Since 2005, the Village Partners Program has sent over 300 William Jewell College students, faculty and alumni to Honduras to engage in asset-based community development projects. Dr. Patrick Bunton, professor of physics and mathematics, Dr. Scott Falke and Dr. Kevin Prine acquired the initial funding. A Hall Family Foundation Cooperative Learning Grant was allocated in 2008. Dr. Lori Wetmore, professor of chemistry, took direction of the grant after traveling with the team to Embarcadero in 2008.
Trips typically occur bi-annually in January and May. Senior psychology, communication and Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry (ACT-In) major Shakiyla Hughes; junior elementary education and ACT-In major Paige Cunningham; junior mathematics and psychology major Olivia Tolberd; senior nursing and ACT-In major Kelly O’Hare-Baxley; senior music major Allison Maple; college chaplain Dr. Jeff Buscher; and Wetmore planned to travel to Honduras in January 2018 but experienced an itinerary change.
In January, Honduras was experiencing political unrest after their November 2017 election. President Juan Orlando Hernández, who began his term in 2013, was re-elected in 2017. Previous laws allowed a president to sit for only one term, but that law was overturned by the Supreme Court of Honduras during Hernández’s early years in office. This election was the first since that rule was overridden.
Former president Manuel Zelaya attempted to alter the term limit portion of the Honduran Constitution in 2009 and was consequently removed from office in a military coup. Many of his supporters protested the 2017 election because Hernández was allowed to do what Zelaya could not. The protests lasted into December. Hernández’s main opponent, Salvador Nasralla, was also claiming victory, so a recount was held.
Sarahi Zeron, Honduran Director of Village Partners and community liaison, had the Jewell group on standby. She made the ultimate decision and suggested the group postpone their trip. The decision came only about a week before the group was set to leave.
“We were not concerned for our safety as much, as when Hondurans protest and riot, they often sit on bridges. Our concern was that we would get down there, maybe get to our village, but then not be able to get to our other village or not get back to the airport on time because of any civil unrest,” said Buscher.
The trip was postponed until spring break, which meant the logistics would have to change. For one, the planned 10-day trip had to be shortened to nine. However, Buscher said they were still able to accomplish most of what they had intended.
The main adjustment was the cost of airfare. Spring break prices increased everyone’s airfare by about $300.
“Money that would have gone into the project in Honduras instead paid for slightly higher airline tickets, which is frustrating to us because you know, you’re trying to do a project in a country, you want the funds to go to the country,” said Buscher.
The group didn’t run into any protests, but they could still see the evidence of them. Buscher recalled passing demolished toll booths. The only remaining pieces of them were the concrete barriers. Everything else had been destroyed.
Buscher didn’t think the change impacted the students at all.
“They just really rolled up their sleeves and did just whatever needed to be done…This team was just exceptional just in terms of being flexible,” said Buscher.
The Village Partners are currently in a transitioning phase, easing their way out of the village of Matagua and into Boca del Toro. The group spent three days in Matagua and two days in Boca del Toro. The remaining days were travel days and one leisure day.
“I didn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms. Going into Honduras you have an image of what you think it will be like, and it was amazing to see how the villages welcomed us,” said Tolberd.
Jewell has been working with the people in Matagua on a three-pond tilapia cooperative project. The first crop of tilapia was harvested and sold, bringing in enough money to buy a second round of fish, which has been growing since last fall and is almost ready for harvest. During the March visit, Buscher traveled with some Hondurans to El Progresso to pick up 4,000 minnows for the third crop. They filled four big garbage bags with water, poured the fish in and filled the rest of the bag with oxygen using a hose. The minnows are now growing in Matagua.
“This was kind of fun,” said Buscher. “It’s kind of like a big bubble. They tie it and you got these inflated garbage bags full of fish.”
Students helped plant bamboo around the pond to help prevent erosion, but they also played with the children in Matagua. Cunningham and Tolberd are both members of the Jewell volleyball team. They brought a volleyball net and equipment to donate to the school in Matagua and taught the kids how to play.
“My favorite part of the trip was hanging out with the children. I loved how they were open to us being there and were very eager to be around us. Many of the kids showed up bright and early and did not leave till after dark,” said Tolberd.
This trip was the first time the Village Partners have stayed the night in Boca del Toro. They took a tour of the village, learned its history and became familiar with the community.
The main community project for Boca del Toro has not been decided, but some ideas were discussed. The village, which sits on a river, currently has a fishing tournament once a year. People from all over Honduras and even other countries come to compete, so it is an economic boost for the village and town. They discussed the possibility of hosting the tournament twice a year.
While the group was there, they partnered with a staff person and students at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras to provide dental exams for the children in the village. The mayor of the municipality attended the clinic.
“We had the opportunity to begin building relationships with the mayor. After a meeting with him in city hall, he joined us in Boca del Toro to see the dental clinic in action. We took a great photo of him holding a toothbrush surrounded by the village children and students from Jewell and the Honduran university. We work to involve the municipality in planning projects for the village to expand our network of partnerships,” said Wetmore.
The Jewell students will be holding a fundraiser to raise money for a follow up clinic with fluoride treatments and parent training. They will be selling photos from their trip and hope to raise $500. Details for the fundraiser will be coming soon. Another group will be traveling in May. If you would like to support Village Partners, email email@example.com to find out how.
Photo credits to Jeff Buscher.