position against a country that bravely stood up for their democracy. While most US media outlets refer to the removal of Zalaya as a "coup" it was legal, while his actions were not.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Future of the Remaining Funds

Currently Ashley and Greer are in talks with an organization to donate our remaining project money, about $5,000, to a microlender under the stipulation that it be used to fund a project related to maternal health and nutrition.

I will keep everyone up informed when the donation is completed!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pics from Honduras

I was finally able to upload all of the pictures from the project! Rather than post them here, you can see them by clicking on the link:

I've also posted pics from my first week in Copan Ruinas. These are pretty touristy, but please enjoy :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Link Broken, Back in the US

I am sorry if you have tried to link to this blog unsuccessfully, it tells me that the link is broken and I'm not sure why. I'm writing this from my aunt's house in Kansas City, since we made the decision to leave Honduras for fear of the unstable political climate. Although we always felt safe in La Esperanza, rumors of the US Embassy closure, closed borders with Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, road blocks and the closure of roads into Tegucigalpa and potentially San Pedro, limits on the press/news, and finally the decision of the German government to pull their student volunteers at hours' notice (including our housemate) led us to leave the country versus take the risk of being trapped there. It was a very difficult decision to make with no right answer, however, the worried moms prevailed... Although we were assured of our safety by everyone we knew, the citizens seemed to contradict themselves when they said that they were also expecting civil war as a result of the government conflict.

So, where from here? Fortunately for me, this was a (almost) regularly scheduled flight as I was planning on attending a family reunion anyway, with plans to return to Hond. Now, I have a return flight credit, and will look into other volunteer programs in other Central American countries. I am personally leaning heavily toward Mexico, since I had a good experience there studying abroad in college. If you have any recommendations, please send them to me! I am hoping to make a decision this weekend, and fly out as early as Monday.

What was left behind...
We had established a strong presence in La Esperanza with good connections with the hospital, a garden in progress at INFA, and twice weekly English lessons at the elementary school. We had also just scheduled our first regional half-day health seminar, which was very terrible to cancel. However, the Peace Corps remained in Honduras, and we had a great connection with a volunteer who is in her third year there specializing in maternal health. We were at least able to leave her in charge of wrapping up what we started. Altogether not a very satisfying end, we can be proud that we worked hard and made connections with many women while we were there. I was so humbled by their grace and humility. After living for just 3 weeks roughing it (although not by Honduran standards by any means), it was really interesting to re-enter the United States with a new point of view. I have a new appreciation for some things, ie internet access, Starbucks, and dollar bills, but the value that we as a culture place on appearances and conspicuous consumption is also much more noticeable. It was a wonderful experience to live for just a short time in a culture so different from our own, and to be apart from the material belongings that in some way define who we are.

I loved Honduras, and it was a wonderful experience to be there.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Political Bonus: Military Coup

At the begining of the week, the president of Honduras was trying to have a public referendum to see if the country would support a constitutional amendment to let him run for re-election. The Supreme Court rules it unconstitutional, and the military commander condemned it. The heads of the army and other branches resigned in protest against the president. Then the Pres went and took hold of the ballots before they could be destroyed, and said he was going to hold the election anyway and they couldn´t stop him. This morning, the military removed the pres from office and shipped him to Costa Rica. By 4pm this afternoon, they had also sworn in his replacement (head of Congress) to serve until the next scheduled election in November. Hugo Chavez is being a big jerk and threatening to remove the new gov´t by force. We´re watching CNN en espaƱol and the international community also does not support the new president.

What does this mean for us? Several people told us that we should stay inside the house and not go out. We had a lot to do today, but instead we laid out, watched a movie, and slept. It is not very fun to be under house arrest I have decided. Finally we have ventured out to an internet cafe for some news in english and email updates. All is well, but the big stinker is I am supposed to travel to San Pedro Sula to catch a flight for a family reunion this Thursday, and the US Embassy is advising against any unecessary travel. I have my fingers crossed that in the next four days things get better instead of worse. boo

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cultural Bonus: Our Life in Honduras

Things here are so different!! Pedestrians do not have right of way. Jennifer asked, "do they have crosswalks?" haha! Such a NYC question... the roads are muddy dirt since it rains every day. Intersections in the city don't have stop signs.

