Wednesday, July 18, 2012
I can see (slightly) more clearly now
We came down here with Cuso International, which emphasizes "capacity-building" when placing volunteers. In other words, you're not here to do the day-to-day work of the organization you're placed with, but to put your skills to work helping them do their work more effectively. The goal is to leave the organization you work with in a stronger position than before you came.
I think that same approach is going to stand me in good stead for my projects on the side in Copan. There are always going to be times when what's needed is simply an extra pair of hands, but if I can tackle some of the bigger stuff with an eye to the long-term benefits that will last after I'm gone, I think that would be the best use of my two years here.
I've spent many hours puzzling over how I was going to do that for the foster home I was introduced to back in April, Angelitos Felices. I go there pretty much every Sunday and have some fun with the kids, and I recognize that counts for something. But when you're standing in the midst of children living in a place like that - no beds, rag-tag clothes that never fit, barely enough food - you can't help but want to do better than just popping around once a week to sing several rounds of the Hokey Pokey and hand out crayons.
The bed thing really bothers me, and I had a big plan to find hospital mattresses that would be durable, easy to clean and a better alternative than the poor little guys sleeping on the dirty concrete floor like they do now. That seemed like something I could do that would make a lasting difference in the lives of these kids.
But I haven't gotten anywhere on my inquiries. So I've now moved on to Plan B, which involves buying regular foam mattresses that are available here in Copan and wrapping them in this super-durable plastic they sell in San Pedro Sula for making biodigestors. I figure if there's a plastic that can withstand intense Honduran sunlight and the constant heat of fermenting cow manure - the sausage-shaped biodigestors are used on small farms here to transform manure into methane gas for cooking - it should be tough enough to handle 30 kids and all the urine, poo, vomit and fidgety hands they can muster for several years.
On the up side, I can probably do the project for less than $1,000 if I do it this way, compared to $1,000 for each hospital mattress even if I did get so lucky as to get even one mattress company to reply to my inquiries. On the down side, I am imagining how it's going to go when the time comes for me and my partner to wrestle 30 foam mattresses into heavy-duty plastic (which handily comes in tube form) and seal the ends using a candle. Not pretty.
I think I can also scrounge around for money for a ceramic-tile floor for the big, empty room where the kids spend 90 per cent of their time. Right now it's dirty, painted concrete - hard to clean, scabby-looking, and definitely worsening the general grimness of the place. It's not like a new floor will turn anybody's lives around, but a better living environment for kids that spend so many hours trapped inside seems like a good investment.
Perhaps there's also an opportunity to do some relationship-building between Angelitos and the international medical community that runs clinics here, because there sure are a lot of medical needs among the kids at the home. The public health care here is scant and somewhat sketchy, and chronic health conditions go untreated all the time because nobody has the money for medications.
And then there's short-term stuff I can help with: Swims at the pool every couple of weeks; crafts and songs; help with staples like eggs, cheese, laundry soap, disposable diapers. That's not really capacity-building, because the goods stop coming as soon as I'm no longer here. But I have a secret hope that I can rebuild some of the broken connections between the home and the Copan community along the way that will carry on once my Honduran adventure wraps up. When people see you doing good deeds, sometimes it puts them in more of a mood for such things as well.
Then there's corporate sponsors. After my lack of progress on finding a mattress company that would even send me so much as a thanks-for-your-inquiry email - and all I wanted was a chance to buy their product - - I'm keeping my expectations in check on this front. But still, you'd think that a company like Nestle's or Kimberley Clark (respective makers of Nido milk products and Huggies diapers, dominant brands here) might have a heart for kids with absolutely nothing. At any rate, it never hurts to ask.
I'm looking into on-line fundraising options, like gofundme.com, in order to have a slightly more professional donating option for some of my friends who want to help. Right now all I can do is suggest they send a cheque made out to me to my mother's address in Victoria, which seems quite lame. It's nice people trust me to do the right thing, but I'd really like to be able to demonstrate more accountability and get more specific about the projects that are catching my eye.
Thank you to the readers with experience in some of this work, who've been very generous with their advice. Little by little, a plan is taking shape.