For the academic 2010/2011 year, I worked for Olancho Aid as a volunteer pre-kindergarten English teacher at Santa Clara, the bilingual elementary school. Although the experience of living in this developing country and working with a population that has expectations and a culture far different from my own was challenging to the extreme, I can nevertheless truthfully claim that it was the most valuable experience I have ever had. In addition to the personal growth I experienced and the special friendships I made with both Hondurans and my fellow volunteers, it was humbling and eye-opening to be a small part of an effort to educate and improve the life situations of those less fortunate than I. Olancho Aid’s vision centers on the saying that if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he will have the ability to feed himself every day. I came to see the truth in this analogy for the empowering nature of education.
I have been doing mission work with Olancho Aid for the past 3 summers and recently moved to Honduras to volunteer with them full time. It's rewarding to volunteer with an organization that is able to provide education, hope and transformation to children who would not otherwise have an opportunity.
The Olancho Aid Foundation has been built on faith - in God, in the Juticalpa community, and in the goodwill of our volunteers and donors. We have faith that we can change the reality of children in Honduras through education. I am in my third year of service and I feel so blessed to be part of a wonderful group of people (from Honduras and beyond) to provide a quality education.
In August of 2012 I got on a plane to Olancho, Honduras not knowing what to expect. I was leaving my family and friends for ten months to teach first grade at Santa Clara and "nervous" doesn't come close to describing how I felt. Adjusting to a different culture, getting to know 56 new little faces, and a language barrier were difficult tasks to overcome. Thankfully, I had 14 other incredible people going through that process with me. I received endless support from the organization, my colleagues, and all of the other volunteers. The Santa Clara staff quickly became a big extended family, my students were the joy of my life, and the other volunteers I served with became some of my best friends. I truly can't describe in words how much my service experience with OAF means to me. It was the BEST year of my life to date! I thank God every single day that he led me to such a wonderful place. A huge thank you to OAF for the life changing work you do and for allowing me to be a small part of it.
Well, where do I begin? At this moment 3 weeks before Christmas and after being here for 15 or so months I can say is a great experience but also probably the most demanding undertaking of my life. Teaching anywhere is hard, I have been told (teaching here in Honduras is my first real teaching experience), but combine that with being away from home, always being hot, living in a third world country and a student culture that is much more rowdy than what we are used to in the States and you have a the challenge of an OAF volunteer. With that said, I am certain that after moving on from here I will be a much stronger person. Also, there are many wonderful things that have come from my experience. My Spanish has improved greatly, although I wish it were better, I have learned how to live without the conveniences of the USA (both domestically and in the classroom), I have spent time with amazing people, both Hondurans and North Americans, and I have learned about myself. There were things that I wanted coming down here, some which have happened and others that have not (to my frustration). Also there are things that I hadn't expected and have happened (to my delight). Of the former I have done a good amount of traveling, picked up a good amount of Spanish and have had a chance to experience the wonderful people/culture of Honduras. To my frustration I want more personal time to do some soul searching as I live away from my former lifestyle in the States. However, being a teacher at Santa Clara leaves little time for that. As for the unexpected delights, by chance, I am currently roommates with a Honduran, Mario, for my second year. Through Mario I have been able to connect with Honduras through an insiders perspective. Having said all this, there is still 7 months until the end and much can change in that time. As for anyone who is thinking of volunteering, this will demand all of your energy: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, but perhaps, like St. Francis said, "It is in giving that we receive."
I volunteered with the Olancho Aid Foundation, Inc during the 2007-2008 school year. I had the opportunity to see first hand the amazing contributions made by everyone who is involved with Olancho Aid. The education provided by Olancho Aid's schools is truly a blessing for each student enrolled in classes. I will continue to support Olancho Aid in every way I can because I have seen the work of staff and volunteers as well as the amazing results of that hard work.