February 2010

I'm not going to list the ten of us who ventured to the mountains of Honduras this February since others have done that, but I would like to say how much I enjoyed working with each and every one of the crew who went down recently to help the Tolupan tribal people. We gelled as a group, even though we were split up into two groups for most of the first week. I did miss contact with the rest of the crew but both work crews were busy in our own ways. I'll report on the educational aspect of our journey. I was blessed to have Jennifer Plonka as my partner and roommate at the clinic. She was a valuable asset with her Spanish language background and helped all of us communicate in the clinic, schools, and throughout the villages where we traveled in the ten days we spent in the mountains. Jen is a warm, caring person who related very well to the people of all villages and was loved by all she came in contact with. Jen and I helped some in the clinic but I spent a lot of time sorting school materials we brought and bought in Honduras for 9 schools in the mountains-two in Mataderos, La Laguna, Calichal, El Parisio, Quiloma, La Fortuna, and two new ones which had never had any school supplies from New York/ Help-Agua Blanca, and La Micion. The guys who worked out of Quiloma took and delivered three duffle bags of supplies to the three villages in the lower valley. We took Agua Blanca's with us to Sunday's soccer tournament, a resident of La Micion took theirs from the clinic by horseback, the head professor at Calichal took their bag from the clinic, and Jen, Kristin , Linda and I delivered supplies to La Laguna and to the elementary and secondary schools in Mataderos. We took Spanish story books to the two new schools along with basic teaching supplies like crayons, scissors, chalk, dry erase boards, staplers and staples, pens, pencils, colored paper, notebooks, paints, erasers, paperclips, etc. for all 9 schools. Teachers had requested jump ropes, balls, and other games in the past so all schools got these also. The third graders in Salamanca made classroom aides as they had in the past that are reusable for math and social studies classes. I did an assembly presentation for them early in 2010 and un be known to me the kids and teachers decided to collect school items and warm clothes for us to take to Honduras. I had an unexpected trunk full of items the school donated the last week before we traveled. This contributed to the excess baggage fees we had to pay at the airport but I was proud of our community for unselfishly stepping forward to help others. I took donated money down and purchased notebooks, dry erase pens, colored paper, and paints for all nine schools. I also purchased 3 large dry erase boards for three of the schools-Quiloma, El Pairiso, and Agua Blanca. These were left at the clinic for villagers to take to their villages.

Judy at the school

Mary Lou Bogart and I had a shower to get diapers, plastic pants, warm clothes and school supplies to take with us. Unfortunately in a way, but many Americans who hear of our work down there are generous in giving things to take but do not donate money. We had many sweatshirts that were used but just like new for people of all ages to wear. I took 36 dozen diapers and a huge assortment of plastic pants and pins and Jen and I distributed them from the clinic in sets of 6 from our bedroom window. She called it "our MacDonald's drive through window." The diapers were gone in three days. Without them-families have rags on their baby bottoms, or more frequently nothing at all. Parasites are a big health problem in the villages and cloth diapers hopefully will help slow the spread of such critters.

I talked to Yovany from Sustainable Harvest and he and I discussed where we can get diapers, plastic pants and a better variety of school supplies than can be purchased in Yoro and I feel that we need to shop in San Pedro Sula before going on the road next time we go as diapers can be purchased much cheaper down there and many, but not all, of the school supplies can be bought in Honduras. We have been taking things because they are not available in Yoro to buy. We can keep bags down to two apiece, take some donated items to help make lives better down there, and not have excess baggage fees if we do some shopping in San Pedro Sula before we go up into the mountains.

It was good to see the secondary school in use and completed when we went to Mataderos but we need to make it possible for more students to go there and I strongly feel we still need to provide financial help for a few of the more dedicated and intelligent students to further their studies in Yoro and send a couple to the vocational school in Yoro each year. Our new school in the mountains is a great thing but the teachers are not as good and the education they get in Yoro surpasses what is offered in the mountains. Vocational skills are needed to train our people for careers beyond being sustainable farmers as the land in the mountains will only support a limited amount of people. The future for some is to leave the mountains and better their lives elsewhere in their country.

I watched a stove being built for the first time and visited 98 year old Katatrina Sosa and bought 5 of her pots this year. She is now living with a daughter and still is one of the better potters in the mountains. I bought a few dolls and many pine needle baskets in LaLaguna and from another village served by Sustainable Harvest and a few items at the San Pedro Market to sell at the many talks I give throughout the year for New York/Help. It is because of talks I give around the state that I have more items donated than some who go to help the people of the mountains. I talk to church groups, groups at Chatautaqua Institute, civic groups, and school groups throughout the year and would be happy to go anywhere I am needed to educate groups and plug for New York/Help.

Linda and Kristin McDermott, Jen Plonka and I spent the whole day with Yovany in Sulaco the Wednesday we left the mountains and saw many projects New York Help has funded in this area. It is more of a desert area closer to Yoro than where we work in the mountains and the soil is not very fertile at all. We saw many soil improvement projects at individual farms where natural substances such as lime and natural fertilizers have made the soil much more productive there. Newer and improved chicken coops have also been funded by us. Farmer there proudly showed us improved plots of land where cabbages, radishes, etc. are being grown. Sustainable Harvest has had had classes for women in villages to teach them to teach others how to cook with these new foods they are able to grow. We felt that our contribution to projects there was well spent.

Lastly-I agree with Brian's assessment that our work in the mountains with the Tolupan tribal people is not over. As long as the government does not have regular medical personnel at the clinic there, homes still have open fire pits and are full of smoke for families to breathe in, homes lack latrines and have thatched or shingled roofs, we still are needed where we have worked for 21 years. One of the highlights of our trip was recognition of Dick DeNises's many years of service to the people of the mountains. The ceremony at the Quiloma soccer field to thank us was also a message that our work has been appreciated and that we have made a big impact on the lives of the people we serve. It is a privilege to serve in Honduras and I had a great time with all of the crew who went down on the latest New York Help adventure.

Judy Toner
Retired teacher from Salamanca

April 18, 2010

NY/HELP Honduras