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Wellesley — April vacation is a past memory as kids and families alike prepare for summer vacations and get excited for school to come to an end. College students are coming home after many months of grueling assignments mixed with social events, both preparing them for the “real world” with the hopes of a bright and profitable future.
Meanwhile a group of 10 high school students can’t help but wonder, “What about our community in Honduras? What will the future look like for the friends we made?”
During April vacation Wellesley students Anna Willms, Giselle Lehman, Louie Grignaffini, and A.J. Grignaffini traveled together with students and adults from Wellesley, Newton, Weston, Arlington, Plymouth and California through Heifer International Study Tours to work on a community project in Trinidad, Honduras. Their task was to work with a community building 14 cement block homes. These families were living on rented land in houses made of mud, stone and sticks with dirt floors. But what the group discovered, more important than the physical aspect of the project, was becoming part of the community and how open and willing the people were in accepting the group as part of their family.
Heifer’s Work Study Tour is not only designed to have groups work on-site with a community, but also to learn about the culture of the country, witness the root causes of hunger and poverty and see solutions in action. In Honduras, Heifer cannot solve the problem of poverty and education on its own. This year’s group got to witness firsthand the joint effort of the work Heifer can do with their partner organizations as they helped our community to purchase land and building materials.
The project in Trinidad helped support the community by providing supplies such as money for the metal roofs and tools, as well as training. Going into this project, Heifer group members expected to be helping the community put metal roofs on their houses. When they got there, they found the block-making machine was broken, so community members had not been able to complete the construction of the houses. This problem turned into an opportunity. Lou Grignaffini, a building contractor from Wellesley, was able to help fix the machine as well as teach the leaders of the community how to maintain it.
The work of making the cement blocks started again, and with the help of the men from the community the group was able to produce more than 300 blocks a day. With the machine working at full speed, the team of American teens was able to lay the foundations for three of the houses and leave the community with the materials and knowledge they would need to continue their progress. They also provided them with a trained mason to help complete the rest of the homes.
An example of Heifer’s commitment to the power of education was seen in the brick mason, Enival. Grignaffini had worked on a similar Heifer Honduras Project six years ago with him in his village of La Canada. Cement block construction was new to him at that time. Enival was called back this year to work with our group, as he is now a licensed mason, due to Heifer’s commitment to education.
The kids were able to provide tremendous labor that was greatly needed because of the delay caused by the broken block machine. They hauled water from the landlords’ spring a quarter mile up the hill; sifted rocky soil into smooth sand to make cement; mixed mortar and lay block. It was a race against time as the rainy season was approaching.
The trip was an amazing 10-day life-changing adventure. While working with their community for only part of the time the group also participated in workshops to help learn about the root cause of hunger as well as solutions.
While in Honduras they visited projects to see firsthand what people can do when given the resources and training to pull them out of poverty. One example is a man named Don Ernesto and his family in El Rosario. His plot of land started as a piece of property that had been abandoned because the soil had been depleted. Two years later he won an award from Heifer for the most improved project. It was amazing to see how he was also awarded $200 for his work in organic sustainable farming — money that will go directly into his children’s education.
Ernesto and his wife have two sons, Ronnyz and Geraldo. Ronnyz is studying economics and trying to get his bachelor’s degree while Geraldo is in his third year of high school and hopes to study agriculture. Geraldo is an artist and we bought two of his paintings to help provide for his education. They also have a daughter, Camaria, who is in ninth grade and is very smart. She even received a certificate from the Congress in recognition of her academic excellence, however there is little money left to provide for her education beyond ninth grade.
Through visits to communities the group learned a lot about what Heifer can do by providing resources and training. It’s not different from what we learn here in the United States — when given tools and education you can build a home, provide for your family, and get a job. Heifer’s idea is to provide people a hand up not a hand out.
How many of us have a vision statement on our walls in our office, classrooms or homes that reads, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results”?
So ask your self — what is your vision? This lesson we learned from our new friends and communities in Honduras — from their struggles to rise above extreme poverty through power, commitment, and teamwork’s — building strong communities — by knowing their neighbors and taking care of each other — finding one common goal.