The Pattern Continues

I am writing this on Thursday in the Zari lobby. I’ll continue describing yesterday before I start on today.  We made our way slowly back to the school. Everyone was exhausted from laughing and walking. We stopped at a house that sold snacks and drinks and had a mini-picnic beside the road. After about an hour of strong sunshine, the roads were already dry. A fresh wind picked up and our walk back became quite pleasant. I should mention here that Linda, Becky, Sofia and Natalia have been indispensible as translators. Laughter and joy are universal, of course, but all the questions asked by the students and answered by Linda, her daughters and Becky only added to the growing understanding between us all. When the school was finally in sight some students spied an entire branch of ripe bananas. Soon bananas were flying into outstretched hands and laughter erupted anew. We saw Sally and her small charges waiting for us in the road, Sally a renaissance vision with flowers woven into her hair and even on her shoes !!  They had been discussing colors, counting and even patterning with the 70 toothbrushes that Linda brought from California. Here are some more pictures:

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Before leaving we realized that Thursday would be Meredith’s last in Santa Rosita. A barbeque seemed in order. We agreed to bring the chicken and the parents in Santa Rosita would provide rice, beans, tortillas and chiles. We piled into the truck and soon Connie, Sofia and Natalia were fast asleep. That evening Josefina Gross joined us for dinner. We continued our discussion of XO security and accountability.

 

Now I’ll start on Thursday’s blog…..  Oscar Gross II  joined us for breakfast and for the ride into the mountains. This morning was cloudy and overcast, but still fresh and bracing. The diffused light softened the edges of the trees, plants and grasses, blurring their forms and making the vegetation seem more dense and thick. Again, an even larger contingent of students were waiting for first sight of us to send the word to the assembled students. I’m getting used to being greeted with cheers by my students. This will definitely not continue in the United States!! There were more adults around waiting for the chicken to barbeque. We continued our introductory lessons with the entire student body. These covered carefully opening and closing the XO, checking battery strength, opening and closing activities, closing activities to clear memory and promote quickness and checking volume on the speakers. Then we broke up into groups by age and used the writing program to write reports about the field trip the day before. Then we imported photos that the students took while walking. When completed, the groups made presentations. After this we let the students explore and play. The maze, math and memorization games are student favorites. Before eating we went to the local church, which is just across the dirt road from the school building. This structure is in much better shape that the school. A priest visits Santa Rosita ,in addition to three other parishes, on Sundays. I noticed immediately that there was a deep quiet and peace in the single room filled with rough wooden benches. On the altar there was a glass case in which an icon of the Virgin rested. We gave them a blessed cross from our commissioning at Saint Andrew’s and the teacher hung it on a corner of the Virgin’s glass case. In the shadows I prayed and thought of how much Owen would have enjoyed our time in Honduras. I also thought of all the wonderful people who are with us here and those of you wishing us well from afar. Holding Sally’s hand we went back to the school where the food was just arriving. The students let out a cheer for the women bringing the chicken, beans and rice. Many students brought their own tortillas from home. All the excitement helped to draw us from grief back to the world of the living and the hopeful. Students formed a line based on age from youngest to oldest. They brought their own bowls and plates and were literally jumping  with expectation while in line waiting. Everyone sat enjoying and one young fellow in front of Sally and I told us that chicken was so delicious and that he had had it once before with his family.  Soon everyone was fed including the adults gathered and the cooks. Now it was time to give thanks to the cooks and to us. After this the older girls got the two teachers to ask Meredith for a picture together. They all grabbed her hand and looked sadly into her eyes. Just before we left, the Kinder teacher gave us a letter expressing the community’s  thanks. Linda will translate it for us at dinner. I feel emotionally exhausted and full of love. Here are some more pictures:

 

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A Pattern Emerges…

A pattern is emerging in Honduras: each day is more exciting and satisfying than those before it!!  Today Connie, the daughter of Dr. Emma Henriguez from Catholic University, joined us again. The ride up to Santa Rosita was every bit as breath taking as before. The mists had dissolved in the valleys and the bright sunshine reflected off the dark black-green leaves of the coffee plants. I saw all those delicious beans ripening, in each that marvelous elixir of youth preparing itself to inspire those no longer young like me. As before, all the students were waiting. In fact, as we drove up a small party of scouts saw us and began cheering. They ran back to the outdoor area where all the students gather and another, louder cheer erupted. When I walked up two small boys grabbed each hand to lead me under the tarp. My heart melted. I realize now that I have not sufficiently recognized the generosity and help given us by Becky Young. She brought with her 20 XOs from her school at San Miguelito, where she had been last summer. Her students graciously allowed us to use their computers for our lessons.The 28 total we have enabled us to get an XO into every student’s hands for a significant amount of time.

