The group traveling to Honduras on the HHOP sponsored work trip was the largest to date, maxing out at 20 people. 11 were students from Baker College, Mona Shores High School, and Holland Christian High School. Rotaries represented were Muskegon, Grand Haven, and Holland.
In the wee hours of February 24, 2017 18 of us met at Grand Rapids airport to fly to Atlanta and then to San Pedro Sula (SPS). There we met a Rotarian and his fiancé who had been traveling in Guatemala.
First we met Nadina Alvarenga, our dear friend from the Merendon Rotary Club in SPS to give her the large bag of school uniforms collected by a Muskegon Rotarian. School is free but students must buy their school supplies and wear a uniform. These costs prevent many children from attending school.
Then we loaded our luggage and ourselves into a bus bound for El Ayudante (EA), a Christian mission outside Comayagua, Honduras. HHOP’s relationship with EA goes back many years as they purchased bio-sand water filters from our Rotary warehouse. When HHOP got out of the filter warehouse business, EA bought the remaining inventory and has become the supplier to themselves and other NGOs. Last year was the first time EA had hosted a Rotary work group and it went so well that we decided to return.
Jonathan, Shane, Katy, Korey-Ann, Edwardo, Jose, Casey, and several other organizers and translators made our week productive, fun, educational, exhausting, and heartwarming. Tristen and Beth Mohagen, the founders of EA, continue to have the vision, enthusiasm, and commitment to grow and build sustainability with the expanding programs they offer. A new building and program this year is tutoring and computer labs for local high school students. Some kids walk many miles to get the help offered here so they can complete high school. The health clinic, which had just been completed when we came a year ago, now has two staff dentists plus a full time physician who lives on site. Our group brought donated toothpaste and toothbrushes, Spanish language story books, work sheets, and colored pencils for EA to use either on site or at a local school they support.
Our group was scheduled for manual labor and they worked us hard. We rode up the mountain, either in a bus until it could not climb any higher, (and then we walked the last ½ mile or so) or the back of a truck to install 24 bio-sand water filters. This work included hauling a 110 pound bag of sand to the house, which often is not close to the road but down a narrow foot path. There was sand and gravel washing to do and family children were recruited to help. Sometimes a team member carried a soccer ball in their back pack and impromptu games started. Regardless of age, Honduran children know “football”.
We sent two teams two different days, to lay a cement floor in an adobe home. The owner had made all the adobe bricks by hand and prior work groups turned the bricks into walls. One team made 12 cement “volcanoes” to shovel into a wheelbarrow and spread on the floor in two rooms. The second team finished the main living area with another 8 bags of cement mixed with gravel. All this shoveling and lifting in almost 100 degree heat meant we were filthy and exhausted at the end of the day.
Another two day project was building latrines, which we built 3. The homeowner’s job was to have a hole 4 x 4 x 12 feet deep dug before we arrived. There’s no equipment to do this digging except a shovel, bucket, and a strong back. Claustrophobia would not be good. At one home a 76 year old man dug his hole in two days: talk about an inspiration! From this septic tank hole, PVC pipe was laid to a spot where the commode would be installed. Before doing this, though, a cement floor had to be poured: more cement volcanoes had to be created. The hole was covered with rebar, corrugated aluminum and yep, more cement. The second day’s work consisted of attaching the commode to the PVC pipe and then leveling it by making a cement base to secure it: another cement volcano but just a little one. Back at base camp, EA pre-makes a corrugated aluminum outhouse to put over the commode. The team secures the frame to the concrete base poured two days before. These latrines are meant to last a household 10 years. Then they must dig another hole and move the PVC piping.
Another activity we participated in was reviewing 51 water filters that had previously been installed. It is important to families to make sure the water flow rate is still correct, the filters are clean, and the filters are restarted if they have been allowed to go dry. If parts are missing, such as the manguera (clear tubing coming from the filter into a clean container bottle), then EA makes note and replaces the part. This year we acquired water testing kits that detect Ecoli and Coliform bacteria and used them to test 10 filters that had been installed at least 2 years ago. 9 of the 10 filters were either bacteria free or showed minimal traces that would be wiped out with a little bleach added to the clean water container. The one filter not adequately cleaning the water will be replaced by EA. We conclude that a 90% success rate after 2 years is very good.
It was not all work and no play, though. We attended a local church service on the Sunday we were at EA, ate lunch on the Comayagua city square, shopped for souvenirs, climbed the bell tower to see the 2nd oldest clock in the world (arrived here in the 1600’s), and had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant on our last night at EA. We went swimming in the local river and there were many fierce ping pong games played on the porch.
We departed from EA on Thursday and traveled back to SPS to stay in a lovely small hotel which Nadina had found for us: Hotel Casa del Arbol Galerias. We were invited by Rotary to attend their District Conference (Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize) Disco Night party. What fun we had dancing on a lighted dance floor to songs we all remember. A delicious buffet was served and we saw old Honduran Rotary friends, met some who had been to Michigan, and made connections for potential future projects. Hondurans know how to throw a party!
Friday was an early start to board a bus for a city tour followed by a drive to the coast to see Peurto Cortes, a Garifuna village, and eat at a beach resort where the young people went swimming. It started out raining but cleared for swimming and then started raining as they served us lunch under a thatched roof covered patio. After lunch we went to the Spanish fortress in Omoa and had a very interesting tour.
Our hotel served us a very nice dinner and since we were the only hotel guests eating in on Friday night, it was a lovely way to end a fantastic week. We even celebrated one lady’s 18th birthday with a cake. We flew home on Saturday and while happy to see family again but sad to say good-bye to a new “family”, we all agreed to have a reunion this summer.
Plans will soon be made for a 2018 work trip. Won’t you join us?