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Archive for the ‘Honduras’ Category

If you want to learn or improve your Spanish and make a significant difference in the lives of others there are few better ways to do it than volunteering in a Spanish speaking country. And there are lots of programs out there for you to chose from.
Nearly all volunteering abroad programs that are not affiliated with a religious organization carry some sort of fee. This fee varies widely, particularly for health placements. Some health placements include rounding with doctors and lectures which can sometimes even be counted for academic credit. The program I volunteered with was not as well organized or as expensive.
I went with I-to-I. I-to-I is a for-profit company and as much as two thirds of your money goes towards advertising, which is evident by the number of times i-to-i projects will come up in google searches for volunteering. The program organizes generally acceptable home-stays, and the projects are reasonably organized by Honduran standards. The volunteer contacts in the capital are bilingual, whereas the contacts in La Esperanza speak only Spanish. Sometimes teaching volunteers do arrive at the beginning of several week long school holidays. The project helping to build houses in the hills of Honduras is pretty reliable. The health program in La Esperanza is a terrific project for health volunteers that are interested in public health and that have strong language skills. The health project is not well organized before volunteers arrive; therefore, volunteers with strong language skills have a great opportunity to set up the exact kind of project they would like to do.
However, Global Volunteer Network offers the exact same projects in La Esperanza with the same home-stays as i-to-i at about half the cost of the i-to-i program equivalents. The Global Volunteer Network programs in Honduras also include a 2 day intensive Spanish class that could be very cool and is not included with the i-to-i projects. GVN charges $902 dollars for four weeks at my project site, whereas i-to-i charges $1,835. I-to-I use to include health and travel insurance with their projects but since I started my project they have changed that policy, so you would have to buy insurance with either organization. I strongly encourage purchasing travelers insurance before volunteering abroad, that would cover whatever amount of money you would be willing to file a police report for and to file a claim. Generally people do not need policies that cover anything less than the most expensive item they bring, whether it be a camera or an Ipod. You should also purchase health insurance to cover you while you are abroad and this should include a policy to medivac your sick-butt home if necessary.
The only non-religious way of volunteering abroad for free, if you are an American citizen, is through the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is an excellent program that provides terrific training and amazing insurance, but it does demand that volunteers dedicate 2 years and 3 months to their projects and volunteers do not get to choose where they volunteer. Additionally there is a long and intensive application process for the program.
The other way to volunteer abroad for free is through religious organizations many of which have very well-run projects in Latin America. If you are religious, or even if you are not particularly religious, but do not mind religious overtones, be sure to look into those opportunities.
Whatever program you choose, remember that any volunteering experience will be what you make it. You should go into the project with flexible ideas and goals and be willing to work to create the kind of experience you imagine. Volunteering abroad is a great way to work on mastering a foreign language, but remember that the more you know before you go, the more comfortable you will feel when you arrive. I would generally recommend having at least one semester of college language course-work or the equivalent experience, before traveling abroad. This framework will allow your language knowledge to advance as much as possible during your abroad experience.
I strongly recommend projects that involve living with home-stays. Family home-stays allow for a much greater cultural exchange than living in compounds with other volunteers. They also allow for much more language practice.
For information about these and other volunteer opportunities around the world, see the links at the left of the page.

