Be It Ever So Humble, There’s No Place Like Home!

I am writing this from our home in Seguin. Already the trip seems like a wonderful dream, one that stays with you into the day and carries that atmosphere of adventure and wonder specific to the best dreams. C.S. Lewis wrote a series of books commonly called his science fiction trilogy. The first in the series is called, Out of the Silent Planet, and features a teacher who stumbles on a cosmic battle for the very future of the Earth. He comes to realize that we are constantly surrounded by angelic beings bidding us to love and do good. Now Honduras is not the scene of a cosmic battle nor am I a hero, but I was surrounded angels. For Sally and I this is more than a mission trip and we sometimes fear that our intensity will put others off. Miraculously, this does not happen. If anything, we are humbled by what others contribute and how we all act seamlessly and selflessly. I can think of no better way to describe this metamorphosis than the action of grace. When we met each evening after the day’s labors, usually in our room at the Zari, when our voices would blend together in tones of merriment and release, I felt in the presence of angels singing of glory and joy. None of this is of my doing. My task seems to be that of witness, to cherish and to remember. I know all to well that a person can be overwhelmed by grief. Now I know that gratitude can be just as powerful.With love,Mark

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Friday the 13th redux

Sally has warned me about the purple prose in the last post, so I will offer a general apology and promise to stay on theme. I am writing this from Roatan, a Honduran island off the coast of La Ceiba. Last night on the beach I asked Sally to marry me again. Fortunately, she said yes. Here I am off theme again!! On Friday of last week, our last day in Siguatepeque, we returned to Santa Rosita. We had had such a wonderful reception there last year that I feared they might have forgotten about us in the intervening year and would be unmoved. Maybe this was the spirit of Friday the 13th. I need not have worried. After all we were bringing back some of their XOs that we had used to train in the other schools. In addition, they were not in the mud and wattle hut from last year, but in a brand new school with concrete walls and a tin roof. It was situated, like all of the mountain schools we visited, in an absolutely beautiful spot with a vista overlooking the coffee-covered hillsides and misty mountains in the distance. Photos are coming. Lynn Campaign had taken photos of all the children, which I had in my classroom in Seguin all year long. I recognized everyone!  More than ever I was ashamed of my basic Spanish. It seemed as if every child wanted to show me all that they could do with their XOs. They were every bit as agile and competent on their keyboards as any American child. Our usual lesson plan was clearly too basic for this group. Richard and Becky took the older kids to work on programming and on updating new programs using a USB which contained updated versions of XO software. These students could then update all of the other students’ computers. We also gave them a USB containing the education software  created by the Honduran government. The younger students had been using Wikipedia extensively and had created reports on the word processing program on everything from African animals to soccer heroes to historical figures from Honduras’  past. This is clearly part of the OLPC vision of decentralizing education and empowering individual creativity. All of the computers were clean and obviously well cared for; some had been personalized with stickers. Students showed us how they had used the XO to create paperless homework assignments in Math, Science and Grammar. The pictures will show the looks of pride and accomplishment in their faces. Unfortunately, they all wanted to tell me of all their discoveries and I couldn’t respond. I could only share their enthusiasm and emotion. We took two flowering shrubs to plant along the path leading to the school. We will continue this in future years, turning the school into a garden spot. Soon after we arrived many of the parents and village elders showed up and the formal speeches began. The school was a dream that had involved the entire community for more than ten years. We felt honored to be part of a dream come true. I’ll end so that we can try to post some photos.With love,Mark

