#detailsdeHonduras part 3

This is part of an ongoing photojournalism project. See part 1 and part 2.

(Kristen Bruce Photography and Multimedia)

Mission: school supplies

Success!

Thank you to those who donated toward the school supply project for the community of El Limon in Copán, Honduras. We had a long day today – Friday – traveling to the mountains to spend a little time with the kids in El Limon and distribute backpacks and school supplies to each child. (and I am exhausted and should be sleeping and probably can’t produce the most coherent thoughts, but… I want to share already!)

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About a month ago, I requested the financial help of my friends in the states for a project that God had laid on my heart for these needy families in Honduras.

Here was part of my plea and why school supplies are so important for impoverished families:

The majority of Honduran children living in rural areas will go no further than 6th grade – it is a typical expectation that at that age they begin to work and help support their families. The price of schoolbooks, supplies and uniforms can be a particularly heavy burden on many poor families. We want to alleviate some of that financial burden by providing each school-aged child with a few basic school supplies like notebooks, pencils and a backpack.

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We (Natán, Dr. Yanela, Mariajose and I) arrived as a surprise to the community with only a couple hours of warning. The families really didn’t know what we had brought for them and when we got to the schoolyard where they were congregated and waiting we asked for the children who were currently in school to raise their hand. In Honduras, the new school year begins in February and so the month of January can be particularly difficult for some families as they try to scrape up enough money to send their kids to school.

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As we were counting hands, a mother spoke up and said, “I’ll be honest with you. I have three that should be in school but since we don’t have the money for school supplies I don’t know if they will be going this year…”

We were able to reassure her that God had heard her prayers and the prayers of other parents in the community who had been worried about how to send their children to school this year. And because He is such a good and loving Father, He takes care of His sons and daughters even down to the smallest things like pencils and notebooks and backpacks.

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The kids were thrilled! And we had a blast hanging out with them and sharing God’s love. To God be the glory… and thanks to this super team!

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Dear average twenty-something American,

Here are 10 ways that my life is probably different from yours:

school

  1. I use a tiny prepaid phone that does not have a camera nor is even capable of receiving a picture message.
  2. I watch TV maybe once every 2 months.
  3. I walk to and from work and have consequently worn-out 5 pairs of shoes in 7 months.
  4. I get to eat better food than you (i.e. baleadas, pastelitos, tortilla con quesillo y chismol, tajadas con carne molida, taquitos, pupusas, quesadilla [like a cheesy cornbread], yuca frita, tostones, etc.)
  5. My salary is probably half or even less than half of what yours is.
  6. I often eat/drink things out of bags (i.e. water, mustard, mayo, ice cream, beans)
  7. I am surrounded by unspeakably beautiful scenery: flowers, mountains, etc.
  8. If I were to quote Madea, Bon Qui Qui or Nacho Libre no one around me would think it was funny.
  9. I don’t actually know the recent viral videos or blockbuster comedies to even quote…
  10. Several times a week a horse-drawn wooden cart passes by on the street, at school we have to wait for cattle to clear off of the kids’ “soccer field,” and occasionally a student will bring his pirated movie business to class.

And I can confidently say with a smile, I love my simple Honduran life.

Kids say the darndest things. And life would be boring otherwise.

I love being a teacher. I really never planned on being one. But I love it. I have 45+ students calling me Miss (which is pronounced more like Meess) and they listen in awe when I tell them the story about flying here from the United States. I know I only have two days under my belt but I can already tell that it is going to be an eventful year. The classroom is like a breeding ground for hilarious writing material. Kids really do say the darndest things…

Things I have been told so far:

  • Two “I love you’s” and one “la quiero,” (which also means “I love you”) from a soft-spoken first grade girl whom I did not understand the first two times and repeated it until I got it. Love is an unfortunate thing to misunderstand.
  • One “Meess, the color of your eyes is beeyooteefull!
  • I was asked, “What does ‘When I see your face…’ mean in Spanish?” And after I told him he proceeded to sing the entire chorus of Bruno Mars’ top hit. Without. Understanding. A word.
  • I gave a brief introduction of myself and my family to the first grade class. One child offered the information that her mother was pregnant. Then the class erupted as all fifteen students had to raise their hand and tell me about their pregnant mother, aunt or dog. (But I certainly remember being that age and being proud that my mom was pregnant with my first baby brother)
  • Really any time I say anything about anything my students have a related story… like how they have a friend or a relative who lives in the U.S. or that the shoes that they are wearing were sent to them from the states or how their older sister is the same age as me. All wonderful little facts that bring us closer together and blur the line of difference between us.