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Tips for volunteers and travelers in La Esperanza, Honduras
Where to stay
If you have more money than you know what to do with, there is a very nice mountain resort just out of the center of town called Cabanas de los Pinos. The bus can drop you off at the entrance to the resort on your way in to town. The resort has a pool and everything. It will cost you upwards of 800 lempira per night per room. Instead, I recommend staying at Hotel Ipsan-nah in the center of La Esperanza. It is the nicest hotel in town. It is very clean and run by a very friendly and service-oriented staff. It’s a big place with volunteer organizations so reservations might help. Their number is 783-2086. The hotel should cost about 400 lempira per night for a 2-3 person room. A cheaper option in town is Hotel Mejia Batres, which costs 200 lempira per night for a 2 person room, but it does have an early curfew. Mejia Batres is located one block off of parque central. Whichever hotel you choose in town, just take the bus from La Guama to the end of the line, to the station on the edge of town. Get a taxi at the station and tell the driver to take you to your hotel. Taxis in town should cost 11 lempira per person. If you want to go to Ipsan-nah, the taxi drivers will probably know the hotel by the name of the restaurant attached to it, El Pollito Indio.
There are a number of must-sees in La Esperanza.
1. The market. It is full of delicious and cheap fruits and vegetables. The strawberries and mangoes are particular highlights. If oranges are in season, buy one off a street vendor. The vendor will cut it in half and offer you salt. Take the salt, it’s an interesting cultural experience. Then dig right in sucking the juice out of the half orange. To get to the market, walk 2 or so blocks north from hotel Ipsan-nah and take a left. You should be able to see the market and follow it west for a block, then walk another block north and continue to follow the market west through the streets. Once the market ends, walk three or so more blocks west. You should see a big red sign for Banco Atlantida.
2. Banco Atlantida. Its the only bank in town with an ATM. True to form, it only takes Visa.
3. The “Licuado” (smoothie) stand across from Banco Atlantida in the commercial center. The friendly woman that runs it will make any fruit combination you dream up. You can get the smoothies either milk-based, orange juice-based, or water-based. They cost 20 lempira for a large.
4. Cafe Internet. After your licuado, continue walking west along that block until you see Mike’s fast food (It’s a bright yellow building with red letters) on your left. There is an internet cafe on the left just before Mikes that has a generator in case you have some immediate internet-related business and the power is out. If the power is not out, take a right at Mike’s and walk down hill 4 blocks or so until you come to a large open plaza with soccer fields in the middle. (This is plaza Lempira). When you see the plaza there will be an Internet Cafe on your left, Cafe Internet. It is the best internet cafe in town, and hugely popular with the volunteer types. They sell terrific coffee and deserts and it is run by one of the most friendly and helpful families in town. If you do go, please tell them that “Erline, la gringa que trabajaba con las mujeres en el Albergue, dice hola.”
5. Helping build homes. If you have a weekday morning free, go build homes with other volunteers in the hills around town. The driver (Pablo) leaves from Plaza Lempira (which you have just seen) at 7 (ok, 7:15) every weekday morning that volunteers are in town. It’s a 10 lempira ride in the back of a truck each way, but one of the greatest Honduran experiences you can get. You will be back in town around 1pm. The truck is bright blue and leaves from the upper left corner of plaza lempira when you look at it from the internet cafe (the northwest corner).
6. El Fogón. Walk right back up the road you walked down to get to the Internet cafe by plaza Lempira. Walk past Milke’s and on your right you will see El Fogón. This is where you should go to drink a couple of beers and meet up with other volunteers in town in the evenings, it has a great atmosphere.
7. Opalaca’s Restaurant. After you pass El Fogon, continue walking up hill to the end of the block and take a left. Restaurante Opalaca’s will be on your left. It is the best food in town. Get something alla plancha (on the grill) I recommend the beef steak, but the pork chops are also good. The meal will come with a salad (that is completely safe to eat) and french fries.
8. The kiosk in Central Park. Once you pass Opalacas, you will see central park on your right. The park is a great place to hang out, and the restaurant in the middle serves terrific food. Try a bunch of the sides, they are all delicious. Also be sure to try ‘una baleada con todo.” It will knock your socks off.
9. La Gruta. You may have noticed a white shrine up-hill from central park. Its worth taking a walk up there to look around. It provides a fantastic view.
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La vista de la gruta, La Esperanza, Honduras
If you have any other questions about La Esperanza, or if you will be visiting or volunteering there soon, feel free to drop me an email at: erinashleymiller(at)gmail(dot)c0m

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“Ricardo, venga!”

