So, unbelievably, we are half way through this incredible experience! In just the six weeks we’ve been here already, we have managed to do so much. On Friday 4 November, we had our mid-term evaluation, which gave us a chance to reflect on how much we have achieved, where we began and what we have left to do. If you asked me six weeks ago how I felt, I would have probably told you I had made a mistake, but now I am incredibly proud of all the work we have done and to see what a difference we are making to the children. This has been my journey so far.
Being out of my cultural norms began in the airport, before being quickly whisked away to a hotel in the village of La Valle de Angel, where we began training. During this week, we received talks with themes all about Honduras and practical aspects of the placement. Two themes still resonate with me. We received a very ‘real’ talk from the UN in Honduras about the safety in the country and a lot of the issues that you’ll find when you first google Honduras. Secondly, it surprised me how much religion dominates daily life here. It was quite a nerve wrecking week for me, but I realised that everyone else was in the same boat and the best way to get rid of the nerves was to get out and meet the team. I also began to realise how much Spanish I would need and how much work we had.
It was time to move to San Benito and I was surprised at how different it was from what I had perceived. I knew it was going to be rural but this is so very different to what I would have thought of, especially as my only previous experience of Central America were the lush resorts of Mexico. There is very little here, not even tarmacked roads. The school was also a lot smaller that I had imagined but it was positive to see the work previous Progressio ICS cycles have done here to make it a more inviting place for the children. Realities of the school education system also surprised me as there were students in primary school who were aged 16. Across all children, the welcome and the way I have been received has been incredible. The children are always friendly and smiley and I am finally getting used to children screaming, 'NATALIE, ARTE', at all times of the day.
Having settled into San Benito life, it’s incredible to see how much we have progressed. We have painted a lot, including the whole perimeter wall of the school, the front and back gates, all the garden areas and on five murals, one of which I got to design and paint. I have painted so much that I have a permanent blister and my new criteria for smart clothes are ones that don’t have paint all over them. We have maintained the school and I am not ashamed to say I cannot use a machete, but I am impressed to see the nationals cut grass with one. Aside from this, we have participated in two national competitions for our after-school clubs, supported the women’s entrepreneurship group, plastered walls and planned a new storage centre for the school. I have found the language barrier at times difficult but through hand gestures, facial expressions, Google Translate and some very patient national volunteers, everything is now working well.
By having this experience in rural Honduras, I cannot believe how much confidence I have gained, it’s one of the biggest improvements for me. I’ve gone from being a girl who has hardly left her house in three months, speaking virtually no Spanish and being quite frankly scared of meeting new people, to one being excited to go to work every day and continue with the work that we have been doing at the school.
As for my Spanish, I still may not be that fantastic but I now have the confidence to try and speak to some of our nationals. As for meeting new people, I’ve thrown myself in right at the deep end and am now having to meet new people who don’t even speak the same language as me and attempt to have a conversation in Spanish.
I’ve learnt that no matter how bad you think you have it at home, there are people with so much less than you, but they still smile every day and are happy with the simple pleasures in life. I am reminded to be grateful for what I have and for all the opportunities I have been given.
Written by ICS volunteer Natalie Nicol