Sunday, 28 September 2008

Honduras: Wrap-up

"God Bless the Canadians"
Click to see more photos
From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
28th September, 2008, Honduras

Last evening, quite late, we had the required wrap-up meeting with SCAW’s principal partners here in Honduras, the Rotary Club of Tegucigalpa. We met with the President of the club and the group of Rotarians most involved with our bedkit distributions. The main items for discussion at these meetings are: the bedkit distribution sites, (location, security, urban/rural, etc.), the contents of the bedkit in this country, hospitality (for our team), and the “Overseas Reporting Package (the partner’s report on the last twelve months of activity: bids on bedkit items, all costs associated with the assembly of the bedkits and their transport to the distribution sites, support at each sites, etc.). The purpose of these meetings is to gather information and ideas while the work of distributing 5,000 bedkits is still fresh in the minds of those most involved. Final decisions are made by the SCAW Board which starts work on next year’s operation in Honduras, more or less straight away.

Valley of the Angels
Click to see more photos
From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
This particular meeting was memorable because it took place in a home on a mountain. A sudden violent storm, not uncommon at this time of year, took out the hydro. The meeting proceeded by candlelight amid dramatic claps of thunder and the sound of torrential rain. We will see whether these were portents of things to come

Today, Sunday, our hosts took us on a very pleasant trip into the surrounding mountains. We visited ancient villages (400+ years old) and former silver mining sites. In one village, the church was packed to overflowing for the last mass of the morning. It seemed that families had travelled for miles to get there from the surrounding areas. The number of children, especially infants, was quite remarkable, a contrast to what we generally see at home. We have spent most of our time in Honduras in inner city areas. This glimpse of rural life (that still includes more than 50% of the seven million people of Honduras) was a pleasant change. Perhaps we should think of distributions in more remote areas next time?

In conclusion, our entire team is grateful to all donors and SCAW volunteers who made it possible for us to help with this important work. We feel blessed.

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Honduras: Mission Accomplished

From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
27th September, 2008, Honduras

This was our final distribution day for this year in Honduras. We had 562 of your bedkits to give out to complete our target total of 5,000. The base of this distribution was Alba Nola Gunela elementary school, on the top of a hill in a barrio near the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. We had great help from our partners, the Rotary Club and its affiliate youth clubs, Rotaract and Interact. Once again, the Healthy Schools Program of Honduras provided great back-up.

During one of earlier distributions, a large group of blind children received bedkits. Today, another seven were brought. Although, naturally, the processing procedure is greatly simplified for children such as these and their companions, you have to wonder what they imagine is going on around them as they pass through a crowd of hundreds of excited kids, have their photographs taken, and then receive the large package to take home. They seemed happy enough!

We do learn something every day, even at this stage of the visit. Our leader, Harry Gauthier, takes the pictures. With groups of say ten, this involves a good deal of marshalling -- "You stand there." "You there, sit up straight." "Smile." and so on -- all in broken Spanish. We wondered why, sometimes, the kids would break up at the key moment. Today, we realized that it was when we said "Look at Harry" (in Spanish). Our Harry is only the second Harry they have come across. The other is Harry Potter who is as familiar to kids here as he is in Canada. Our Harry is not at all like his famous namesake.

Tonight, we have our wind-up discussion with the Rotary Club of Tegucigalpa. Its purpose is to go over all aspects of this year's visit to provide input for the SCAW Board's assessment of the program here.

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Friday, 26 September 2008

Honduras: Comayaguela

From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
26th September, 2008, Honduras

Today, our base was Escuelo Rafael Pineda Ponce in Comayaguela, the twin city of Tegucigalpa, just over the river. This is a school in a tough neighbourhood. We distributed 720 bedkits to children from the host school and six others. When we arrived at around 7.30 a.m., the street outside the single iron gate into the walled school courtyard was packed with people. There were three armed guards on duty. We were welcomed most warmly, both outside and inside the gate. When we left much later in the day after distributing all our bedkits, the street was still packed and we needed an escort because there were so many disappointed people. I suspect that we could have given out all 5,000 of SCAW's Honduras quota, to worthy recipients at this one location.