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The Secret Life of Trees

There are books about the secret lives of bees and dogs and dolphins. I’m waiting for a book that explores the secret lives of trees. This morning we went to a school on yet another distant peak. We were joined by our brother Bill Hunter, our nephew, Will, Peter Englefield from San Antonio and his son, Andrew, from China. We drove north on the main road to San Pedro Sula for about 45 minutes and then turned off onto another dirt road. We left houses behind rather quickly and began a series of dizzying ascents. After about an hour, each hairpin turn rewarded us with a vista more expansive and breath-taking than the last. There was bright sunshine throughout, which brought out the many shades of green made even more vibrant by the mists that had burned off by early morning. We were packed into the back of the truck making conversation more difficult so I looked out meditatively. The trees stood out from the green riot and spoke to me, somehow. Just where the mountain sides were steepest, it seemed that beans or coffee would be planted there on contours that stood out from the surrounding jungle. The trees located in these fields stood out like sentinels surveying their territories, proud and silent, full of quiet strength. More than the trees crowding together in the untouched mountain forests, these trees seemed to exist in a world indifferent to human concerns; in spite of their being surrounded by fields torn from the earth for food. They seemed to say that, ultimately, that all of our proud efforts would be erased by root and vine. Finally we arrived at San Jose de la Cuesta. The two-room school house was literally bursting with excited children. We stayed all morning introducing the XO. At lunch time we were greeted by the local PTA, two of whom made speeches whose dignity and formality reminded me of the women in Santa Rosita. We were all reminded that a parent’s love for their children and their hopes for their futures are universal. Any of you reading this would have immediately registered the emotions present whether you speak Spanish or not.We’re off to dinner. More later. Pictures too!!With love,Mark

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Honduras means… ” Up and down. Up and down!!!!”

We learned the truth of this definition of Honduras today as we climbed ever higher into the mountains north and east of Siguatepeque. Each school we have visited so far has been located on a ridge higher than the last. Just when we think there can be no farms higher up, a rugged dirt road branches off and up, and soon enough a school appears. Of course this means that out travel time increases, but the ever- expanding vistas are more than worth the trouble, and the wonder and enjoyment on the faces of these isolated children cast a spell over us all. Just when we are prepared to claim that a particular school is our favorite, an even more magical face emerges and our hearts are captured anew. The mountain sides at these high elevations are more given over to coffee, but the pines and other trees have not been cleared away; instead, the rows of coffee plants hide in the shade of quite mature trees and peek out like visions of geometric order amidst the riotous natural growth. This contrast of wild and cultivated was endlessly fascinating. I noticed the hidden fields only from the corner of my eye or when my vision was sweeping over the hillsides. If I looked too closely they seemed to disappear. Our first school today was Jose Cecilio del Valle at Penita. Just as we arrived at the top of an impossibly steep ridge, we noticed some students running ahead to announce our arrival. Remembering just how many times this happened last year at Santa Rosita, my heart opened up and for an hour or two I was that loving man I once was years ago. The teachers told us that the students had been waiting for us since Monday, and that they had heard of our earlier visits to schools down in the foothills. We brought a photo of my son Owen and during the presentation, when Linda and Becky explained who we were and why we there with them, I believe that the teacher wiped away stead and gave us a certificate of thanks in return. This year we are much more focused and effective, more confident and able to quickly and clearly reveal to the students the possibilities of the XO. We have been accompanied by two officials of the Ministry of Education: Luis Enrique Castaneda, District Director of Education for Siguatepeque; and Edgar Figueroa, Professor of Technology. Both are active in deploying XOs in urban areas and are interested in our routines for introducing XOs in rural schools. Their presence makes us hope that future collaboration and mutual support is being established. Both men seemed caught up in the emotions of watching students who had never seen a computer before master basic keyboarding skills and apply mathematical and grammatical skills to the game-like XO programs. Three hours flew by like minutes. We have developed a series of teaching activities that begins with sound symbol -recognition and ends with an independent personal essay that is presented to the class. Along the way addition and art are explored as well.In the afternoon, we stopped at the school in Del Carmen, where XOs were deployed last year. Unfortunately, the teacher had left and when feasible the students met in a small Catholic church. A group from France is currently building an adobe school at Del Carmen and a new teacher had been hired this past Monday. The students had kept their XOs and used them at home intermittently. We met their new teacher and gathered the XOs to clean them and download some new programs. We will return there on Thursday to focus on utilizing the XO in day-to-day teaching activities. Gathering them up was emotional for the students, some of whom cried because they believed that we were taking them away for ever! We reassured them. One young fellow had left his XO at home and sprinted off to get it before we left. Other students told us he lived on the top of the mountain which dominated the view from the church. Minutes later he returned smiling and obviously winded. I’ll include photos tomorrow.With love,Mark