 

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We decided to go on a field trip to interesting spots around Santa Rosita. We used the photo feature on the XOs to take pictures of coffee fields, mountains, student’s houses and the swimming hole, where we woulde end up. We split up into groups by age. Sally stayed behind with the very young students and the Kinder teacher, Delmis. Sally had a whole day planned involving the alphabet, songs, music, reading, patterning- all of which utilized XO programs. The rest of us hit the road. As soon as we reached the top of a steep hill, we started down, only to ascend and descend, over and over. The scenery was spectacular! Every available hillside, no matter how steep, was symetrically furrowed with coffee, beans, bananas and corn. A short but heavy shower forced us onto a porch for cover, and turned the road into a quagmire. We continued sloshing on and finally heard the roar of a rain-fed stream. Sure enough, there was a small waterfall tumbling into a pool of swirling water. Richard, Sofia, Natalia, Connie and I took a dip along with a number of older boys. I felt like Huck Finn!! Looking up to the grassy slope that bordered the pool I saw all the remaining children laughing and full of merriment. They formed small clusters around the XOs with many heads bent over the screens looking at the pictures they had taken and playing math and maze games. Becky told me that Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of One Laptop Per Child would have loved this scene!! I’m going to end here.and continue after dinner.

                                                                                                Mark

 

 

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Another Day In Paradise

If possible, our second day in Santa Rosita was even more impactful and inspiring  than our first- and I’m only talking about our team!!! We had another beautiful drive up into the clouds. The coffee plants formed patterns on the hillsides that looked as if corduroy fabric had been laid horizontally over the slopes.  Mists hugged the creek beds and the air was marvelously fresh and still. We felt in a new world, a world just created. This time when we arrived at the school, all the children were there sitting on desks and benches under a blue tarp which had been stretched under a large shade tree. The looks of anticipation, the shy but eager eyes that asked if we remembered them from yesterday were enough to bring a tear to my eyes. The students then raised their freshly washed hands to show us they were ready to begin. We broke out the XOs and divided the students into groups. One group worked with Richard on troubleshooting, general maintenance and accessing applications. This group was christened ” Los Technos “. The rest of us, including 11 year old Sofia and 9 year old Natalia took groups to continue exploring XO programs. Today there was more of a focus on academic subjects and the many math, spelling, reading and geography games were enjoyed by the students. Suddenly a ripple of excitement and interest moved through the students. The TV crew had arrived!!! Almost immediately the video operator and  Carlos Alvarado  from Canal 10 began moving around the groups shooting and asking questions of teachers, students and the  large group of parents who sat in a large circle outside the assembled desks and benches. I was asked to say a few words about the project, our team and about Owen. As a teacher I suppose my profession demands a facility with words, but amidst this on-going miracle I was speechless. In the end I got out a few words before the TV crew moved elsewhere to do other interviews , one with Oscar Ochoa, whose omnipresence and gentle support is yet another miracle. Becky Young graciously helped translate my remarks into Spanish and Carlos Alvarado promised us that the report would be on TV that night.  We worked for a few more hours and then broke for lunch and a vigorous frisbee game. Driving back we didn’t miss the rain this time. I felt so thankful and blessed that I didn’t feel a thing. Later tonight at 6:15 Carlos came to the Zari lobby and we gathered around the TV to watch. Instead of a short 2 minute spot, the story  went on for about 8, and continued for another 2 or 3 minutes after that following a commercial! We all went out to dinner with Carlos joining us. Everyone is exhausted and in their rooms. I’m here in the lobby unable to close my eyes and end this wonderful day. There have been very few days like this in my life, when events are so powerful that I feel in the grip of something greater than me and my rather simple life. Perhaps this is what grace feels like. I hope that Owen approves.  More tomorrow.