We have a WONDERFUL housekeeper, her name is Elvira, who makes us breakfast and dinner every day. Mostly it's beans, eggs, sometimes fried plantains, and other veggies. I'm really sick of it, but at least we don't have to eat meat bc Ashley and Greer are vegetarians! I'm so happy about that because my first homestay regularly served fried bologna and really gross meat from the market. I don't know why everyone isn't dying from food posoisoning here, you literally see meat sitting out covered in flies at the market.

I got to do my laundry for the first time yesterday! I say got to, because no one here has washing machines. I did it in buckets and using a washboard! I really wanted to learn, but it took two hours, so the next time I'll let the cleaning lady do it. 50 cents per dozen pieces. Amazing.

There is delicious coffee here, but it's not very caffeinated, or else I would bring that back for everyone as a souvenir. Still looking for those :)

Sugar and Salt: on everything. There are maybe 5 aisles at the grocery store, one is devoted to sugar candy. The cereal aisle is all frosted flakes and fruit loops and sugar crap. Another aisle is corn meal. Half an aisle for pasta. Half an aisle for pet food. Half an aisle for this really gross butter/cheese stuff. I had cheeto's and ramaan noodles for lunch yesterday, b/c that is all I could find. I did find some American cheese kraft singles, but when I made a grilled cheese sandwich it tasted like chemicals.

So now I know how completely spoiled we are in the US with food, but I don't mind!

Other than food... the town is a small town, about 7,000 people, so we're starting to see familiar faces as we walk around. Lots of men say stuff in spanish or english when they pass, just because we're American, but it hasn't been really vulgar and we just ignore it. It's really safe here, and Greer says it will lessen once we become familiar. I had a bit of a shock arriving here at first from the contrast with the US, just so much poverty and dirt. But now I can see that things that at first appeared to me to be really depressing are really not that bad. So what if the houses are small, there are stray dogs everywhere, and the kids run around dirty and barefoot. People can still be happy and have everything that they need. Some of the things that we take as necessary to live aren't necessary at all. Probably a lot of things. Of course, there are real problems here too, with a 70% poverty rate, but I can now better separate the real problems from appearances.

Some of the moms at INFA are so beautiful, I really love getting to work with women. I WISH I could upload more pics, but still having technical difficulties. I'll be in the US next weekend for our 3 yr family reunion, so they'll be up by then for sure!

More projects!

The more people we meet and talk to, the more opportunities we find to get busy while we're here! We are now starting a garden at INFA for veggies that the families can sell for extra money and/or be used for meals for the kids. We're working with the mothers to hoe a garden on the property behind the school. Those ladies are tough! About five moms and a granny showed up with a couple of hoes, a pick ax, and a machete, and we took turns hacking the grass up to make space for our veggies. We worked for about 2 hours, but the moms did most of the work even though we would interrupt as much as they would let us to give them a break. I have big blisters on my hand, but we bought some gloves for Monday. A Honduran soldier who looked to be just 17 also was recruited to help us. He kept his automatic weapon slung over his shoulder the whole time. It was hard work, but when we looked up it is the most incredible view of lush green forests and hills in the background, plus a bg mean bull grazing nearby.

Next door to INFA is an elementary school. One of the teachers has invited us to come two evenings a week to teach English to older students and adults who would like to improve their English. We expect about thirty students total. Ashley, Greer and I have a good basic level of Spanish but this is how our post-meeting convo's go: "Did she say that she wants us to teach the teachers, or the kids? Did she say there's 30 students total, or we each have 30 students? Did she say she's that other lady's mom?" Miraculously between the three of us we get it figured out!

