Editor's note: This is part two of a three-part series about a recent mission trip that staff reporter Amy Banton attended through the Honduras Agape Foundation. Today's story will focus on the work done in Santa Clara at a private and public school as well as the Foundation's role in improving education opportunities for children in the Quimistan Valley. Part three will run on Saturday.
The eyes of many Santa Clara villagers honed in on a group of Aiken missionaries as their van crept down the dusty, bumpy roads into the small, quiet town.
Children in their school uniforms scurrying to class stopped and timidly waved as the missionaries hopped out of the van. An elderly man sitting at a small, sea green-colored cafe quietly watching people conduct daily tasks down the street switched his focus to the Americans interacting with the kids in the schoolyard. One teenage boy leaned against the back of a white pickup while another sat in the bed of the truck, curiously peering at students tossing a football to mission team members Jeff Ray and his son, David.
Through a local nonprofit, the Honduras Agape Foundation, a team from St. John's United Methodist Church spent two days of its weeklong trip in early April at both a private and a public school. They conducted vacation Bible school, held a small dental clinic and helped with some construction work.
The White Dove School
The mission team helped with the construction of an office building for White Dove while in Santa Clara.
Started in 2010, this trilingual, private school grows a little more each year. The dream of the school owners is to expand the school's classrooms to the 12th grade and then, eventually, build a university.
Honduras Agape has assisted the school with construction and has supported its vision throughout the years. The school has a separate classroom for each age group, from pre-kindergarten to the fourth grade, with more than 60 students attending the institution – most of them on scholarships.
Soon, a fully functioning health clinic will open on the school's property, and work is progressing on establishing a computer lab.
At White Dove, children are in an environment that encourages them to continue their education. In Honduras, students are only required to stay in school through the sixth grade. After that, the choice is left up to the family if a child will stay in class. Many students cease school attendance when they complete the sixth grade, so they can find work to help support themselves and their loved ones.
White Dove teacher Cinthia Elvir has worked at the school for three years. She has enjoyed her time there, and has even enrolled her 4-year-daughter Sayri.
The children learn Spanish, French and English as well as the arts, Bible study, math and more, Elvir said.
“It's hard work, but they (students) love it,” Elvir said. “This has been a big blessing for this town. The kids get an education. They learn about Jesus. They learn good manners. We have many dreams of the future.”
Santa Clara's public school
Students of all ages share a single classroom at the public school except for the kindergartners, and it's understaffed in comparison to White Dove.
Before the mission team held vacation Bible school, the students were given toothbrushes and a lesson in properly caring for their teeth. They received small cups of fluoride, swished it around their mouths while squinting with displeasure at the taste, and spit it out as soon as they were told to.
During vacation Bible school, the kids eagerly listened to team members leading each station, which included music, arts and crafts, games and theatrics.
The small, blue concrete building of the public school contains children who seem to have the same enthusiasm and hope as those at the private institution, but their future after the sixth grade is uncertain.
“The public schools generally do not get much help from the government,” said the Foundation's Administrative Assistant Maynor Castillo, adding that if a school runs into problems, it often looks to the parents for help.
He added that students are responsible for purchasing their own uniforms, shoes and school supplies, which can put a financial strain on a family already struggling.
That's where the Foundation comes in to help.
Through the Agape Promises program, children in the Quimistan Valley can be sponsored for approximately $375 to $525 a year, depending on the grade they're in. Those funds cover school registration fees, uniforms, books, medical and dental care, and a weekly Bible study program that includes a meal and study materials. The funds also go toward financial stipends for good grades, Christmas gifts and group activities or field trips.
One of the goals of the program is to keep these kids in school past the sixth grade because continuing education can open up more opportunities, translator Daniel Reyes said.
“A long time ago, getting through the sixth grade – that was good enough to work anywhere,” said Reyes. “Now, we're telling them that if they want a better job, a better life, they need to continue their education.”
Castillo carefully monitors the students to make sure that they are doing well in school and are in good health. He said that not only has he watched these students flourish intellectually, but he has witnessed their character and spirituality grow as they go through the program.
The children also start showing signs of future leadership as they get more involved in their own community, Castillo said. For example, some of the Agape Promises teenagers helped bring Christmas to a very small town in the Quimistan Valley by organizing a celebration. Castillo is still hearing about that event from villagers who were touched by the students' efforts.
“It's a very good program,” Castillo said. “We try to teach kids that they are receiving help, but that they are also capable of helping others.”
For more information on the Foundation and how to help, visit www.hondurasagape.com.