I remember the very last Beatles song played on the radio. It was called, ” The Long and Winding Road.” Though I couldn’t have articulated it then, there was something wistful and sad in that song; it seemed to capture the inevitable passage of time and all the loss that this brings about. I thought of this song while we drove to the airport in San Pedro Sula. Natalia had fallen asleep against my shoulder and the look of peace and security, the touching vulnerability of her sleeping features made me think of the faces of so many Hondurans we met in Copan, Siguatepeque and Santa Rosita. Though we had been in Honduras for only a few weeks, I felt like a teenager leaving home for college. On rare occasions I have been able to look directly into the heart of another person, with no pretense or fear of judgement, simply and naturally. Being in Honduras was like doing this continuously for two weeks! As soon as we arrived back in Texas we had an email from Becky Young. She met a woman in the Honduran Ministry of Education who had heard about the Owen Project. She is part of an initiative to put computers and the internet in rural schools just like that in Santa Rosita. I in turn contacted her, giving her the names and addresses of Oscar Ochoa, Oscar Gross II and Emma Henriquez. Since we already have the XOs on order, the government may give technical support and free internet access to Santa Rosita and we will remain in control of the project. In fact, our dream of Santa Rosita becoming a model project for other isolated communities in Honduras is one step closer to realization. Oscar Ochoa wrote to us that he thought the government connection to be a very important one. He has also arranged a meeting with Claro, a cell phone provider in Honduras with data transmission towers close to Santa Rosita. Since the initial naming of this project, before we had raised a dime or heard of Santa Rosita, through these latest developments, there has been a marvellous, even miraculous momentum behind all of our efforts. We feel swept along by forces greater, wiser and more beautiful than our individual wills or talents. All of the generous donors, family, friends, people who knew Owen, those who had only heard of him, our team members, our Honduran collaborators, those who prayed for us and everyone in Santa Rosita have been gathered together into a compelling story that is beyond chance, luck, happy circumstance or coincidence. Call it what you will. I call it grace and we will never be the same. It is my hope that someday the children in Santa Rosita will feel and think likewise.
Monthly Archives: July 2011
A Moveable Feast
I’ve always loved Hemingway’s novel enitiled A Moveable Feast. The plot follows a group of expatriates in Europe after WWI. Where ever they go they bring a festive atmosphere that is infectious. I experienced this mobile fun today In Siguatepeque and Santa Rosita. The rainy weather broke and the sky was a bright, deep blue on our trip up to the mountains. We pulled up to the school and this welcome topped all others. I’m afraid I’m ruined now because I will hope for this kind of welcome from my students in the States. On the dirt path leading to the school the villagers had constructed an arch of saplings with balloons and sign on it wishing Sally happy birthday.There was confetti on the path and rose petals. All the students and their parents were wearing paper crowns like the kind available at Burger King!! There must have been 100 people present, including students, parents and siblings. A sound system was set up and the teacher acted as MC. There was a second arch directly in front of the covered area where we taught each day. It too was covered with balloons, paper streamers and tin foil. It was all inexpressibly beautiful!! The music started with a march by Strauss. Sally and I danced to the clapping and cheers of the laughing and whistling students. We gathered other students and even some of the parents for more dancing. Strauss was replaced by Reggeton and other more popular Honduran music. A cultural program followed with skits, folk dancing, a puppet show and singing. After this, several villagers made speeches telling of their struggles to establish the school and how our arrival was the culmination of alot of effort and prayer. Each speech was full of dignity, palpable emotion and gratefulness. When Owen died we felt at the very heart of life. Our grief made everything simple somehow. The pain of loss burned away everything unimportant. It seemed as if those who came to our aid were effected in like manner. I remembered this sitting under a tarp in Santa Rosita.We were gathered together to do something simple, something profound, something powerful. They were thanking us with as much intensity as we were thanking them. Once again, I felt at the very heart of life. More music, dancing and games followed until lunch was served. Now it was time for the pinatas. The children were divided by gender and age and formed lines underneath the three pinatas. The blindfolded children were literally screaming with delight. In fact, if there was a high point of fun it was now. I looked around to see smiles on the faces of everyone, even on the leathery, creased faces of the older men. By this point we were exhausted. We said our goodbyes and hugged and kissed everyone. it was a quiet ride back. Everyone was overwhelmed. But the feast moved with us to the home of Dr. Oscar Gross in Siguatepeque. Josefina, his wife shares a birthday with Sally. In fact she was with us in Santa Rosita. Now we met her friends from the medical community and the university. Oscar Ochoa was also in attendence. We had agraet meal and talked about the fiesta in Santa Rosita. Later there was karaoke, highlighted by me trying to sing ” Yesterday” by the Beatles in my not so pleasant voice. What warm people these Hondurans!! We have an early morning tomorrow.