Ashley and Greer have about $5,000 in grant money, plus my $2,000+ so we are still exploring options for investing the money in the project. Right now we feel the strongest about improving the Albergua where expectant mothers stay before delivery. They are pretty much an afterthought to the hospital - they have cots, but no sheets. An ourdoor fire pit for cooking, but no purified water. I didn't see any shower or bathroom facilities there. We are currently fans of the idea of starting a veggie garden there, and hiring someone on a part time basis to keep the garden as well as make sure they have purified water available (all so cheap to do) To make the drab building a cheerier spot, we may add curtains and do some painting, perhaps buy them a refrigerator so they can store food, and sheets and blankets. Anything to let the moms know that someone cares. All under investigation. They have also requested hot water.

We are continuing our "Lunch and Learns" bringing them a meal each Tuesday full of nutrients, with a short explanation of which nutrients are the most important and why. We also make colorful posters with drawings (because some can't read) to illustrate the best foods to eat and why, and those will stay there permanently on display.

We're also meeting with a women's group on Tuesday and they're going to set us up with some dates for leading half-day seminars on nutrition/health in the outlying areas. Yay!

My one frustration is in learning Spanish. Ashley and Greer and I are usually together, and we just don't take the time to communicate in Spanish, so it hasn't been the immersion I was hoping for. I did ask around and found the name of a Honduran woman here who is a professora and will teach one-on-one lessons for 60 limpira, or $3 an hour. And if that doesn't work out, one of the Peace Corps volunteers told me she would do it for free!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Project Begins

On Monday Greer, Ashley, and I walked over to the hospital to meet with the pregnant women who are waiting to give birth at the Albergua (or shelter), the building where women may go to stay for free before their babies come. We introduced ourselves, and asked if it would be ok with them if we come on a weekly basis, bring over lunch, and cook with them. The women are quite shy for the most part, most barely looking us in the eye to shake hands. At the moment, there are 6 expectant mothers and a few grannies and family members staying there. The next day, Ashley and Greer brought them a huge, colorful salad, along with some plates, bowls and silverware to stock the Albergua, which is a cinder block building with cots and not much else. After sharing the meal, Ashley and Greer told the ladies about the different nutrients that the salad contained, and why it´s so important to have each one as a pregnant woman. They cleaned their plates! We were pretty nervous about how a salad would be received, since the have lived their whole lives with the same diet of rice, beans, eggs and tortillas, but it was a success! They had also eaten all of the cereal we brought the day before, which is the main way for them to affordably receive much needed iron and nutrients in their diet here.

I didn´t go to the hospital on Tuesday because I came down with a bad cold from walking most of the day Monday among the heavy exhaust pollution and dust of the streets. It felt like my lungs had been scraped with a razor, but after a couple of days indoors I am feeling much better!

We also met with a woman at INFA, a childcare facility that provides free childcare for families below a certain poverty level. She is happy to have us come as often as we like to conduct English lessons with the kids. She had a terrific idea that we like very much - a garden on the premesis. What a great idea! It will be a fun project with the kids, but also support INFA with free veggies. We´ll also be talking to the kids about the importance of nutrition and eating foods that are all different colors. Fortunately in this region the climate and soil supports a great variety of fruits and vegetables.

This weekend we wanted to take a short trip to Gracias or La Ceiba, but yesterday our German housemate Toby who is here with a government program similar to the Peace Corps, told us that there is some political unrest and we should stay in La Esperanza. Apparently the president is very unpopular and corrupt here and he´s trying to change the constitution to give him absolute power. Fortunately (it seems?) the military doesn´t support him. The public is voting on the proposed consitutional ammendment on Monday. So, we will probably have to stay in La Esperanza this weekend. Boo for corrupt politicians, so inconvenient.

