Our partners in El Obraje

Pastor Alejandro and his family are healthy and doing good. They are enclosed in their village but with a little more freedom than they have in bigger towns. They have been praying in small groups with families and neighbors and those that want to read and pray at the end of the day for a short time. Alejandro does the sermons on WhatsApp for the rest of the congregants so that they can do the same in their homes. Alejandro’s daughter has a job in IT and is able to continue working from home.

The church is still selling water from their purification system. They have two guys in charge of it and Alejandro delivers it to the different places in the community.

The school in El Obraje is closed and they are trying to send homework to those they can. Most of their teachers are from Danli and so are able to send homework on the internet.

In the case of Las Minas (a remote village up in the nearby mountain where our teams often visit) where Alejandro’s sister in law that lives next door teaches, it is more complicated. Only a handful of people there have smart phones and there is no signal there. The road into Las Minas is closed as well, so she really has no way of communicating or collecting assignments even if they are able to watch their classes on the government channel. Shortly after the schools closed, Alejandro’s family was able to deliver some food that donated from another program to the kids up there, but they closed the entrance to the village the next day.

The entrances to most towns, including Ciudad Espana and El Obraje, are manned with town leaders that take turns stopping all incoming vehicles (food and water) and community members spray them down with a disinfectant spray. Click here (https://youtu.be/uUTalzkL_A4) to see a 1:40 video with subtitles in English of the marvelous pastor Alejandro on duty at the gates of El Obraje. If you don’t recognize him by his posture and well pressed and pleated dress slacks, he’s the guy in the light blue long-sleeved button-down shirt.

This week Alejandro’s family has been gathering more food using funds provided by Church of the Resurrection for this relief. They are able to source the food directly from producers that they have established relationships with. Click here (https://youtu.be/wwDKD-z16RM) to see the 30 second video with subtitles in English of all that was delivered the next day.

Milton and the mission house in Tegucigalpa

Milton, our fearless mission trip UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteer in Mission) coordinator, is obeying the quarantine order and is able to work from home quarantining with his sister and dog. Eight mission teams from around the US have had to cancel or postpone their trips and the earliest that the next teams MIGHT come is in July. Since it is unknown how protocols and security may change, Milton makes a new plan each week knowing that it will all probably change the next. For example, even if the borders open, if entrance requires a two-week isolation period, that would probably cause most teams to cancel.

While he is waiting on the world to figure out the COVID, he is keeping very busy preparing a lot of 2019 reports for the GBGM (General Board of Global Ministries) UMVIM office about teams, i.e. activities, ages, locations, churches, states and much more. He’s worried about his translators and others who benefit from mission teams. He says the economy there doesn’t allow for a lot of savings and so he prays that teams will be able to come soon to provide them some relief. If the upcoming medical teams cannot come, his biggest prayer is that some of those teams might be open to financing an in-country team of medical people to go out and accomplish the activity. He said that medical care in the best of times is lacking and is concerned that it is getting worse as a result of the curfew. He would love to be able to give baskets of food to the church communities they serve, but there are limits on what you can buy, like only 6 eggs or 1 gallon of milk. Even if he won the million-dollar lottery he would have no way of acquiring more than his limit of grocery items to give away.

In regards to his outside of work activity, Milton gets to go out for groceries on Fridays. When asked how easy it is to go out when you’re not supposed to, he said that last Friday he was stopped to show his ID a total of 4 times before he got into the store. Police presence is everywhere and diligently checking as well as store security at the door. If caught out on the wrong day you get a $250 fine. But he is healthy and waiting for time to tell what is to come.

Honduran Mandates

The web page for the US embassy in Honduras (https://hn.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/) has updated information in regards to the COVID19 pandemic. The following is a summary of the madates:

Juan Wesley Students

Virtual learning overall has been very challenging for both the teachers and students, but they are all working very hard and adapting valiantly to a lot of changes in a very short period of time. The school’s principal, Olga, would like to encourage everyone to check out the school Facebook page as we are the primary reason why she is posting pictures there and there are some really cute ones! Their page name is “C.E Metodista Juan Wesley”.

