So you are thinking about teaching in Honduras?!
It is wonderful that you are considering a teaching adventure in Honduras. It is even better that you think you might like to teach in a poor (in comparison to Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and Copan) town like Cofradia.
I taught there for four months from August 20, 2004 until January 1, 2005. I wish that I had seen a blog like this before I left. I might have chosen differently.
Now, please don't get me wrong. The intent of this BLOG is not to disuade you from teaching abroad, nor is it even trying to shy you away from Honduras. Indeed, it is a wonderful country.
However, I would strongly encourage anyone considering a position in Honduras to under no circumstances teach in COFRADIA. The reasons are plentiful and major.
There are (as of February, 2005) two bilingual schools in Cofradia. By the way, there are several towns in Honduras named COFRADIA--I am referring to the one about 15 miles outside San Pedro Sula on the road to COPAN). The two schools sit within sight of one another. This is a rather odd circumstance, as neither school is really located in a central part of the town; indeed, they are both out in an area that only recently got utilities and are both surrounded by fields.
So, why do I recommend not teaching in COFRADIA? Well, to put it bluntly--neither school should be operating with its current management. There is too much bad-blood between the two organizations that run the schools that anyone should ever in their right mind consider getting tangled up in it. If you contact either school they may try to convince you otherwise. However, the personal animosity between the heads of each school bleeds into a rivalry between the schools.
You see, Cofradia Bilingual School started several years ago as a means of giving a "quality" education to the children of COFRADIA. It was a nobel idea. Unfortunately, the school was mismanaged and eventually purchased by a Australian/US ex-pat who wanted to try to prevent it from closing. He meant well. He still does. In my opinion, he was getting in over his head--he does not have the background (and he readily admits this) to run a school. Although, he has no dout gained some hard-knock knowledge since his decision to purchas the school. So, he decided to get help.... His wife took over the administration of the school and he created a non-profit in the US (they have a very nice website) to help raise capital to run the school.
A few years went by, and the school grew and the ex-pat decided he wanted to have someone run the non-profit. One of his teachers was hired for the job. She is an incredibly energetic person who talks a good talk, but in my opinion, lacks organizational skills.
At this point, you might be saying that everything looked as though it was running smoothly. Unfortunately, it was not. Slowly but surely, the communication between the school in COFRADIA, Honduras and the Non-profit in the US started to break down. Distrust and accusations began to go back and forth until finally all ability to work together ceased.
As a result, there was a school in COFRADIA without a source of capital, other than personal wealth, and a US non-profit without a school to fund. Worse still, there was a town divided in loyalty--some believed the school and its administrator were in the right and some sided with the US organization. This division occurred for a variety of reasons which are lengthy to explain and only lead to sadness.
So, what happened next? As a point of clarification, we are now entering spring of 2004 on our event timeline--recent history.
Well, the ex-pat decided to tap into his savings and sell a few assets in an effort to keep the school afloat. Very admirable, if you ask me. The organization decided to try to huddle its masses in COFRADIA (about 10 influential and wealthier families) and build a new school.
This is where I enter the picture. I saw an ad for the original school on a website for people interested in teaching abroad. I sent an inquiry letter which almost immediately got a response from the ex-pat. We exchanged a few e-mails and all things looked pretty good.
I consider myself somewhat of an investigative person. I want to know as much as I can about something before I commit to it. So, I looked at the website for the school and clicked on all the links. I did searches on the destination. I tried to get as much information as I could about COFRADIA and its surroundings--there was not much.
However, I did find an e-mail address for the organization that I mentioned earlier. No indicator on either website said anything about the spilt; assume that this was intended to show 1. that the school had a backer 2. that the organization had a school. Part of me thinks it was simply too hectic for either group to think about updating the websites. Regardless, I got in contact with the organization.
It was only then that I began to get an idea of the problems in COFRADIA. However, I admit that I was a bit blinded by the desire to teach abroad to listen to my gut. My gut should have told me not to get involved with either group.
I decided to go with the new school. My decision was based on several reasons. First, in talking with both groups I came to believe that the ex-pat was not entirely above board. He takes issue with this conclusion. His original offer of housing to me was for a house he had no control over. It was the housing used by the new school. He described it as being under construction but only requiring doors. The house had consisted of little more than four cement walls and metal roof--no windows, plumbing, flooring (he was right--no doors). The owner of the house decided to not rent this house to him and did not have money to complete its construction. His discussion of food included: rice, beans, vegetables, tortillas and an occasional slaughtered chicken. Downplay the differences from a typical US diet, up-play the effort to accommodate. He seemed a bit too eager to say what he thought I wanted to hear and close the deal. I felt sold. Second, I liked what I heard about the new school. I wanted to be a part of something new. Additionally, I liked the idea of having support in the US. Finally, I was offered a modest ($500.00 a month) stipend on top of room, board and medical insurance.
So, I packed all of my belongings and put them in a storage container, loaded essential household items in my van and set off to drive to Honduras with my wife and two children. We left in the heat of August for a 2 week trip from the US to COFRADIA. We went down the westcoast of Mexico, across Guatemala and into Honduras near COPAN. It was a wonderful trip, but it tore up my car's brakes and transmission.
Arrival in COFRADIA was something out of any good travel movie. Our car was screeching and sounded like it would not make it more than another ten miles. COFRADIA is a very small town; the first person we met knew instantly where to direct us to get to the schools and our contact--the administrator of the new school.
We drove down the road to the outskirts of town, folling the directions we were given. Our first glimpse of the new school made us think--wow, we are in for a grand adventure. However, we could not get over the beauty (and newly constructed kitchen) at the old school. We had just passed it (by no more than 200 yards) on our way to the new school.