                             Mark

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A Day We Will Never Forget

The story begins last night in my home away from home- the lobby of the Zari Hotel. Our final remaining member, Becky Young, arrived from Tegucigalpa and we set out her 20 XOs in the lobby to download new applications and troubleshoot for problems. A televsion reporter from Canal 10, the national TV station, entered to tell us that he will be filming us in Santa Rosita on Tuesday. This reporter, Carlos Jovel Alvarado, focuses on education issues. He will write an accompanying article on The Owen Project, including a history of the inspiration and purpose of our initiative. Needless to say we were very excited and it was even more difficult to sleep that night. In the morning we piled into a pickup and drove into the mountains, higher and higher until we were in the clouds. The steep hillsides were planted with coffee and bananas. The red earth oozed fertility, and as we drover ever higher the vistas became evermore dramatic and breath taking. We passed a few small houses surrounded by gardens and grazing cattle and goats. Suddenly we stopped by a crumbling plaster outbuilding with a rusted tin roof. This was the school at Santa Rosita! The single 12×12′ room was filled with desks and tables and 5 students sitting together shyly. We discovered that the teacher was at a meeting in Siguatepeque and most children assumed there was no school that day. Unfazed, we took out 5 XOs and began teaching. Within 10 minutes the school was filled with hastily dressed students and their parents. We moved all the furniture outside underneath a towering shade tree. Soon laughter and gasps of wonder were all that could be heard. I am still trying to download some of the pictures we took. I simply can’t find the words to describe the looks of wonder and awe on the faces of those children. After an hour of exploration, when each of our team worked with 4 or 5 of the students and parents, giving each child a chance to see a few of the XO programs, we gathered together and introduced ourselves. I gave them a picture of my son Owen and told them what we hope to do in Santa Rosita. Then the students introduced themselves and we started in again with some of the more entertaining applications. The teacher arrived and joined in. We gave her an XO to explore. We met members of the PTA and tried to explain more fully what the XO can do to transform education in Santa Rosita. Our welcome was quite warm and sincere and there was a palpable atmosphere of excitement in the air. We stopped at 11:00 for a bit of soccer and refreshment. Each member of our team, including Sofia and Natalia, then took a small group of students and continued exploring the applications. 2 hours later we piled into the truck to try to beat the afternoon rains back to Siguatepeque.We’ll be back again tomorrow. We will then concentrate on showing the teacher how to implement XOs in her planned lessons. Each of us has some area of academic experience so we will actually help to teach those lessons. We still have to decide about security and accountability. Back in Siguatepeque, we were met by Oscar Ochoa and Oscar Gross II. Their kindness, concern and committment are truly appreciated. I’m in a dream from which I do not want to wake!! More later.

              Mark

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The Lobby of the Zari Hotel

We just found out that the lobby of our hotel is a WiFi hotspot. What a sight it must be for guests to walk in and see us with a bank of XOs attached to power cords down loading software, naming computers and practicing with the intranet  and video functions!!Some other visitors from Saint Davids in San Antonio asked to buy an XO on the spot!! This happened before in Copan. Becky Young has still not arrived. We have created a lesson plan for the first three days that includes a step by step introduction to the XO and some of its basic features. This afternoon we will finalize our transportation to and from Santa Rosita with Oscar Ochoa. Tomorrow morning after breakfast we will finally make our first visit to Santa Rosita. I am thinking of all of you whose generous support has made this trip possible.I have even felt that Owen is nearbye. For this and so much more- Thank you all.

                                          Mark

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Siguatepeque continued……..

It is Saturday night in Siguatepeque. Linda, Richard,Sofia,Natalia and Meredith arrived safely. Becky Young is still in Tegucigalpa waiting for her luggage. She’ll be here tomorrow. After settling in our rooms, we met Oscarito and his professor from Catholic University. We had dinner together and discussed the issue of security and accountability for the XOs. The awful truth is that in the most remote areas the poverty is such that the XOs could be sold or stolen. The Professor proposed that the University’s Education Department be accountable for the XOs and send them out to the neediest schools with young teachers who would be trained before hand. We are going to make a class set availablle for the University to train teachers. Additional XOs will go in to a pool to be used by the teaching teams. A student is already translating the XO manual into Spanish. We downloaded the entire manual from the OLPC site. Oscarito will maintain the XOs and oversee their use by Honduran school children. Santa Rosita will become a pilot program and we will create a model for implementation that will be used by the University. Local education officials will visit us in Santa Rosita to see the transformation made possible by the XOs and a dedicated group of teachers. More tomorrow.

                      Mark 

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Siguatepeque

We arrived in Siguatepeque last night and were met by Oscar Ochoa and his wife. Oscar is our Honduran contact person and it is to his address that the XOs will be sent. Still no word on their arrival, but we have enough at hand to start teaching on Monday in Santa Rosita. Everyone else on the team should arrive this afternoon. At the Zari Hotel last night we met  Dr.Oscar Gross and his wife. His son Oscarito will maintain the XOs once they arrive. He´s studying Programming at a local university. We were surprised to meet a group of fellow Texans and Episcopalians at the Zari. They are from St. David´s in San Antonio and are working with the Birthing Center in Siguatepeque. Being around all these committed and caring people makes us realize that there are forces for good at work in all parts of the world, forces that work quietly, one or two people at a time. We are honored to be a part of this quiet transformation. We are charging our XOs and downloading programs from the net. More later- Mark

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