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Teaching in Cofradia, Honduras
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Saturday, 31 December 2005
My New Year's Resolution Regarding Honduras
Mood:  celebratory
I have been inundated with epic tomes from the ex-pat. I think the NY gal is trying to ignore me or is taking a feel-good voyage somewhere.

My New Year's resolution for 2006 is as follows: I am done with Honduras and by extension Cofradia. If you want to disregard my warnings or believe the sugary and reassuring testimony of anyone down there--fine. More power to you.

God Speed.

Posted by wa3/cofradia at 3:38 PM PST
Updated: Sunday, 1 January 2006 7:27 AM PST
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Friday, 30 December 2005
Take It Or Leave It
Mood:  not sure
Here is an e-mail sent to me by the ex-pat. Perhaps, it shows a promising future. It is too soon to tell if you ask me. You can certainly see the animosity in it between the two factions and get an idea for the community upheaval. I ask again--do you really want to get in the middle of this? Sounds like one person already heeded my advice--phew.

Your original posting only came to my attention this month when we had a teacher decide not to come and gave your posting as the reason. It also possibly explains a hearsay mystery I have been holding in my brain for some time now. I had heard from a volunteer at the old school about your problems and your decision to leave and then in March or April I heard via the grapevine that New York had needed to fire you both for undisclosed professional reasons. [The husband of the gal in NY told me that they wanted to fire me in October for not getting along with coworkers and not producing enough work--I believe that work initiative goes out when one does not receive compensation]. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why that story was even being tried (but the posting could easily explain it). My personal experience with NY is that when it suits her, the truth flies out the window very quickly. This is in addition to her habit of simply not communicating with anyone who disagrees with her or who is pressuring her to pay her debts. I tried every way possible to work WITH her and although I had been able to do it while she was here and the non-profit was only an idea, it became impossible very quickly after she was made president of the board of the brand new foundation, the non-profit, and had moved herself and the non-profit to New York City (the non-profit was originally established in another state where my lawyer was prepared to help run it pro-bono). I realize now that I really created my own nightmare (or was it just another hard lesson in life).

There are some community and social reasons why the two schools are not playing together much yet. One of them is the same reason that the principle parents who originally formed the company that now owns the new school used to complain about in almost every parents meeting. Since the beginning (1998) when I first started giving scholarships to poor children the "better class" (their words) parents objected to the fact that their children were being forced to go to school with too many "lower class" children always stressing the point that if they couldn't afford to pay fees, they didn't deserve to receive the same education. At that time all I had to say was "well, find another school". Well, they did and then they were adamant that they did not ever again want to even consider doing business or anything else with my wife and I or the old school. Another reason is that my wife has not quite got over the stress and trauma of dealing with the non-profit for a whole year and then having it all blow up in her face. I was doing well to stop the legal proceedings to detain and question NY on her next visit. Even though she had blatantly broken several Honduran laws, I did not feel it was in the best interests of the children to bring her to justice here.

I am still very doubtful about the long term future of the new school mostly because I know all of the people involved well and I also know that almost no-one is being open and honest with the other party. Everyone is telling the other what they think each other wants to hear, while keeping their real cards held extremely close and covered. There is also a chance they may either lose their premises or need to actually pay for it as a side effect of an internal corruption investigation in the municipality. In the case of the new school - first, the outgoing mayor actually gave community land to a private business and second it was also land that had not yet been officially transferred to the municipality and therefore was not theirs to give. My understanding is the incoming mayor has a real bee in his bonnet about making an example of the outgoing mayor for incompetence and corruption and that this transaction is likely to be on the list. I hope for the sake of the children that someone can step up to the plate and do whatever it takes to fix it, however I doubt the current management of the new school will want to use personal funds and I wonder if the non-profit has the capacity to both purchase land and continue to support volunteers.