Ashley took some great pics of the women at the Albergua on Monday, which we then printed and brought them to them the next day - they loved it! I´ll put some of those up when I come back with her camera.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Finally in La Esperanza

Today was a great day! I made it through the country on two different buses to La Esperanza, located in the mountains, and met up with my cousin Greer. It is so great to be with friends again and the home is quite fantastic. Unfortunately the doctor and his wife are in Spain to see their daughter at the moment and will return in the next 10 days, but Greer and Ashley have been here for a week meeting with people and local organizations to make the connections for the project. I wish I could upload more pictures but I´m having a technical problem with the internet connection.
I was able to buy a Honduran phone here for less than $10 USD and it´s just cents a minute to call the US, so I can talk to my dad tomorrow for Father´s Day, yay!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Estoy en Copan Ruinas!

Flying from SA/Houston/San Pedro Sula I finally arrived in Honduras on Saturday night! After a scary taxi episode that included driving around a dark residential neighborhood for 20 minutes, but that happily ended up as just a misunderstanding, I stayed the first night at the Hilton Princessa compliments of a good friend (thanks, Osman!)

My first destination was Copan Ruinas, a beautiful and touristy town about 3 hours by bus. The town is known for being close to ancient Mayan ruins. I'm here for one week of intensive Spanish lessons, living with a host family along with another traveling student who is from New Zeland. For a very affordable price I have a private Spanish tutor for four hours a day. I'm happily surprised to find that I remember much more Spanish than I expected, and can easily have a conversation! (but please, no religion or politics...) I hope after one week that I'll retrieve much more from the dusty vault of my memory.

It's about 95 degree here, no AC, but there is a light breeze and people just get used to it. Although the town seems very attractive and quaint, there is a lot of poverty on the edge of the centro. Many people were displaced by Hurricane Mitch in the late 90s, poor to begin with, and have never recovered. This was a great place to start the trip though because although not a tourist spot, there are many extranjeros, or foreigners, here, primarily taking advantage of the Spanish schools and volunteer projects available.

Tonight a few of us are taking a moto-taxi about two miles to a nice hotel on the top of a small montana to watch the sunset. Other activities that are offered include horse back riding, hot springs, canopy tours, spelunking, and swimming holes, but I'm not sure yet what I'll have time to do in one week, as I'll be taking the bus to La Esperanza on Saturday to begin work with my cousin in the maternal health project. PLUS it's also important to spend some time in the internet cafe!

More pictures coming soon :)

Fundraiser SUCCESS!

Pictures from the fundraiser are now available for all to see - Thank you Tom Ellis for taking the pictures! To see the photos, click the link:

Thank you so much to everyone who was a part of the fundraiser on Wednesday, 6/10, we raised over $5,000!! SO many people contributed to make the evening a success which couldn't have happened without you. It was a wonderful evening with beautiful music and beautiful people. A special thanks to Donna Pugh, Dan Villasana, Malcolm Coon, Mariluz Martinez, Rocio Servin, Mom and Dad, Janet Grojean, Kyle Rogers and Katy Allen. With contributions combined at over $5,000 I have arrived in Honduras with over two thousand dollars budgeted to spend as we identify the areas of need in La Esperanza. Check back to see the difference made with your donations!

Monday, June 8, 2009

You Are Invited!!

With the help of some amazing people (you know who you are) I'm hosting a fundraiser to not only raise money for the maternal health project, but also to have family and friends together to hear about what their donations are making possible. We'll see a 5 minute documentary created by my amazing cousin Greer Donley who put this trip together, with photos taken from her last trip to Intibuca.

Everyone is welcome!

Party Details:
This Wed. June 10, 6:30-??
112 Auburn Place, San Antonio, TX 78209
Food by EZ's, Paloma Blanca, Beto's & Dan Villasana
Beer, Wine, Sangria by dad
Live Music by Lynette Brehm
Silent Auction
Raffle Prizes!
Suggested donation: $25