Our team is approaching the end of its work in Honduras. We have 600 or so bedkits to go. We are beginning to think about our personal overall trip assessments and the wind-up discussions with our partners here, the Rotary Club of Tegucigalpa. These are quite formal assessments of all aspects of SCAW's work this year. The results and the Rotary report to the SCAW board form the basis for next year's bedkit distributions in Honduras.

At this time, we are increasingly aware of the fine work of SCAW teams that came here before us. Their experience and the relationships they built are the foundation upon which we work. Our leader, Harry, is on his third trip. He captures, in himself, the SCAW system of volunteer work overseas. We are all grateful to him. We are relieved that he is with us!

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Thursday, 25 September 2008

Honduras: 470 bedkits in 3 hours

From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
25th September, 2008, Honduras

The base for our bedkit distributions today was CEB Las Americas, a private elementary school in a barrio of Tegucigalpa. This was the first non-public school that we have seen. It was in better condition than our other schools: with one older computer for the several hundred students. It was not the source of our bedkit children. They came in from surrounding areas.

Here is a special announcement for all SCAW overseas teams past and present. We delivered 470 bedkits (25x11, 4x10, 4x5, 7x4 plus 107 "singles") in just over three hours, to beat out a looming storm. We are submitting this to the Guiness Book of Records!

For those readers who have yet to join a team, this means that we took 25 photos in groups of 11, 4 photos in groups of 10 etc. The "singles" were groups of three except for the last two children. We really do get into this stuff don't we!

Last evening was the formal meeting with our Rotary partners. During it, after his speech, Leader Harry was presented with the official Partner's report.

The good news from the children today was that Honduras beat USA at soccer 2:0. This has taken some of the heat off us for Canada's 2:1 defeat.

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Honduras: 772 bedkits today

From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
24th September, 2008, Honduras

Today's distribution school was CEB Manuel Bonilla in downtown Tegucigalpa. We gave out 772 bedkits to exuberant children brought by equally happy family members.

This day, as in some previous days, we interviewed several Mums about the quality of items in the bedkits: the mosquito net, blanket, sheets, pillow, school supplies, and clothes which are packed inside the mattress itself. SCAW's purpose here is to make sure that each items (every one purchased locally) is well-made and is something truly useful.

Interviewing parents and grandparents.
From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
Extracting good information is not as easy as it sounds because the entire package is seen as a wonderful gift that the Mums find hard to criticize. Interviews in the urban areas tend to rate the mosquito net lower than in rural areas. The blanket gets high ratings - which seems odd to us as it is very thick and heavy and we suffer from the heat rather than the cold here. However, our home visits show that the blanket is very well used by all the family.

Yesterday we visited the small rural plant where the blankets are made.
Inspection of small factory that makes SCAW bedkit blankets.
From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
They are produced by a needle-punch felt method which compresses material produced from recycled rags. This is followed by a heating process during which polyester is added which helps the bonding. The final thick, coated, blanket is heavy and very durable. We took a piece home with us and found that it washed by hand and dried well.

We mentioned home visits a couple of reports ago. These were homes of last year's bedkit recipients. They were located in a barrio of homemade dwellings, on the side of a clay hill at the top of 90 steps and a climb up a steep path. As we were coming down, we passed an 89-year-old man on his way up.

The homes were interesting. In some ways they were like cliff dwellings being on the edge of a steep slope. In other ways they were like WWI trenches being dug back into the clay.
From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
One family was an older couple — perhaps grandparents — and a boy about eight years old. It was clear that all three slept on last year's mattress under last year's blanket. One Mum in the interviews told us that all five of her children would sleep on the mattress: sleeping across it.

The kids here know two things for sure about Canada: 1) it is cold, and 2) Honduras beat Canada 2:1 in the recent World Cup match. They are waiting gleefully for the return match which will be held here. Soccer is a common language for all here: rich and poor, rural and urban, men and women.

I think that we are in a rural area tomorrow.

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Honduras: Tears of joy

Rain at school. Click to enlarge.
From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
23rd September, 2008, Honduras

First some comments on today, then some more observations about yesterday.

