Construction projects keep local volunteers building in Honduras

Volunteers work on the hospital’s postpartum room walls to make sure the cement blocks are perfectly level.

Editor’s note: For 14 years, volunteers with Hands to Honduras Tela have traveled to Tela, Honduras for service projects that have included constructing school classrooms and medical buildings; they led health screening clinics and delivered school, medical and athletic supplies. In February 46 volunteers made the trip. They were mostly from Chittenden County (especially Shelburne and Charlotte) and Addison County, and from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland and North Carolina. Volunteers ranged in age from 14 to 88 and were from various backgrounds. The group has developed many relationships and a deep appreciation for the people and culture of Tela. This is the first in a series about the 2018 projects.

By Linda Gilbert

February in Honduras provided unlimited sunshine and no rain for 46 Hands to Honduras-Tela volunteers who were able to experience the Honduran people, the culture and a few weeks of “doing good for others.”

The volunteers, who stayed one or two weeks, were amazingly energetic, dedicated, focused, worked well together — and were fun! — making it an especially enjoyable trip. Interestingly, 18 of the 46 volunteers were from Charlotte and Shelburne.

Life is hard in this very poor country, and this is our 14th year of completing projects that create a positive difference for the community of Tela. We select projects based on local requests and determine if they fit within the Hands to Honduras-Tela mission to benefit the most.

Our biggest construction project this trip was the maternal child health project — a postpartum (mother-baby) wing at the Tela Hospital.

Why build? The current postpartum rooms are very overcrowded and lack adequate facilities. There are four or five women with their babies in each room; some even share a single bed. The new building will provide four rooms with bathrooms and, for the first time, they will have air conditioning and oxygen.

Starting in February, the volunteers worked diligently to build the walls. In Honduras, construction is difficult and way different from in the U.S. Everything is done by hand, so volunteers mixed mortar on the ground, used primitive rebar jigs to make rectangles that are used to make rebar columns, and laid cement blocks that had to be perfectly level. It was a satisfying learning experience with many achievements.

The second construction project was at a rural school in the middle of a palm plantation. Last year we built two classrooms there for eighth and ninth grades. This trip, we constructed two latrines beside the classrooms.

Volunteers worked on sifting sand to make concrete, laying block and helping with skim-coating the walls and digging ditches for the sewer. The roof, rough plumbing, toilets, sinks and doors were installed by our local mason. Community members made a typical Honduran lunch for the volunteers. It was their way to say thank you to Hands to Honduras Tela. The students in first through ninth grades are full of energy and eager to learn, and they loved having our group at the school.

The third construction project was at an in-city small school for kindergarten through sixth grade. Hands to Honduras-Tela was asked to refurbish a classroom that was unusable — it lacked windows, and had little natural light or ventilation. The walls were moldy and the paint on the concrete walls was flaking.

We hired a local mason to cut two large window openings in a cement-block wall and install balcones (rebar and screens) and louvered glass windows, install new insect screening on the half-wall, and construct a partial wall. Our small team of volunteers (due to room size and difficulty of the job) scraped paint, chipped and sanded the walls. With chisel and hammer, they made the window openings larger, primed and patched the walls, and painted. Now the school has a usable, pleasant, bright kindergarten space.

The fourth construction project was at a rural grade and agricultural high school. Over several years, we constructed and painted five classrooms, refurbished a kitchen and small office, and built an outdoor Honduran stove. The teachers at this school requested a “galeria,” an outdoor open-air pavilion to be used for graduations, cooking presentations and learning events. This was our first project of this nature, but we know this galeria will be well used.

Some strong Hands to Honduras-Tela volunteers worked with the local mason and the high school students to dig six holes to support the metal posts, mixed the cement by bringing water from a nearby river, erected the posts and poured the cement.

Every day of the four weeks that I was in Honduras was an adventure and a realization of how a few dedicated people can make a worthwhile difference to so many. How could we accomplish so much? We all appreciate the opportunity and the humbling privilege to volunteer and work in beautiful Honduras, and we are gifted with some amazing life-changing experiences.

Hands to Honduras-Tela wishes to acknowledge and thank the following for continued and essential support: the Charlotte-Shelburne-Hinesburg Rotary Club, family and friends, our local communities, and the Argosy Foundation.

As seen in The Citizen; Linda Gilbert is the director of Hands to Honduras-Tela. Contact her at [email protected].