After the lake, Dan and I made our way (painstakingly) to the coast of Honduras and then to the most-developed and touristy island of Roatan. Dan and I spent a full hour of the bus ride to the coast sitting bent-over on the dashboard of an inter-city bus (it was too full to move any further back). We spent the next 4 hours of the ride dripping in sweat, sitting perfectly still, and fantasizing of refrigerators and ice cubes on another inter-city bus. Someone, after spending some time in Ghana, once told me that an African air-conditioner was simply a method of sitting, perfectly still, in the shade with ones arms raised slightly above their legs to prevent any skin-on-skin contact. I can tell you, that day, our African air conditioners were broken. We arrived in paradise exhausted and sweaty and spent the next four days lounging on beaches, snorkeling, scuba diving, zip-lining, and monkey-petting. We saw several hawksbill sea turtles during our dives and got to swim only inches away from them, putting seeing them at a close second for greatest moments during our dive, right behind getting to kiss Dan under 30 feet of ocean. After our first day of diving we went on a zip-line and wild-life park tour, which meant that we first got to act like monkeys and then hold them. When we walked into the wildlife refuge the guide pointed out some monkey in the trees and then yelled, “Ricardo, venga!” I thought now way were those monkeys going to come down from the trees to hang out with us, but sure enough, after a bit of calling and some bribing with juice in a plastic bag, Ricardo and his friends came to say hello. They tried to dig through our packs and our pockets and succeeded in stealing one man’s cap. We spent the last days doing a bit more diving and more chillin’ on beaches, which, as it turns out, is a particular skill of Dan and I. The power cut a few times on the island (always to our amusement), causing Dan to determine that the power-outages were the only difference between Roatan and the rest of the Caribbean islands.
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Roatan zip line tour
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holding bird in wildlife refuge
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Ricardo!
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monkey business
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Dan and me on a beach
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and again
We spent an afternoon traveling from the islands back to San Pedro Sula (barf city), and had an uneventful first return trip from Honduras.

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Lago de yojoa, otra vez

From La Esperanza, Dan and I headed to the largest body of fresh water in Honduras, Lago de Yojoa. We stayed at a quiet hotel near the lake and managed to do a bit of dancing one night at the hotel’s disco. The main attraction at the lake was the 43 meter waterfalls, and the guided tour we took behind them. We took a water-proof camera, but don’t have the pictures back yet, but here are a few shots of our time there.
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view of the lake from our hotel room
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When I made Dan walk miles up hill in incredible heat to catch a bus back to our hotel
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view from the walk

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Adios La Esperanza

Dan arrived May 30th. He came to Honduras to bring me home. He arrived in San Pedro Sula and before he could even set his bags down, we grabbed a bus to La Esperanza so that the good-bye parties could begin. We stopped by one party the evening Dan got in. The rainy season began just days before Dan’s arrival so going out meant darting between puddles and arriving always soaked at your destination. Hay dos estaciones en La Esperanza, un del polvo y un del lodo. (There are two seasons in La Esperanza, one of dust, and one of mud.) I prefer the dust to the mud, even though the rains did bring city water and mean that we could stop using the trickle of water from the mountain behind my host family’s house. When it is dry in La Esperanza, there is unreliable electricity because a hydro-electric plant provides the power to the town and sometimes the dam runs dry or there is a small amount of water and the lights dim and microwaves won’t work for days on end. However, during the rainy season, power is also unreliable because the above-ground lines will fall. Dan says that the power cut several times, “always to my amusement.” And the truth is, that even after four months, I was always amused as well when the power went out. There is something mysterious and innately hilarious about not having power.
We began Dan’s second day in town with a trip to the market, one of the most beautiful sights in La Esperanza, to pick up some last food donations for the women in the albergue. Then we went to the hospital in time for the diabetes club meeting (which was scheduled for 9 and began punctually around 10). The club members had organized a surprise going away party for me. The president of the club, head nurse from the operating room, and even the director of the hospital gave speeches thanking me and the other volunteers for our work. The club members had promised to teach me la punta (a traditional dance of Honduras) but everyone got too shy, so instead the volunteers demonstrated the electric slide. (The idea was to demonstrate that dancing can be good exercise.) The celebration was complete with sugar-free cake (quite the accomplishment in La Esperanza) and diet pepsi. After the diabetics party, Dan helped me bring in some final food donations and give my last “charla” at the Albergue. The nutrition program at the albergue is continuing. A new peace corps volunteer in town has agreed to continue the project at least until a new albergue is constructed, which should be complete within the next year (or so). I have secured funding to bring food in every other week for the next year and for now the volunteers in town are pooling their own personal money to bring food in on the off week. I am working on getting a system set up through an official NGO to accept more donations and will post about it when it is up and running.
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market in La Esperanza
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last diabetes club charla
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the president of the diabetes club presenting a diploma de agradecimiento
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me with the club members
Dan and I took Friday morning off to relax, visit the market, drink coffee, and play scrabble and dance (alone, together) on the roof of our hotel. It was an amazing day. Friday night my host family through me a small going away party. The food — including tropical fruit shish kabobs and a going-away cake made by the other two volunteers living at the house — was terrific. And, of course, we played the balloon game. Dan and I left La Esperanza on Saturday. I nearly cried as the bus pulled out of town and was glad to have Dan by my side. Everyone in town kept asking me when I would return, and I genuinely hope to go back soon.
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ADIOS ERIN
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Dan and I at my good-bye party
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balloon game begins
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balloon game championships
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last shot of La Esperanza