I actually disagree with your assumption that the two schools are "so similar". I do not think there is much other than a facade that is similar about these two schools. Yes, they are both called bilingual. I'm seriously thinking of changing our name to "multi-cultural" instead. Yes, they both have volunteer foreign teachers but underneath that I do not believe they are even in the same ballpark. We know what we are trying to achieve as an end product at the old school and I doubt that the local management of the new school would even understand what that is and I don't for minute believe that they would actually agree with our goals or the philosophy that has created them. I have spent most of my life working with projects for social justice and equal opportunities for all and the old school is really only an extension of this path.

It is unfortunate that you had such an unpleasant experience during your first few months and felt it necessary to leave. I have lived in Cofradia nearly 8 years and been involved directly with the management of the old school for 7. I am still learning new insights into why things happen the way they do here and have had to change my points of view and opinions drastically on quite a few occasions. The old school is by no means perfect and it is also not yet self sufficient but it has stood the test of time and functions very well considering that we are really trying to do something that "can't be done" in Latin America.

In conclusion, the two groups of volunteers this year are getting along well and doing quite a bit of socializing together.

Our breaking news is that we have just received confirmation of being the appointed school to allocate 20 - 4 years of university in the US- scholarships to qualifying poor students who are in their last year of high school. We will not have any of our own students able to apply for at least 4 years but we will be adding intensive English classes for students from other schools who qualify except for their level of English. All the pieces of the puzzle that I have been working on for 8 years are finally coming together and in a much more wonderful way than I had even imagined.

I believe the old school is finally almost at that point where we will be able to hand it over to a hand picked group of socially conscious Hondurans (in an official and legally binding non-profit format) as a growing self-sufficient institution dedicated to alleviating poverty and social prejudice through education.

Posted by wa3/cofradia at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 28 December 2005 9:52 PM PST
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Tuesday, 20 December 2005
Cofradia--One Year Later
Mood:  celebratory
I have been watching the websites and trying to infer how the schools have been doing during this past year from their postings. It is difficult to do, as the day to day running of the schools makes updating a website a low priority.

Recent e-mail from each administrator leads me to believe that each school is prospering. This is good as the children of COFRADIA deserve a quality eduction.

Some concerns still exist. The new school claims that the school is going along with nary a problem. He is the content of a recent e-mail I received from New York: I’m pleased to be able to write and tell you that things are going really well in Cofradia. Our curriculum is coming along splendidly. Our board has grown to include a Honduran Fulbright Scholar who is completing her doctorate in bilingual education curriculum development. Discipline in the school is excellent and the students seem happier and more attentive than ever before. The school physical plant is coming along fantastically and the volunteers are continually striving to do more and be better on behalf of their students.

The old school also appears to be prospering. They claim to be putting their kitchen to good use. They are serving up nutritious meals and have banned harmful sugars and sodas. Kudos to them--this is a big deal. The state of nutrition in the typical Honduran diet is high in good foods but also high in bad--think lard, and coke.

What continues to concern me is a definite lack of reference to the lack of comaradarie between the two schools. One would think that the schools being so similar and so close to one another would make for a delightful chance to collaborate in the teaching of that city's children. At the very least, they could play soccer together.

Additionally, I thin that neither school tells about the life of a volunteer outside of school with enough detail to provide an accurate picture. There are no references on the web-site of the old school and only old references (I think May 2005 was the last post) on the site for the new school. I believe that at least one teacher who was going to teach for a second year at the new school is not teaching there. This unexplained absence givs one pause...

I welcome questions regarding these postings. However, as time passes, I must admit that my information becomes suspect as well from lack of direct input.

I think the big question in need of answering after one year is: Do I still believe that one should look elsewhere when deciding to teach in Honduras?

I stand by my raw (emotionally charged) posting of a year ago. There are many fine place to work in Honduras without having to subject yourself to this hullabaloo. The fact that both schools appear to be thriving does not mitigate the fact that the heads are still questionable.