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A School with a View

As promised yesterday, we have included some photos which convey the beauty of our experiences much more convincingly than my words. We drove to La Cuchilla first thing in the morning. It rained heavily last night and, if possible, the verdure was even more lush and vibrantly green. Many hillsides served as pasture for cows and goats, and their hunger transformed the pastures into an expanse of grass every bit as even and perfect as a golf course. We are off to dinner, so I will let you enjoy the pictures in peace….

Mark

 

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Our first day back in Siguatepeque had us all feeling as if we had never left. We met Richard, Linda and the girls at the airport Sunday morning. Piling into the van had us all laughing and marveling that it felt as if we had seen one another just yesterday. So many of the unknown that made last year’s trip somewhat tense are gone this year. The lobby of the Zari hotel feels like my living room. We began Monday morning at Dona Mercedes’ restaurant and met Oscar Ochoa after breakfast to visit a school near the Catholic cathedral next to the park. This school has XOs given by the government of Honduras and a teacher there had been trained in Tegucigalpa, where a national curriculum complete with a year-long scope and sequence for all major subjects has been developed. We were to see this teacher and this curriculum in practice. One of the greatest changes from last year is the clear commitment of the government to support our project. The government of Taiwan and a loan from the American Development Bank have made 30,000 XOs available to students in Honduras. Most of these will be going to urban and city schools. Our efforts will continue to be directed to the most isolated rural schools, thus complementing the government’s efforts. The school was bursting with energy and vitality. Soon we were surrounded by curious and affectionate students, all of whom looked fresh and crisp in their uniforms. I’ll post pictures tomorrow. We visited a third grade class of 37, with all of us, the three teachers and the students a veritable tornado of creativity ensued that will warm the hearts of everyone involved with OLPC. We got to see the government’s program in action and the teachers among us appreciated the clear sequence of activities and the opportunities to reinforce learning with games reminiscent of those on the XO. We were lucky enough to be present for recess and many opportunities for photos, questions and hugs were experienced. Such a love of life! Returning to the Zari,the street, usually so full of noise and bustle, seemed strangely quiet and subdued.We climbed into two 4wheel drive trucks with the XOs and began climbing into the mountains to the east. Our destination, San Antonio de la Cuchilla was much farther than Santa Rosita and the roads were rutted and in poor repair. The scenery was spectacular. The charm of the drive to Santa Rosita were the coffee fields, the mists dancing on the hillsides and the anticipation of seeing the faces of the students awaiting us. This drive was quite different in character. The mountains were much steeper and had rock outcroppings on the nearly perpendicular faces. There was little agriculture so the vegetation was much thicker and irregular. Pines were interspersed with native trees, many of which were in flower, and the many shades of green made a tapestry of the mountainsides. There was a feeling of riotous growth and fertility, as if the trees and plants were jumping out of the ground. There was also a magical change in temperature whenever we passed through a stand of pine; there was a moist chill in the air that was thrilling. A bird followed us for quite a while and I identified it as a hawk. Richard corrected me – it was a turkey vulture!! The higher we went the more dilapidated the houses became and the more threadbare the clothing of the children tending animals of all varieties.We finally arrived at the school which sat on an improbable flat pasture overlooking a series of valleys stretching back towards Siguatepeque. 20 very polite and quiet students awaited us in the small school building. It quickly became apparent that they had never seen or touched a computer before. At first they were very apprehensive and serious. Again I will post photos tomorrow which will illustrate the wonderful transformation of those faces; the looks of wonder and pleasure, of discovery and delight. Time flew by and we kept them focused until after 3pm, more than an hour after the regular end of the school day. We will return tomorrow… I can’t imagine a more perfect day! If only Owen were with us.With love,mark

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