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Jumboland

Dan and I had a great time during his visit and I am back in the United States and slowly trying to adjust myself to my new surroundings without completely freaking out. Many people have asked me how I am, and generally I remark that it feels like I am in jumboland in the Mario Brothers games (no, I am not sure that its official name, and hard core mario brother gamers will just have to excuse the possible misnomer.) My mom offered me strawberries when I got home and I swear they look like they came from a different planet, I can only fit two of them in the palm of my hand whereas I could easily hold five of the strawberries from the hills around La Esperanza in a single fist. My dad then cut me off a huge piece of welcome home cake (terrific parents) and it was actually too big for me to eat. The ice cream was just a bit too sweet for now and I am actually sort of missing the dry corn tortillas with sour butter. The roads are big here too, not to mention paved to a perfect shine. The people are also bigger; I can no longer see over the heads in a crowd. Even the beers are big. I drank a full pint in the Houston airport, for only 4 dollars and 50 cents. I am shocked that a full weeks worth of money in La Esperanza has been shrunk to last no more than half a day while traveling here, or to maybe a half tank of gas. I have yet to drive my jumbo car in jumboland, but I am taking things in baby steps.
I looked around for a trashcan to deposit my toilet paper in the Houston airport restroom and was a bit confused until I remembered I could put it in the toilet. (You cannot ever put toilet paper in toilets in Honduras, it is always suppose to be deposited in the trashcans beside the toilets. This is an important fact to note for any would-be tourists, because it is under-signed and leads to many embarrassing moments among new gringos in town.) The toilet in Houston flushed automatically when I stood up and caught me a bit off guard. I would say that I have been about fifty-fifty putting the toilet paper in the toilet (the other half of the time it lands in the trash can) here in the bathroom I am sharing with my favorite little sister this summer, and I am sure this fact just thrills her.
I am greatly enjoying tap-water and have filled my glass many times today. Cool, clean water from the water fountain in Houston was a highlight of my return travels.
I am enjoying getting caught up with friends and family and have had a very happy reunion with a very excited, jumpy, and slobbery puppy.
But I have perhaps been most impressed with the welcoming attitudes of friends, family, and friends of family that I haven’t seen in months. Without missing a beat, neighbors are stopping me on the street to ask about my adventures and how I am doing. One of my best friends moms told me to stop by for anything at all if I ever needed help with anything this summer and my own parents weren’t around. She made the generous offer even though she knows that most of what I am trying to do the next two months is just adjust to the States and prepare for my move to New York. Its nice to know that all the corny stuff they say about home is true.
I have more blog posts to write about Dan and my adventures. I am going to try to break them up a bit because Dan claims that with my long posts, I am not using the Internet correctly and is threatening to take away my Internet privileges. So I will try making some shorter posts this time, which should be much easier now that I now have consistent and low-cost internet access. All the posts will just have to wait a bit until I get my pictures organized online, and that will have to be after I have cleared the foot-deep mound of mail I have received in the last four and half months from my desk and have room to set up my camera, but I will get to it as soon as possible.