Today's distribution of bedkits took place at Escuelo Monsenor Fiallas #2, in a district of Tegucigalpa. We distributed bedkits to 566 children, finishing just before a tremendous rainstorm that we thought was going to flood the school but which the kids and others just took in their stride. As heavy rain had been forecast for the next several days, we set up for the photos inside - a wise decision event though, in the event, we did not need the shelter.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to volunteer for SCAW overseas often talk about the children who line up in their hundreds and thousands for bedkits, patiently but excitedly. It is an experience that is both exhilarating and overwhelming. Exhilarating because here, in all their shapes and sizes, bubbling over with enthusiasm, is the future of humanity. Overwhelming because of the sheer scale of the obvious need.
Happy girl! Click to see more photos.
From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
The 5,000 families we touch here in Honduras are the tip of an iceberg. Every now and again, it becomes even more overwhelming. We literally wept yesterday when a group of children who were blind (often with other handicaps) joined us to receive their bedkits and have their photo taken.

In some ways, even more touching, was the boy today who did not want to change in SCAW clothes in front of his friends - almost certainly because he was only wearing his outer clothes. There was no way we could have anticipated this until it was too late. Harry played ball with him and his friends for 15 minutes and things, of course, went ahead without his needing to change.

Fortunately, most of our tears are tears of joy.

Tomorrow, something about surveying Mums about the quality of the bedkits, visiting homes of last year's recipient families, and a visit to the operation that makes SCAW blankets.

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Monday, 22 September 2008

Honduras: The work continues

22nd September, 2008, Honduras

It was a pleasure to arrive at Escuelo 21 De Octubre so quickly today and begin our delivery.

The covered patio gave all relief from the sun and a convenient place to work. The children were patient and thankful in spite of some of the delays. They were ready with smiles, hugs, and attempts at conversation.

Our children included a group who was physically challenged and visually impaired. We visited two homes of last years recipients to find the kits being put to good use.

Our deliveries continue to be a rewarding experience.

Patsy Leamon & Faith Clark
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Saturday, 20 September 2008

Honduras: Amabate distribution

20th September, 2008, Honduras

Today's distribution was based in the Escuelo 21 De Octubre, beside a highway in the community of Amabate. This involved about an hour's drive from Tegucigalpa. This was an elementary school enclosed by a wall/fence, with two armed guards on the main gate while we were there. The children walked in from the surrounding area or were brought in by bus or truck from more distant locations. As we distributed 432 bedkits, often to children of six or seven tears old, you can imagine that this was a considerable logistic exercise. With family, friends, and helpers, this involved thousands of people.

You have to be there to get a sense of the excitement and energy of children who have waited for hours and of the patient involvement of adults who, unlike the kids, realize the opportunity that this is for their families. Actually giving out the bedkits is a much-sought-after task on the SCAW team. You get to see the smile and body language of a child who suddenly realizes what the exciting, long, day was all about. But, in fact, every phase of the distribution is most rewarding. Receiving new clothes, watching their friends have their photos taken, and then having their own photo taken: each of these steps is a new and exciting experience for every child. You can almost see them storing up the day's images for the folks at home.

Those of us on the SCAW distribution teams are fortunate to have the privilege of making sure that your bedkits reach children in need. We thank you all for this.

Having taken a wrong turn into the real countryside today, we saw people travelling between their homesteads on foot (with heavy bundles) and on horseback.

Tomorrow is another day.

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Friday, 19 September 2008

Honduras: Mateos distribution

From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
19th September, 2008, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Today, our SCAW team of six was taken to the village of Mateos, about an hour outside Tegucigalpa. This is a tiny community set in a hilly rural area, with mountains in the background. Some of the mountains looked very like volcanoes but we were assured that volcanoes only erupt in surrounding countries. The countryside consists of lots of scattered homes, most surrounded by gardens (with bananas, a variety of fruit trees, corn, goats, etc) around them, rather than fields. Some of the homes, high on steep slopes or very close to the main road, are very poor indeed.

Our bedkit distribution took place in the courtyard of Escuelo Romulo E. Duron. It was not a large place and the "courtyard" barely contained our activities. The school was tightly secured and we had two quite heavily armed guards. As we are so near to the equator, the overhead sun quickly heated up our place of work and the main street, outside the school barriers, where the children were marshalled by Rotary.