The first case of COVID19 in Honduras was found on March 11, and on March 12 the government mandated that all K-12 governmental and non-governmental (private schools like Juan Wesley) teaching institutions close for 2 weeks. They also required that a training be held on the prevention of the virus (social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks) for the teachers, students and parents. So the very next day, Olga, the school principal, held a big prevention training in the sanctuary followed by families receiving a handout from the Honduran Education Secretary with strategies to work at home with their kids. Then they all followed their teachers to their classrooms where they verified everyone’s cell phone number, name, email, etc., so that they could determine the best way to communicate with them. They discovered that every family in the school has at least a cell phone, so they chose to use the WhatsApp application and formed group pages for each class. WhatsApp is the most used social networking app in all of Latin American that allows them to send audio, video, text messages, and make phone calls using the internet instead of the more expensive cell minutes that have to be purchased otherwise.

In the photo below, you can see the training was standing room only! On this day (March 13th) there were only 2 cases of COVID19 in Honduras.

The first week of virtual classes began on Monday, March 16 using the virtual tools (videos, learning goals, YouTube links, photos, etc.) sent by department of education. The teachers implement these tools as they see best fit into our school’s curriculum. Through the classroom WhatsApp group, the teachers send out audio, video, YouTube links and photos to teach the material. Then the students do the work and send in their assignments to the teacher by means of a picture or video on WhatsApp. In addition to the picture of the finished assignment, the teachers request a picture of the students working on that assignment.

The second week of virtual learning, the Ministry of Education continued to send online tools to teach with, and that completed the last week of the first quarter. Through daily meetings between Olga and the teachers they discovered the students were being inundated with material from all their subjects (up to 10 in total) the same day and creating great stress on the students and parents, not to mention the teachers who have to prepare it all and make lesson plans incorporating the governmental tools. As a result, they developed a schedule to help level out the work. i.e., Math and Social Studies on Monday, Science and Spanish class on Tuesday, History and Philosophy on Wednesday, Civics and Sociology, Chemistry, etc.

Students may contact the teachers directly with questions as well so the teachers are pretty much fielding calls and questions all day and into the evening. Many of our teachers also teach at the public school in the afternoons, whose curriculum is done a little differently (see the “In Ciudad Espana” section), so they are doing double duty keeping up with those students as well.

As directed by the Minister of Education, Olga must submit a sample of the work from Juan Wesley to the District Director every day, so she receives numerous examples of lessons and assignments from all the teachers. This also helps her to monitor the teachers and how they are utilizing the tools for their lessons so they she can help explore other strategies with them if needed.

Here are a couple YouTube video examples that were sent out. You can just watch a minute of them to get a feel for what they are doing as well as imagine the challenges that arise when one household has just one cell phone and multiple students all vying for the phone time to get, watch, reference and hand in assignments for all their classes

Beginning reader https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONTN2fh8Lik

Higher level math concept https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGWCw6UUHTM

In this video, one of the counselors, Dina, who has been with the school for several years, also does a Professional Ethics class. In this video she introduces the qualities a person should have that shows labor competency. Click here (https://youtu.be/RWM8-eaPRDo) to see this video with subtitles in English. If the subtitles don’t automatically appear, be sure and click the Closed Caption (CC) icon on the lower right of the video window.

Since the English teacher teaches all grades, he is charged with 13 levels of lesson plans! Jason, the English teacher from the past few years is back and we couldn’t be happier! He sends a lot of video recordings to the students so they can hear how to pronounce new words. The students then turn in their assignment via audio and video clips to the teacher. Here is a very cute video of a student’s English assignment he turned in. Notice the everyday challenges evident in this video with noise and distraction from the streets in front of their houses which are always open for air circulation in their climate. Click here https://youtu.be/0slUvq9SgVs to see the video which is mostly in English but has subtitles just in case you need them😉.