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One of my friends who volunteered in La Esperanza about three months ago had the foresight to collect a large donation from friends, relatives, and co-workers before she came to La Esperanza. (If you are thinking of doing some sort of volunteer experience, I think that getting a donation before you leave to spend in-country is a terrific idea.) She dedicated much of the month that she was in town to finding worthy causes for the money. However, she had to leave La Esperanza suddenly due to unforeseen circumstances and never had a chance to spend the money. Once she was settled back in England she wired the money to me. Her original donation was for 550 British Pounds. By the time the money transferred to my bank account, was converted first to dollars and then to lempira, and I took it out of the ATM in La Esperanza, I had a donation of roughly 1,000 dollars, or approximately 18,889 lempiras. I have been diligently working on spending the money during the last month or so, using Amy’s ideas as guides. Here is what we came up with:
A NEW TIN ROOF FOR ONE OF THE FAMILIES IN THE CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS
This family had few natural resources on their property and they had to use the money available from i-to-i to buy stones for the foundation and wood for the frame and had no money left over to buy a tin roof. A tin roof is one of the most important elements of one of these new houses as it functionally blocks rain from entering the living areas, unlike thatch or clay tiles. Insects are unable to live and breed in tin roofs which prevents the spread of chagas disease and other ailments. One of the volunteers working on the construction site recognized the importance of the tin roof and put her own 2,000 lempiras toward the project to buy the missing 10 sheets. Though I offered to reimburse all of the money she put towards the project she accepted only 1,500 lempiras reimbursement from Amy’s money.
8 new sheets of tin roof……….1,500 lempiras
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New tin roof
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The tin roof being put on.
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THE INFA CENTER
The INFA center is a day-care and nutrition program provided for children who have only one parent (almost always just a mother.) The mother can drop her children off, Monday through Friday, so that she may go to work. The government provides funding for the food provided by the program and minimum wage salaries to over-worked day care providers, but does not provide funds for the maintenance of the center.
Some of the volunteers have been working on painting a mural on the walls of the INFA center. The center was a dark and depressing place prior to the work of volunteers who painted the walls, and the mural has served to further brighten the center.
Oil paint for a mural and to paint the benches in the center……….2,100 lempiras
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Beginning of the mural
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The finished product
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Painted benches
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The young children at the INFA take siestas in the afternoon and often had to share sleeping mats by as many 4 children per mat or foam pad or sleep on the floor. We used some of the donated money to buy new mattresses for the children so that they could spread out.
6 new mattress………..1,920 lempiras
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crowded sleeping at the INFA center
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New Mattresses!
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Sleeping with more space
The INFA center had several missing window pains which allowed water to run down the walls and onto the floor during the rainy season.
Replacement window pains……….500 lempiras
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Missing window pains
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Fixing the window pains
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New window pains
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The front door of the INFA center was broken.
Fixing the bottom of the front door………300 lempiras
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Broken front door
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Fixed front door
The front lock of the INFA center was also broken.
New lock for the front door……….100 lempiras
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Broken front door lock
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Fixed front door lock
The hallway between the playroom and the kitchen was open, which meant that the children were locked out of the playroom a majority of the day in order to prevent them from entering the kitchen.
Gate between the playroom and the kitchen……….200 lempiras
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Opening between playroom and kitchen
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Gate between playroom and kitchen
THE HOSPITAL
The operating department needed money to repair their stirrups.
Repairing 2 sets of stirrups……….300 lempiras
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broken stirrups
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Repaired stirrups
THE ALBERGUE
The albergue is built in a low-lying area and there are many mosquitoes and other biting insects that were able to enter the dormitory and bathroom and molest the women and transmit diseases.
Screen doors for the dormitory and bathroom……….1,500 lempiras
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New screen doors at the albergue
Screen window coverings in the dormitory and bathroom……….300 lempiras
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Screen windows at the albergue
The food that I brought in was kept in buckets and often covered in flies.
Plastic containers to keep flies off the food……….455 lempiras
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Plastic contianers to keep flies away from the food
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The albergue was in need of some new pots and pans……….450 lempiras
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Old pots and pans
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New pots and pans
My parents brought donated toothbrushes to the women during their visit. However, the women are unable to afford toothpaste.
Toothpaste to compliment the donated brushes……….589 lempiras
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Toothpaste
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Women with their new toothpaste
The albergue was also in need of some new cleaning supplies such as mops and brooms.
Two new mops……….114 lempiras
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New mops
Two new brooms………..60 lempiras
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New brooms
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INDUSTRIAL ARTS SUPPLIES FOR THE 7TH, 8TH AND 9TH GRADERS IN CENTRO DE EDUCACIŇN BASICA “HONDURAS”
Amy wanted to donate a large part of the money to the school in Chiligatoro, Honduras where she had worked teaching English. The director and professors of the school decided that the money could be best used to by supplies for an industrial arts class because these supplies are prohibitively expensive for the school or students to purchase. The students greatly enjoy working on industrial arts projects and the classes allow the students to learn valuable and marketable trades. The professors believed that these materials would help keep students in school through the ninth grade. The materials are very durable and will last many years.
Industrial arts supplies………..8,833 lempiras
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one box of equipment
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students with their new school tools
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Reading the letter than Amy sent to her old students
Thanks, Amy, it was really fun doing some good works with the donation that you worked so hard to get.

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