We distributed well over 500 kits, including some left over from yesterday. Virtually all of these were delivered through photographs, each with three children. Those who have helped distribute SCAW bedkits know that this is a highly personal but exhausting process. The personal side makes up for the exhaustion because you get to interact more with the children who not only love the bedkits but also enjoy every stage of the day. They are very curious about Norte Americanos. They often have phrases like "What is your name?" and "My name is ..." that they love to share with us.

Rotaract helpers with bedkits at Mateos, Honduras
From Honduras 2008 Photo Album
As is usual here, the distribution school was just the base of acitvities. Children came from far around Mateos, often by school bus but one boy told me that he had walked for an hour and a half.

One of the reasons for the success and buoyancy of this particular distribution was the help provided by members of the Rotaract Club, the young Rotarians. These are bright young people, most with English, who threw themselves into there various tasks with admirable enthusiasm. Their sense of public service, and their pleasure in it, is an example top us all.

The "daily" rain that is a feature of this season here, did not arrive although storm clouds passed around us. A good day!

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Thursday, 18 September 2008

Honduras: Bedkit distribution in Villa Vieja

18th September, 2008, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Villa Vieja is a small community just outside Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. The actual site for this day's distribution of your bedkits was a small school, Policarpo Bonilla, to which children were bussed from a number of even smaller schools.

As this was the first day for a new team, our chief, El Jefe Harry Gauthier, wisely decided that we should distribute our target of 530 kits through group photographs of ten children per photo rather than the more usual groups of three. This allowed us to practice our various roles in the distribution process, organizing the groups, bringing them to and from the photo site, counting and re-counting them, etc. Those who have volunteered with SCAW overseas know that all of these functions have to be performed efficiently: for accounting purposes and to reduce the wait time for excited children.

Harry also had to plan for a delightful visit from the First Lady of Honduras, Senora Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of the President. This was a very exciting time for the children, our Rotary partners, and the SCAW team. The First Lady came with many staff and a media entourage. She is well-known for her support of children's programs in Honduras and had helped the Rotary Club with this year's SCAW distributions. This was like a cabaret for the children and their families - and us. Harry gave a speech on TV after the First Lady presented him with a certificate for SCAW and hugged him.

At the end of the day, we had distributed kits to 530 children. Thirty four did not make it because of a bus problem. We will make up the numbers on a quieter day.

We took the photos inside as this is the rainy season here. Another wise decision by Harry as there was a rather heavy storm in the afternoon.

Tomorrow is another day!

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Honduras: Getting ready

We had heard about the nail-biting landing at Tegucigalpa, Honduras, but is was an anti-climax for many of our group. Some of us had been delayed twenty-four hours and then diverted around Texas by Hurricane Ike. One of us almost reached the notorious airport approach and then was diverted to the Caribbean coast of Honduras for a short visit before continuing to Tegucigalpa.

The approach is certainly hair-raising however, because the city occupies a valley high (1,000 m) in the mountains of Honduras. The old city fills the valley bottom with the poor barrio districts spreading up the mountain sides. They had their own hurricane, Mitch, ten years ago. That flooded the lower town and devastated the entire community. Today it is difficult to imagine the effect of such a natural disaster on the capital of the poorest country in Central America.

We were met by Guillermo E. Valle, Presidente, Club Rotario de Tegucigalpa and Rotarian Carlos Medrano and his wife Brenda. The help of these people and their colleagues is vital for SCAW's mission here.

We are to deliver 5,000 bedkits and we spent the first day checking the bedkits and our photographic and other equipment. We will begin our distributions here in the inner city tomorrow.

Later distributions are split between rural and urban communities.

Peter Adams
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Honduras: The team has arrived

We have all arrived safely in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Peter and Jill Adams were set to come down a couple days early but were delayed by a day due to Hurricane Ike in Houston. They went via Miami with American Airlines versus through Houston with Continental.

The rest of us arrived today. Faith Clark, Patsy Leamon, and I came on Continental via Houston with no incident.

Bud Adams went American Airlines via Miami and was due to arrive five minutes after us but it started pouring after we landed and they diverted to Puerto Plata and were delayed a couple hours. He finally made it.

We are planning a tour of the National Art Museum tomorrow afternoon and then we will be doing a run through on the bedkit setup. We start our distributions on the 19th of September.

Buenos Tarde

Harry from Barrie
for the SCAW Honduras team

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Honduras: Leave your comments here

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