The computer science teacher created a tool on the Moodle platform (Moodle is also commonly used by teachers here in the US) to work with his students. However, this turned out to be rather difficult because the students are using computers with old processors and little memory.

At this time, the quarantine has been extended indefinitely and they are all looking forward to getting back into the classrooms. The school is committed to following the mandates set forth by the Honduran government and doing their part in working hard to make virtual learning as successful as possible in the hopes that the government will not cancel the rest of the school year (their school year ends in November) and lose the 2020 school year all together. They will continue to adjust and develop the virtual learning process until otherwise told. They feel blessed because there are poorer villages that have more of challenge with technology.

University Students

We currently support 20 university students, and luckily, they all are able to continue with virtual classes as well. The main difference is that the university has a couple of the well-known online meeting platforms such a s Zoom and Microsoft Teams so teachers can actually do a live lecture to the whole class at the same time in addition to sending video and audio clips of supporting material via Whatsapp or email. At the public university, where most of our students go, there are a few professors that are more technically challenged and do not know how to use the platforms and so they try to send everything via email, which really thwarts the effectiveness of the class.

Our partner church in Ciudad Espana

Pastor Hector is doing some services online via Facebook. You can join their page “Iglesia M. Cristo Resucitado” to see him as well as the praise band of 3, properly distanced and worshipping the Lord. For support there is a group WhatsApp page for the church congregants, one for the women’s group, another for Sunday School, and another for the youth group. That is where they share words of encouragement and bible verses and Pastor Hector does devotions there.

Pastor Hector also received funds from the Church of the Resurrection to be able to distribute food to those in the community that are in need.

General Ciudad Espana

There is a fairly new governmental social service organization in town called DINIS (National Directorate of Social Intervention) that was able to distribute food to everyone in Ciudad Espana earlier in the month. They distribute to other cities as well and unfortunately; they don’t think that Ciudad Espana will receive any more.

The medical clinic at the school is closed since there is not sufficient personal protective equipment for Vilma and the doctor to use. But all is not lost as there is a health center in town that is run by the government that is still open if someone feels they have a need.

We develop each other:

Many years ago my wife started traveling to Uganda as part of a medical mission group which focused on nurse education in the developing world.  As a nurse educator, it was a perfect match for her.  She accompanied US nursing students on a trip to a teaching hospital in the small town of Gulu where she taught both groups about labor and delivery.   Her actions inspired me to search out an area where I could help, unfortunately there aren’t many developing countries looking for experienced arbitrators.

My background is actually in Theology, only by a strange turn of events did I end up in the Insurance Industry.  You would think that this would be a no-brainer – take my theology and convert the world, but that’s not me.  You see, Theology is the study of God – not religion.  I very much believe in God, but believe that what is important is not a belief in a religion, but an individual relationship with God.  So – run out into the world converting people to a religious ideology is not my style. 

For years I thought about how I could help outside of my community.  What skills can I offer those in need.  For those same number of years – nothing came across as a match, until 6 months ago.  I was asked by a friend if I would join a group of men on a trip to Honduras.  You see, Honduras has one of the highest refugee rates in the western hemisphere.  It is suffering from a tragic crisis of gang and cartel violence. Gangs in Honduras target young boys and draw them into the gang life.  This life encourages a cycle of violence in the community, addiction, and a lack of continued education.  One of the ways to break this cycle is to encourage male involvement in the family, community, and to attract youth away from the gangs.  The purpose of this trip was to go to Honduras and work hand in hand with local men’s organizations during a Honduran National Service Week.  I signed up thinking I have a masters degree in Human Resource Development – I’m perfectly trained to help develop these Honduran Men. So American of me to think that, or I should say so “North American” of me.

