Rachel Barwell's Gap Year Grant report 2018
The Trust awarded a Gap Year Grant to Rachel Barwell. Rachel helped teach English and art with Project Trust in Honduras. This is her report on her return.
My year in Honduras with Project Trust
I arrived in Honduras in August 2017, where I would be living and teaching for the next year, through the Scottish charity Project Trust. My project, along with Megan, a Scottish volunteer, was in the small town of La Unión in the department of Lempira. The closest city (if it can be called that) to La Unión - Gracias - is a 3 hour bus journey away along dirt roads. In La Unión itself, there are churches, small corner shops (pulperías) which sell the basics, and a few comedors (restaurants which are often just part of someone’s house), as well as a bank, and not much else, which made a change to Birmingham, to say the least! I spent the year working in a bilingual American - run school (Vida Abundante), where I taught English and art, assisted in various classes and helped with marking.
Living in such a different culture took some getting used to and, with my lack of knowledge of Spanish at the start, it was not easy to become involved in the community. However, Honduran people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and within the first week of school, one of the Honduran teachers had already invited us in for coffee and baleadas (traditional Honduran food consisting of a flour tortilla filled with beans and cheese).
Throughout the year, I was lucky enough to get to know various people in the community and was welcomed into their homes and families. Many Hondurans have very little, with some earning just enough to eat beans and tortillas every day, yet they still are so giving. Immersing myself in the community not only gave me a much deeper insight into various aspects of the culture, including the backwards way in which women are treated (they have to do all the work in the house, regardless of whether or not they have work outside of the home), but I also made lifelong friends whom I know I will never forget. By getting to know lots of people in the community, this provided me with the opportunity to learn Spanish and I can now relatively confidently get across what I want to say in Spanish.
In school, I gained confidence by taking on this role of responsibility, both in terms of teaching and preparing lessons. I met some incredibly clever children, whom I got to help not only in terms of their education but also by giving them someone around whom they felt comfortable and able to laugh. Many have very difficult home situations - there were parents of my students with alcohol addictions, in prison, dead, or even in a different country to try and help provide for the family. In spite of all the problems which the people of this country face, it should be mentioned that they are often very positive, although realistic. I got to experience the change in the first graders at my school (although I just taught them art), who went from knowing no English to being able to communicate basic ideas.
Outside of school, through the church community, I learned a lot about the importance of faith to Hondurans, for whom God comes before everything. I went to church almost every Sunday, and also began to go to a church community towards the end of my year in Honduras, which through conversations about various Bible passages taught me a lot about Hondurans’ perspective on life. For example, they place a very strong emphasis on loving, giving to and helping others since you reap what you sow.
Having the opportunity to live in a different country gave me a lot of independence: for the first time, I was cooking for myself (when I wasn’t being kindly fed by friends there), living without my parents, and being forced to make all of my own decisions. I gained experience working with others, especially through assisting, on a daily basis.
I gained an insight into the political workings of Central American countries and the problems which the people face owing to the corruption of the government. Whilst I was in Honduras, the presidential elections took place, unfortunately resulting in violence. Even when the result was announced, that the Nationalist president Juan Orlando, who had changed the constitution to benefit himself, would remain President of Honduras, many Hondurans remained doubtful about its legitimacy, owing to the massive influence of the government. Living in Honduras opened my eyes to the way in which livelihoods in such countries are completely reliant upon the government.
Learning to speak Spanish really increased my confidence in particular, as I was no longer thinking about what I was saying to people, but rather how to say things. This will come in useful for my future plans to study languages, as it made me realise my love of language learning.
I learned so much this year, about myself and my capabilities and the world, and am incredibly grateful to everyone who supported me, and made this experience possible. Muchas gracias a todos ustedes!
Read Rachel's blog for greater detail on her experiences in Honduras, as well as her time travelling some of Central America.