With care, Mark
A Meeting Of Minds
The torrential rain that we experienced in Copan finally caught up to us in Siguatepeque. It poured noisily all night long but stopped miraculously at dawn. By the time we left the sun was shining. We took all the food for the fiesta tomorrow. Our arrival was announced in a somewhat muted manner because all the parents came for a meeting and the children were on their best behavior. We also noted the presence of more men than ever before, and these were dressed in their best. Many nursing mothers were also present and all the familiar faces of a few parents who have been helping all along. Both teachers were beaming. With Linda’s able translating we laid out the plan for the distribution and use of the XOs after we leave. Taking considerations of security and maintenance into account, we decided to give each child their own XO to be used each day at school. 1 computer for each family would be signed out each evening. If a particular family had a number of students then they would have to share. Also, as students move on to school elsewhere for higher grades their XO would be returned to the school at Santa Rosita. Finally, the responsibility for the care of each XO was to be shared by each student and their family. The teachers and the local school secretary would oversee this process. Just as we were about to start teaching the secretary asked to say a few words. Though a small man by American standards, the secretary drew himself up and, with dignity and a powerful presence, spoke of the long struggle of the parents of Santa Rosita to find some way to educate their children. He ended by stating that we were the answer to many prayers. I remembered then why we had come in the first place. Most of the parents stayed on to watch us in action. Looking over our shoulders, they watched their children at work. Many expectant looks were cast back into parent’s faces and many loving looks of pride were returned. Soon parents were being called to and shown completed work with pride and barely disguised excitement. If only I too could be called in like manner and have just one more chance to beam with pride. Just before we finished packing up the pickup, I went into the school to have one last look at Owen’s picture. Some mothers came in behind me to ask a few questions about Sally and I and Owen. Sally happened by just in time to be moved to tears by the looks of understanding and compassion in these beautiful women’s faces. Truly, some truths need no words to pass between hearts. Our imminent departure and the memory of this powerful experience made the drive back even more magnificent. The lobby of the Zari was the scene of the last meeting of the minds that ocurred today. We met Oscar Ochoa, Oscar Gross II and Professor Henriquez from Catholic University. We laid out all of our responsibilities for the XOs once they arrive later this month. The 100 XOs will be received by Oscar Ochoa. Oscar Gross II will inventory them, download textbooks into them, power them up and check for problems and take 25 of them to Professor Henriquez at Catholic University. She will use them in her classes in two ways. First, her university students will study the operating system, interface and programming languge of the XOs. Second, her students will also familiarize themselves with the applications, create lessons and travel to Santa Rosita and other small communities to train teachers and to actually teach classes. Further, Oscar Goss II will attempt to search out more committed students to become active participants in future Owen Project placements. Finally, Oscar Ochoa will contact Ministry of Education members to explore access to data streaming from cell towers in the Santa Rosita area. This will make internet access both relatively simple to create and cheap to maintain. A full day! We finished the day buy buying pinatas and filling them with candy and small toys. We also got two cakes. It turns out that Oscar Gross’s mother has a birthday on the 6th too. Luckily we bought two crowns for the two princesses.
With care, Mark
IntoThe Cloud Forest
It rained all night and into Monday morning, stopping just as we set out. As we started to climb from Siguatepeque, we learned why this area is called a cloud forest. All of the higher ridges were completely obscured by a thick blanket of clouds and from these banks fingers of mist were moving down into the valleys.. The light in the valleys, filtered through the mist, highlighted the different shades of green of the corn, beans, bananas, coffee and wild vegetation. Our driver was apprehensive about the state of the roads should it pour again. The ink black, roiling clouds on the horizon made him ask that we leave early- by 11. We passed out the XOs and got right to work. By now a routine has been established and Los Technos had everything in hand. We concentrated on composition, basic math and patterning. We finalized the menu for the fiesta Wednesday, and called a .meeting for all parents tomorrow. 11 o’clock came all too soon. We did not escape the torrential rain and arrived at the Zari soaked but happy.