When we arrived in country we had planned service days with three different groups.  Group 1: Build a drainage ditch in the small rural town of El Obraje.  Group 2: Build a parking lot at a mission facility in the capital of Tegucigalpa.  Group 3: School repairs in Ciudad Espana.  These projects are Honduran’s ideas of “light construction.” 

Ditch Digging

 Let me set the scene for you.  The ground was so hard I broke the shovel handle in less than 5 minutes of my digging attempt.  My “North American” self immediately asked where the nearest hardware store was to replace the shovel.  Believe it or not – there was one in town, but before I could go buy a new shovel the Honduran team had cut down a tree, whittled the trunk, and replaced the handle – good as new!  We spent the rest of the day digging the trench, unearthing a 700 lbs boulder, and troubleshooting how to move the boulder out of the 3 foot deep trench.   We started as foreigners with a foreign mentality – and ended the day as a team of men solving a very heavy problem.

Parking on a Mountain

Tegucigalpa is a city of nearly 2 million people with space for about 50% of the population.  It sits snug in a valley surrounded by mountains.  Extreme poor live intermixed with extreme wealth.  Look one way and you see Beverly Hills style homes built into the mountainside.  Look the other and see wood huts with tin roofs.  The mission house sits on a hillside in a very poor part of town, requiring a gated compound setup for security purposes.  Given the space available and the slope of the hillside – there was very little space for parking.  Project 2 required more digging and a lot of dirt moving.  The first day we individually averaged over 12 miles of walking, half of which involved pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt down into the residential dirt road and “repaving” the street with the dirt. 

Is this wire live?

The last day of work took us up to a school in Ciudad Espana where our team of mixed nationality men split into three groups.  I landed myself with what I thought would be a light day of labor given the past week of shoveling and moving dirt. I signed up to wire electricity for a new computer lab at the school.  Unfortunately, electrical code is, well very “unregulated” in Honduras and at one point our Honduran counterpart showed us how they test to see if the wire was live or not.  Yes – it was a bit of a shock.  We spent that entire day without a translator and I learned more about my Honduran colleague than language would ever had allowed.  Hopefully he learned a little about electrical safety!

Over the week in Honduras I never lectured on interpersonal relationships.  I didn’t give a talk on developing men into family and community role models.  That was my North American perception of how to develop the men of Honduras.  No, in fact I would argue I likely grew more than they did.  I did dig several ditches, moved a lot of dirt, watched my home town American Football team win the Super bowl in a room full of men who had for the most part never seen American Football in their life. While in country I learned humility on a scale I’ve never imagined.  I learned communication – without a common language. To Listen Openly with more than my ears.  I learned to trust others and to start with positive intent. I could go through a list of good adult development traits and comment on how each of these tenants were present, but I won’t.  I have to say of them all - the one that impacted me the most was – We Develop Each Other.

Don’t be afraid to go out and develop someone… but even more importantly, don’t be afraid to let others develop you.

Our final day of serving the wonderful people of Honduras was spent on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa in Ciudad Espana. We helped prepare the Juan Wesley School for the first day of classes. 

Our team divided into three groups to maximize our benefit. Mike and Nate ran electrical service to a new computer lab. 

Adam and Mark performed concrete replacement on the sports court. 

Bill, Bruce, Howard and Jason painted a classroom. Sorry the blog writer was not able to enter the studio of these artisans for photographs. 

We enjoyed a home cooked lunch with sponsor kids from the school and their families. At the end of our work day we walked to the refurbished city park. Needless to say, the eight white men walking the streets drew some attention and we were able to interact with some youth from the community. 

The day came to a fitting end for a men’s trip with a dinner that consisted of four kinds of meat in an all you can eat format. Meat sweats rained down. Our leader, Bill , was serenaded sweetly by the sweet sounds of a mariachi band to end our evening. 

We are getting packed to leave these consistent 80 degree days for the chill of KC, but we look forward to being home tomorrow. 

It has been a wonderful week serving God and the people of Honduras while also spreading the Chiefs Kingdom. 

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