Lending Hands to Honduras

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The Shelburne News
February 12, 2009

Every muscle and fiber of my body feels the heavy lifting of cinder blocks, sawing and bending of metal rebar, and shoveling of wheel barrels and buckets full of sand. For the past two weeks we have been volunteering with several others from Vermont (and beyond) with the Shelburne-Charlotte Rotary’s Hands to Honduras Tela (H2H). This is Dave and Will’s third year participating with this project, and the first for Kim and me.

Originally we thought we might drive from Mexico through Guatamala to Honduras but, given the long distance, multiple border crossings and unknown mountainous terrain, we decide (rather wisely) to fly. Leaving our beloved Philomena (a.k.a. the “hippie” van) in the southern state of Oaxaca, we took a luxurious bus to Puebla, Mexico’s fourth largest city. A charming hotel that has continuously served travelers since the 1500’s, served as our base for a couple days exploring the center of this bustling city of 1.5 million. We watched Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th President in a restaurant that graciously offered to tune in CNN. The staff seemed to share our optimism about this historic change of leadership and later we caught a glimpse of the inaugural parade while waiting for our bus to Mexico City airport. At the kid’s urging, we spent the night “hobo-style,” in the terminal awaiting a 2:30 a.m. check-in at TACA airlines. Exhausted, we hopped early morning flights to San Padro Sula, Honduras, via San Salvador and Tegucilapa.

Thankfully, H2H organizers Norm Robinson and Al Gilbert greeted us with cookies and smiles at the San Padro Sula airport and drove us the final leg to the coastal city of Tela (population 80,000). We settled into our third floor ocean-front room at Hotel Sherwood overlooking palm trees and the sandy, albeit trash-strewn, beach. For the next 17 days the steady lull of the rolling Caribbean soothed our travel-weary souls.

The first group of 40+ volunteers arrived within a few days. During our first dinner together, discussions about Shelburne Little League, happenings at the Community School and other topics reminded us of home. Finding tremendous comfort in being part of a larger community again, we set about working with local Honduran and H2H volunteers on a wide variety of service projects. Often our family would scatter to different job sites thankful for some independence after so many months of intense togetherness! In two productive weeks H2H constructed a library/classroom, an addition to a daycare center, a new school kitchen, and a much needed latrine at a rural school in the mountains. We painted one school, the fence around a rehabilitation clinic and several bright and colorful murals. A clean water system was installed and hundreds of people were served by numerous dental, health and rehabilitation clinics. In the process, we made friends; were invited into homes – some no more than mud and thatch; played with children; comforted crying babies; and laughed and played together with our new extended Honduran family.

Our family’s goals during this year of travel are to have FUN, to LEARN a lot and contribute through SERVICE. The entire two weeks with Hands to Honduras was rich in all three. With many hugs and a few tears, we said our farewells before flying to Mexico City where we are spending a few days exploring the swarming metropolis of 20-25 million. Soon, we board a bus south to Oaxaca where we’ll load, once again, into Philomena and resume our road trip. We look forward to combing some Mayan ruins and pristine beaches in the Yucatan before pointing Philomena north for the homeward stretch of this great journey.

This is the 7th report from the Dixon-Jonah family traveling for a year in their 1984 VW camper van named “Philomena.” For photographs or to read more about their travels, please visit their blog at: http:/philomenasoltour.blogspot.com