These last three days of this week is called Ambientación. We don’t have an English word for it but it is pretty much “environment adjustment.” The kids come for short days and we don’t keep to a strict schedule. They are pretty much easing back into school. We will begin the real coursework on Monday.

Lesson planning is just short of killing me. But is it weird that I get excited to teach the four different types of sentences, creative writing and then eventually sentence diagramming?! Yay!

I have been waking up before the sun and going to bed by 9:00 pm. I know. Pick your jaw up off the floor.

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In other news: I have a photography gig this weekend at a quinceañera birthday party and I am working on some updates for the children’s home, Hope House.

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Lilly and Nohe’s photo shoot.

Yesterday, Angie and I took baby Nohe and her dog, Lilly, to the park for a little photo shoot that I have been asking to do for a little while. We coordinated Nohe’s outfit to match Lilly’s bows and had it all planned out. I got a few cute shots (out of 700+) but I think the odds were against us. I felt like I was on a reality TV show doing a photography challenge. Nohe was feeling under the weather and was very leery about the location we chose… mainly because of the itchy grass. Meanwhile, I was stepping/kneeling in horse manure and Lilly darted into the street twice after Angie took her leash off. (I also have a few photos of the chase scene) I know Angie was scared to death for her dog but I couldn’t help but laugh. The whole situation was cracking me up. The only one who wasn’t giggling was the usually-bubbly and camera-ready Nohe. She was more interested in pulling her cute new hot pink bows out of her hair and trying to eat her new beaded bracelets. She was a tough model to work with that day. But I am not dismayed… There will be other photo ops. I will be here for the next year after all. 🙂

Teacher meetings + adapting to the culture

I completed my first week ever of teacher meetings of my first year ever of teaching. 🙂

Time to celebrate? Ok, maybe not yet. We did have chocolate cake today at the school but it was in celebration of the Spanish teacher’s birthday. I can appreciate coworkers who know how to throw a party and make my blood sugar shoot through the roof.

I’m here in Honduras at this newer Christian bilingual school. My coworkers have been wonderful so far and I can not wait to meet my students! (I’ve seen the uniforms – there is no way that a small Honduran child in those little pleated skirts and shorts wouldn’t be cute.)

Humorous Cultural Differences: (I will often write about cultural differences and try to do so objectively although it is almost impossible to remove the lens from which I see the world, which is “American.” I ask the reader to have grace on my observations as I try to reflect on them in a culturally sensitive manner. Nothing written is intended to belittle the Honduran way of life nor to promote imperialistic ideas. I think both cultures have valuable things to learn from one another.)

  • While the rest of the teachers are relaxed, sitting around the room with empty desktops I am taking notes and marking down specific dates and times in my calendar like the anal retentive gringa that I can’t help but be. While they are deciding what they might buy from the pulpería down the street for lunch I am thinking, “crap, my agenda only goes through December 2012!” More than one time I have been told, “tranquilaaa.” (as to say, “take it easy.”) It is a motto that I am gladly learning.
  • The daily newspaper is alive and well here. While back in the states the daily news has been going digital for a while (I certainly did not grow up reading the paper, nor feel inclined to pick the habit up now) a lot of people in Honduras, including youth, read the daily paper.
  • …that being said, the postal service leaves a lot to be desired… snail mail, handwritten letters, what?
  • BUT they still teach cursive in school. (Whilst our American kids couldn’t read a formal handwritten letter to save their lives…)

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We just completed the teacher schedules. I am relieved to have not been assigned one single Science class. (They were considering it and I started to hyperventilate having flashbacks to my 7th grade bug project… ugh!) My schedule is packed and pretty pesado and even though I didn’t get one Spelling class, I ended up with Language 1-6 grade and Reading 1-3 grade and a couple phonics classes. I am ecstatic to start creative writing with my students. 🙂 I wrote my first short story when I was in first grade with my wonderful first grade teacher, Mrs. Sabrina Wilks. I am looking forward to inspiring some hungry minds, feeding their imaginations and hoping that (at least) some of them will fall in love with reading and writing… aside from the valuable skill of becoming proficient in the English language and learning about cultures outside of their own. What an opportunity to influence and form such young, precious lives. I take this responsibility seriously and pray that God gives me the words to speak each day. Pray for me?

