Jamie Blaikie – First Report from Roatan Island, Honduras

As we head into 2018 I thought this would be a good time to tell you about our first few months in Central America. I’m volunteering as a teacher at a school on Roatan Island, off the coast of Honduras.

Honduras flag

Island Life

My project partner Solomon and I live and work at a school in a place called Punta Gorda on the island of Roatan off the north coast of Honduras. The town is utterly beautiful, it is right on the Caribbean Sea, and the weather for the most part is lovely. We are completely in love with our new Honduran life. Well, actually calling it ‘Honduran life’ is pushing it a bit since the culture here is so different from the culture and way of life on the mainland.

We live in a Garifuna community, the people are descendants of black slaves from the African slave trade so it is very unique to be living with these people since, on the Honduran mainland (and especially in the department called Lempira where the majority of the other volunteers work) the ethnicity is almost 100% Latin American.

The Garifuna way of life is the most unique in Honduras and I love it. Punta Gorda is an amazing wee place and it definitely feels like our new home. The people there are incredibly friendly and, since our project has been running with Project Trust for 35 years, we were instantly recognised as the new ‘teachers’ and were helped by locals to fit in which was really nice when we arrived in such a strange place.

Our Honduran mum is a lady called Merilou who makes us our lunch and dinner every day. She is an absolute hero, Sol and I love going to her house every day to eat her amazing local food which includes a lot of fish, rice, beans and occasionally a chicken foot soup!

Merilou has a husband Rolando, a daughter Kiomi and a granddaughter called Rayza who is such a laugh and can always make us feel better after a rough day at school. We started to teach her a bit of English too, she’s at the stage now where she can say ‘hello’ and ‘I’m fine thank you’. As well as copying us when we leave saying ‘see you later/tomorrow’. Very cute wee girl.

Roatan Football Maddness

We’ve also made good friends with some of the older boys in the village who we play football with up at la canchita arriba (the football pitch up on the hill) every Saturday and Sunday. There is a Julio, a Cesar and a Julio Cesar within the football playing lads which was confusing at the start but now we hang out with them every weekend and sometimes after school so they’ve become our good friends.

The Honduran national football team is very popular on the island so we were all very upset when we missed out on qualification to the World Cup after losing to the Aussies. Despite this, one of my favourite nights on the island was after the game versus Mexico when we won 3-2 to secure a play-off place. All the kids went into the street to dance and go mental. That was a great moment.

Another great Punta Gorda moment was the 15th of September, Independence Day. The kids at school made a marching band, dancing groups, groups to carry flags and a lot of excitement. So on the 15th we had a massive march from one end of PG to the other along the seafront. That was a very special moment since everyone in the village came out to see the kids march with their drums and xylophones and other instruments I didn’t know existed to created an incredible sound and a buzzing atmosphere for everyone in the town. We live in a very special place and I hope my writing can give you a decent idea of how amazing it is to live there.

Teaching in our Roatan school, Honduras

We started our teaching back in August, which feels like such a long time ago now, and back then I was a bit terrified. Our first 2 weeks or so we were observing classes and getting a feel for the way the school runs. I don’t know if that was meant to help us fit into the swing of things at the school but for Sol and I it did the exact opposite, so after a particularly mental Friday when we observed a particularly mental 9th grade class, we decided to take our first holiday and spent the weekend at the beach. 4 days into our year. A slightly bumpy start!

Since then we have become so much more confident and started to love teaching the kids. It got so much easier when we made our own relationships with the students and it has made our first 3 months of teaching something to look back on fondly rather than the way we thought things were going to go after the first few days at the school.

There are a number of fantastic characters at the school. The students and their tireless energy and charisma were the reason we were so uptight at the start but as we got used to it, it helped us settle in as we began speaking to them so we had a distraction from the sometimes very stressful job of teaching.

Also in the school we have Flor who is the caretaker for the school, she speaks very good English so that can be helpful when we’re struggling. We went to her house for a party at the start of November and I remember she danced Punta (the Garifuna dance style) for a very long time. I loved seeing this because it felt like the whole of the village was out to dance traditionally to the Punta drumming style and Flor was the leader!

Our host at the project is a lady called Profa Ligia, she is a very serious lady who loves to get the job done! Despite her seriousness we have a very good relationship with her because she is often smiley and we respect her for being so respected herself within the school and even within the town of Punta Gorda. A very impressive lady!

A typical school day

Our school is split into two parts of the day, in the morning we have 1st to 6th grade where Sol and I teach together and we share the grades with another English teacher at the school called Profa Joyce. Joycita is very laid back so we often have to step in to do her classes which can be frustrating but we love her because she’s so funny and very chilled out.

In the afternoon we have 7th to 9th grade where, again, we teach together but the difference is we are the English teachers in the afternoon so we have a much bigger responsibility. We write exams and are in charge of their classwork which gives them points for their overall grade at the end of the year. So towards the end of October and the start of November was when the school year is ending so that was stress, stress and more stress to get their points in and get exams written so we could get a final grade for the kids. Since we had never properly been told how to give out points I think we did it in quite an unorthodox way compared to the other teachers. We finished it eventually and are now away until school starts again in February.

Time to reflect over the holidays!

We are on our large travel period just now, we’ve been traveling since November the 16th and we are going back to our school at some point at the end of January so we have plenty time to explore all of Central America. So far we have traveled in a department of Honduras called Lempira where all the other girls we are traveling with live, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and as I write this I am in San Pedro Sula (one of the most dangerous cities in the world, made even more dangerous by recent political events) as we are heading up to the island of Utila (next to Roatan) for New Year before finishing our travels in Nicaragua. Ridiculously fun times with all of our other friends from the UK.

Being at these projects is how I’ve been able to make the comparison between island life and rural Honduran mainland life. It’s incredible to see how different two places in one country can be.

 

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