Sunday, A Day of Rest and Thanks
I’ve included many photos of adventures mentioned in past posts. They convey very little of the magic of actually being in Santa Rosita. We went to church today and the gospel lesson was from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Linda translated a few passages that essentially said that we have a duty to help others. How many times I’ve read or heard this before, but never had I actually done anything substantive to act on Paul’s exhortation. I’ve felt humbled since I first set foot in Honduras. We have set out how the XOs will be distributed once they arrive. Our primary goal is to get them into student hands as soon as possible. Oscar Ochoa will receive the shipment and Oscar Gross II will charge them, inventory them and oversee their use in Santa Rosita. A class set will go to Professor Emma Henriquez of Catholic University in Siguatepeque. A set will also go with Becky Young to her village classroom in San Miguelito, Honduras. Tomorrow we will meet with the parents of Santa Rosita and outline their responsibilities for the computers. We have decided to give each student their own XO. The 2 teachers at Santa Rosita, the head of the PTA and the village mayor will oversee student use of the computers. Oscar Gross II and other students from Catholic University will visit Santa Rosita occasionally to check for progress and to teach new lessons. Now our final challenge is to secure internet access. More about this tomorrow. One final note: Sally’s birthday is on Wednesday, July 6th, our last day in Santa Rosita. It is also the birthday of Josefina Gross. We are planning a big fiesta for these two wonderful women.
We slept in this morning, laying in bed until after 6! Our entire team seems as emotionally and physically exhausted as I am. With this bit of time to ourselves I have had the opportunity to look back in wonder. As you can see from the photos below, the school building in Santa Rosita is quite humble. The leaders of the community dream of a new building. We are thus facing one of the key problems addressed very well by OLPC: how to get people to reimagine education as something other than a building, a teacher, a room full of books, a hierarchical system. Linda posed the issue to them in a very creative way by saying what use is a mansion if there is no love inside? What’s the use of a new building with no access to the wider world. Now that I have mentioned Linda, I can’t say enough about her contribution to The Owen Project. It is as much her dream as it is Sally and mine. Then there is Richard’s input, vision, curiosity and enthusiasm, which have given us all direction and confidence. I have yet to mention Sofia and Natalia who have been real troopers, and have contributed as teachers and as comic relief during all of our meals. I keep forgetting how young they are-11 and 9. Here are the final issues we face during our final three days in Santa Rosita. First, we must formalize how the 100 XOs are to be distributed, how they are to be inventoried and maintained, and who will oversee their use in the village. Second, we have to meet with the parents of the children to explain their and their childrens’ responsibilities for each XO, and to underscore that each child will have use of their own XO as long as they attend school at Santa Rosita. Third, we have to explore ways to get internet access to Santa Rosita. There are cell phone and data transmission towers on nearby mountains. We need to explore getting access to these towers and utilizing satallite dishes to capture a signal. Goodnight,
The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love…..
We ended our first week with yet another fun-filled adventure. This morning we were met by Emma Henriquez from Catholic University, who along with her student Oscarito and her daughter Connie rounded out our team. The ride up into the mountains was as spectacular as ever. There is so much to captivate the eye, so much to take in, that I can only focus on a small fraction of what is available. Today I noticed the mature banana palms planted along the folds in the steep hillsides where water flows. Often they stood among rows of coffee plants, and their yellow-green fronds contrasted with the the deep green of the coffee leaves. I noticed too how the bunches of ripening bananas were on stems at the end of which hung what looked like a heart, reddish-purple in color and tapering to a point. It was as if the banana palms wear their hearts out in front of the world. I was reminded of the icons you can see in Honduran churches portraying Christ with a radiant heart coming out of his chest. I believe that this image is called ” The Sacred Heart of Jesus.” We were welcomed again, effusively.
We’ve established the following routine. First we make sure that everyone has washed their hands. Then we introduced our latests guests. Then ” los technos’ pass out the computers. The excitement and enthusiasm has not paled for the students, nor for us!!!! We taught a group lesson involving the typing tutor program. Then we continued writing personal essays. Evidently, students practice sentence writing in Honduras using rote repitition of provided sentences. After some initial hesitation, the students have embraced the opportunity to create their own essays about themselves, their families and Santa Rosita. This group of activities usually lasts 2 hours. Then we had the older students explore chatting on the intranet, while the younger students played math and memorization games. Finally, we passed out some markers, colored pencils, crayons and notebooks that Linda had brought from California. This second set of activities lasted another 2 hours. Dr. Henriquez is proposing that her college students visit schools like that at Santa Rosita to monitor XO use and problems, and to provide the teachers with lessons that utilize XO applications. This kind of back up and maintenance is crucial for projects like ours. We are very thankful for the support of many Hondurans and trust that they will help the Owen Project to put down strong roots and then to grow. Both of the Guevara-Grey girls were looking a bit fatigued by this point, as were we all. We piled into the pickup thinking, ” Thank God it’s Friday!!”