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Aaron Banas El Ocotal 2002-4

Seven years ago Saira stood in a field on the hillsides of Central Honduras. As she gazed over the Pico Bonito like pile of cucumbers that she tirelessly picked, she pondered an important question that lingered in her mind. Cucumbers or books. Pepinos o libros. Turns out just about everyone in the small farming village of El Ocotal stops their schooling at the sixth grade and joins the cucumber business. The men plow the fields, the younger generation plants the seeds, the women do the harvesting, and of course the cipotes do all the odd tasks that get stuffed in between. Even the dogs seem to have a designated role (keeping those mischievous cows from coming near fora nibble or two).

The Honduran ladder of educational opportunities paints a formidably challenging picture. The bright side: just about everybody that chooses to attend primary school (close to 97% of children are currently enrolled according to UNESCO stats) does so. Secondary school requires both a motivated student and a family with additional resources to cover the costs. Attainable for many (about 52% make the transition), but still a difficult sacrifice. Then come sel gran salto to the university. A select number of Honduran high school students continue on to the university level. The numbers become more intimidating when we add in a variable such as “rural”. Meeting a rural Honduran student studying at the university level is about as likely as crossing paths with a gringo that adequately (and safely) operates a machete.

Just about the same time Saira was standing in that cucumber patch contemplating pepinos o libros, three RPCV’s were scratching their heads engrossed in a reflection of their own. After two years of service, the three could not agree more that this period of “serving” was overshadowed by abundant “learning”. The whole concept of giving to the Hondurans was transformed into an unconscious exercise of receiving. After two years of experiencing the humble generosity and unfathomable hospitality of our amigos, it was time to return the favor. The Central Honduras Education Fund was born, and the young contemplative cucumber farmer named Saira would come to play a fundamental role in the organization’s future.

It’s clear that the challenges in Honduras are numerous. Just as poor soil and draught can deter a farmer from planting a field, so to can the treacherous educational ladder hinder a student’s advancements. Similarly, as relentless weeds can choke a promising plant, the lack of support and motivation can cripple a bright mind. The Central Honduras Education Fund strives to create self-sufficient educated community leaders who possess a desire to return their knowledge to fellow community members around them. The vision of the Central Honduras Education Fund is to prepare a rich soil, sow a sturdy seed, and with consistent care watch the buds transform into a flower.

Saira became the Fund’s first university graduate and the first of her kind in her village’s history. While her university degree will serve her in her quest for employment, it is her leadership skills that have turned the heads of those around her. Saira has served as Scholar Coordinator for over twenty fellow scholars during the course of her studies. She plans and leads bi-annual all scholar meetings, manages and distributes scholarships to other students, and trains fellow scholars in budgets, expense reporting, email, etc.

These days Saira still lives in the small village of El Ocotal. She continues to visit her family’s cucumber plots; however, nowadays she visits the farm on her way to lead a training in a neighboring village or mentor a fellow scholar. Saira’s harvests have become abundant, and she is prepared to sustain and expand her personal growth as far as her dreams can carry her. As she takes those same steps through the cucumber field she recalls that ever important question she pondered seven years ago. Cucumbers or books. Pepinos o libros. Now it is her turn to help prepare the soil and sow new seeds.

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