Now, here is where fortune smiled upon us. The first two people we met upon pulling up to the school were two students. They were cousins and were keenly interested in the construction--the hottest thing in town for these kids. One of the kids heard the cars scraping noise and instantly told us that his dad was the best auto mechanic in town.
He was right. This man was not just the best mechanic, he was probably one of the best men I will ever meet. He made it his life's work to know everyone through service. The man helped me unload my van so that he could get at it before the sun went down. He washed it before giving it back to me. His wife made us dinner the 2nd night in town; it would have been the first night, but his brother asked us first. This side note is intended to tell illustrate that the Honduran people are worth your efforts to help them. They give of themselves and you cannot help but desire to sacrifice to help them.
Don't let the people of COFRADIA blind you to the point that you give too much to either of these organizations, as my family ended up doing.
You are probably, wondering if there is a bad part to this story. I know I have rambled a bit more than I should. Part of my reasoning is so that I can put in as many references to COFRADIA as possible. I want the reader to be sure that this is the only city I would try to dissuade people from teaching in. Even then, I am not in any way against the city--just the two schools that are currently trying to operate.
Why, well, they did not follow through on their promises. While it is true that the old school never actually made any promises to me, seeing how the volunteers lived led me to the conclusion that had we chosen to go with that school we would not have had the comfort and security our conversations led me to believe we would have had. From the start, we realized that we had been had. Our stipend was over 2 months late. we had to live off savings and ran up debt to retun home when we finally decided to leave.
When these schools promise room and board, they are technically accurate. You won't be out in the rain and you will have beans, vegetables, corn flakes, rice and water. It is a very Honduran diet. The website for the organization we worked for stated that it might be a good idea to take a bottle of multi-vitamins with you to help meet your daily requirements.
OK, we knew that it wasn't going to be steak, lobster and such, but we think board should at least meet one's nutritional needs. One of the reason's we became suspicious of the ex-pat was that he told me that we could occasionally slaughter a chicken for dinner. The room was nice. Both houses rented by both the schools were far better than the average house of the average Honduran family. I felt guilty at times by the luxury we lived in and envious of the luxury of the other school's teachers' house.
So what was my big beef? Well, to start, I went down there as a teacher. I thought I would have colleagues who were trained to provide instruction and were going to Honduras as a means of improving their instruction when returning to the US. My colleagues were people who were teaching as a means of supporting their travel habits. One person, who was considered the "seasoned" teacher had barely finished high school in his native Italy. I was brought onboard with the task of leading this group in the initial phase of starting a school. The group dynamics were such that this became too impossible a task; I was looking at it from the point of view as an educator; they wanted to pat themselves on the back for being better than the public schools--with no evidence that this was true.
The other school was little better in their staffing. They had a retired couple from Australia come to teach, a person who just left the Peace Corps and two girls who had JUST finished high school. Additionally, they had one man there who the new school rejected for incompetence (as determined by previous dealings with him--the other school were glad to see him leave). The administrator of the old school still stands behind this man's abilities in spite of his own staff's assessment that he should have never been allowed to teach.
Now, the ultimate plea to you to not teach in COFRADIA, Honduras. These two schools continue to feud. The ex-pat wrote a letter to the editor when the school year began down-talking the new school, its teachers and most-of-all the US director. There have been threats of arrest warrants, restraining orders and other judicial actions both ways. The children sense the animosity and miss their friends who are no longer schoolmates. Families who stayed and families who switched have worked to stay out of the melee, but it was clear that they were settling for what they could get rather than being excited about what was offered--by either school.
In fact, some parents were using the animosity between the schools against the schools by suggesting moving the students from one to the other if they didn't receive an adequate deal on the tuition (neither school charges more than $50.00 per month--closer to 30). As a result of desperation, both schools capitulated to these threats--thus undermining their operating funds.
With little operating funds, the teachers were left with little choice but to spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms. There went the stipend! Teachers in the US are not strangers to paying for items in their rooms, but to feel trapped by the situation was too much to handle.
The first week of school had not even ended and one "teacher" said that she wanted to go home and never set foot in a classroom again.
It was around this point that we stopped getting contact from the non-profit in director in the US. Promised money--to buy rice, beans, pay rent, etc, was not received. At one point, we were waylaid by the landlady whenever we left the house because we were overdue on the rent. The other school had some problems with getting promised monies as well; on one occasion, their electricity was cut for lack of payment. The ex-pat admits that this has happened more than once, but that te error is clerical rather than financial. We went without phone, and thereby Internet, for over 2 months. This might seem like a luxury, but in a city where armed break-in robberies are not unusual and "rich" gringoes are a prime target, having a means of calling police is essential. Internet was needed because of the lack of educational resources, plus the connection with home.
Both organizations have said they straightened up their act. In truth, the ex-pat claims his act was not ever crooked. However, recent contact with the non-profit leads me to believe that this is further lip-service. Payment for services rendered were still late up until January of this year (2005). E-mail attempts to contact them go extraordinarily long without answer.
These people mean well. I have no doubt of that. However, it is clear that they are operating with ulterior motives. Both groups want to see the other falter. No matter what they may claim--the evidence of their actions contradicts their words at times. Why put yourself through this headache when there are other worthy places to go who are eager for good-hearted people?
You are worth more than that. And I don't even know you.
Last word--let the survivor prevail before going down there with either one. The kids down there deserve a quality education; being down there in a position of leadership led me to the conclusion that this was not going to happen while either group was running their programs and no expertise in the classroom will change this fact.
At the time of this posting, both groups are advertising for teachers. One of them is looking to filling staffing needs for 2005-2006 school year. The other is (presumably) trying to fill the position I fled from. Move on--there are several other places to teach--in fact, COPAN is a great location with an awesome school.