*side note: One of the older girls at the children’s home where I am living (separate from the school) heard that a gym in our neighborhood might offer zumba classes. ZUMBA CLASSES. That announcement, albeit a rumor at this point, was music to my ears. We will investigate that and see if we can sign up to shake off some of these beans, rice and tortillas.

God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.

This past week I attended a Mother’s Day service at a local Hispanic church (I was invited by some of my neighbors) and a few days later, an elementary school graduation of a Mexican boy who is in our mentoring ministry. It is not unusual for my friends, roommates, fellow mentors and I to find ourselves at events like these… I really enjoy being involved in the lives of the neighborhood kids and their families.

At church on Sunday, the pastor preached to the immigrant congregation about not neglecting the families they left back in their home countries. We had a moving time of prayer for family members “back home” who may feel abandoned or betrayed by their loved ones’ choice of moving to the U.S. He spoke of how the Lord knows the heart of the immigrant and knows the tears, pain and the agonizing process of deciding whether or not to leave one’s home country and all things familiar for an indefinite amount of time. He reminded us of the Bible characters (including Jesus) who moved to distant lands either for reasons of famine, searching for work, fleeing oppression or by a command from God Himself.

There I sat on Mother’s Day – amongst families from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, etc who had left their home and other family members behind in search of opportunity – knowing that I had the luxury of driving only a couple hours into the next state to see my mother and they didn’t share that luxury with me. I could sense the ache and maybe even a little remorse in the sniffles that filled the sanctuary as we pleaded with God to protect those still remaining in poverty, war-torn countries and without access to education.

Don’t fear, God knows your heart.

A couple days later I attended a 5th grade graduation. The boy I was there to see is from Mexico. His legal status is pending. He was brought to this country as a baby by well-meaning parents only wanting the best for their son. I watched him receive award after award for scholastic achievement and heard teachers, principals and board members charge the group of students to “make wise decisions” and remind them and their parents that there should be no excuse not to complete high school and continue on to college. Before he and a handful of his classmates went up to receive the Presidential Academic Excellence Award, a letter from President Barack Obama was read. The President congratulated the students on their hard work and encouraged them to continue pursuing outstanding performance in their education. Everyone seemed to be on board with this sentiment. But how many parents and educators in that room really realized the opportunity disparity that will become evident among this class of 2019 in the next few years? While citizen children will be able to easily earn a driver’s license, their classmates lacking documentation will have no chance at receiving a legal state-issued ID. While citizen high school graduates will be receiving scholarships and paying in-state tuition, some of their peers will have little chance at higher education, much less financial aid, and will have to pay out-of-state tuition for colleges that are right down the road from their high school.

To many latino immigrant families, moving from 5th grade to middle school is huge. This step is something that many parents that I personally know were not able to take while back in their home countries due to economic hardship. Seeing their children continue with their education is an emotional moment in which they realize that every sacrifice they had to make was worth it.

I had a recent conversation with my neighbors who are from Mexico and Guatemala about the political climate in my home state, Alabama, and updates on the anti-immigrant legislation that was passed last year. They told me about a Mexican man living in Alabama who came home one winter evening after work to find his water and electricity cut off. (as suggested by the new law – “no one is to enter a contract with an undocumented immigrant” including landlords and utilities companies) He, his wife and small daughters went to bed that night without showers or heat. When he called to inquire about it he was told he had two days before he would be evicted. Two days later they headed to Tennessee where they now live.

My neighbors have voiced their concerns with me before about waking up each morning not knowing if that day could be the day they get detained or deported. These people have lived here for years. They have established families. This is the only culture and country their children know. I asked if they had some kind of plan in place for their children in the instance that they were arrested. (I heard of many families in Alabama having to do this with other family members or neighbors after HB56 was passed) They told me not really but that they make sure that all their children (who are natural born citizens) have their passports as soon as possible. If anything were to happen to one parent, the whole family would follow back to the home country – being separated is not even an option.

I consider these families very dear to me. So when I hear ignorant anti-immigrant political rhetoric… it hits me in a personal way. Whether this affects you or anyone close to you, I challenge you to have the courage to think critically beyond the stereotypes and xenophobia. Put a human face to the issue. And if you are a follower of Christ I sure hope you are able to see that God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.