I must confess--a recent e-mail from the ex-pat has led me to question my fairness with which I treated him in my original posting. I should disclose that my contact with him was brief. I only conversed with him a handful of times via phone during the summer of 2004, we received a nice e-mail from him soon after returning to the states; he wished us well and that he regrets not interacting with us more when we were in Honduras. My data for his administrative abilities is based mostly upon observations I made of the conditions he put his volunteers through while I was in COFRADIA.

Regards...

Posted by wa3/cofradia at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 28 December 2005 9:57 PM PST
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Monday, 28 March 2005
response from one of the schools (the one I did not work at)
Mood:  celebratory
PS: I have included here some of the statements to which I take exception along with my reasons or comments:

"neither school should be operating with its current management." A general blanket comment that is nothing but inflamatory.

"there was a school in COFRADIA without a source of capital" A completely false statement. CBS has never been without a source of capital. I might not have been an experienced school administrator prior to taking on this responsibility but I assure you we have had and still have access to a substancial amount of capital. My personal capital invested in this project would exceed by 10-12 times the total amount of funds that BECA has ever had pass through its accounts (including the BECA's original capital of $30,000 donated by my family. The post very innacurately infers that CBS actually relied on BECA's support to survive which is nothing near to the truth.

"believe that the ex-pat was not entirely above board." I have always been as open and honest as I possibly could with you and everyone else.

"Why, well, they did not follow through on their promises." Please correct me if I am wrong but I don't recall ever making you a promise which I did not keep and no-one else has ever accused me of not keeping my promises here that I am aware of.

"When these schools promise room and board, they are technically accurate" This statement and the surrounding context insinuates that CBS doesn't supply a selection of good food to our volunteers or that we only supply the bare minimum. Where this may or may not be true for BECA teachers, it is definately not true at CBS since both Mirna and I work very hard to insure that the teachers not only have a good selection of staples but also have a huge variety of other foods in the cupboard or the fridge. We regularly either take one of our volunteers or their list to Los Andes (the big "gringo" supermarket in SPS) in order to purchase almost anything that takes their fancy. We are very aware that our volunteers are somewhat outside of their normal comfort zone and we do all in our power to minimize this as much as possible.

"Additionally, they had one man there who the new school rejected for incompetence" The particular teacher refered to here worked at CBS the previous year and although he had some personal problems with Fabrizio and Jaime over the summer, he was very talented especially with the very young children and we were glad to have his assistance for a couple of months till he was scheduled to return to the US.

"both schools capitulated to these threats--thus undermining their operating funds" NOT TRUE - I told many parents to please go to SJBS if they felt they could get a better deal. Not many took me up on it however.

"With little operating funds, the teachers were left with little choice but to spend their on money on supplies for their classrooms." This has never happened at CBS. We may be a little short of supplies when compared to a school in the US but we have never asked teachers to buy things for the school. We make weekly purchases of all sorts of teaching supplies and have a huge commercial photocopier that is available at no cost to all teachers for as many copies as they chose to make.

"their electricity was cut for lack of payment." Yes true but very misleading. This has actually happened more than once due to a staff member neglecting to pay the account normally because the actual bill never got to the school office. The bill has always been promptly paid and the electricity reconnected normally within a few hours.

"Both organizations have said they straightened up their act. However, recent contact with the non-profit leads me to believe that this is further lip-service." Again CBS suffers by association with BECA. We have not been even asked to "straighten up our act"

"However, it is clear that they are operating with ulterior motives. Both groups want to see the other falter." NOT TRUE - We would love to see as many schools as possible in Cofradia. We did not appreciate the methods used by our ex-volunteer in New York when she promoted the establishment of SJBS but now established we wish them all the best. AND, no ulterior motives here just trying to give over 200 children a better educational opportunity.

"Unfortunately, the school was mismanaged and eventually purchased by a Australian/US ex-pat who wanted to try to prevent it from closing." Although this is close to the truth it does not really reflect accurate history.

Posted by wa3/cofradia at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 10 February 2005
So you are thinking about teaching in Honduras?!
Mood:  incredulous
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.

Posted by wa3/cofradia at 5:00 PM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 28 December 2005 5:09 PM PST
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