Spending five months in the rural mountains of Honduras isn’t too common among young college graduates. After graduation, many of my friends were intent on finding the right job and getting their careers off to an early start. In some ways, I envied them for knowing what they wanted to do, or are expected to do, for the rest of their youth. I had no such knowledge, and was unaware of what I’d be doing the next week. So near the end of 2011 I decided to spend half of 2012 in Honduras teaching English and History at a rural boarding school for young women. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, and I was scared of who or what I would find there, but at least I wouldn’t have to watch any commercials.
The Leadership Center is a small and isolated community. When you see and talk to the same 30 people every day, there’s no hiding who you are. Everyone gets to know each other, the good and the bad. Luckily, the good far outweigh the bad in that small corner of the earth. I have never been surrounded by more selfless, amicable, and positive people in my life, even when I was living in a college dormitory that housed 500 freshman. I am still not sure if it is part of Honduran culture to give more than you take, or if a prerequisite for applying to teach or learn at the school is being nice, or if people model themselves off their environment. Whatever the case, the atmosphere and people at the school can’t be beat, and are what I will miss most about it.
Another great thing about the Leadership Center is its growth and change. The school is young, it was established less than a year and half ago, and it is still developing. If you spend a long period of time there, you become a witness to an amazing thing: timely, tangible, improvement. Instead of endless talk and argument about how things can or should be improved, an idea is proposed, then implemented, and the school is made better. It’s inspiring to see how a few people can make a real difference, as long as they have the will to do so.
A small example that demonstrates this approach is the volleyball court. The teachers were discussing how to create more fun activities for the students, because despite everything, the school is in the middle of nowhere and it can get boring. Someone mentioned getting a volleyball net, and we all agreed that would be a good addition to the school. That week the director searched the cities for a sports store that sold volleyball nets, but couldn’t find one anywhere. We were a little perplexed at the lack of nets in Honduras, but undeterred, so we decided to build our own one. One Friday afternoon the students and staff worked together and we built a volleyball net from rope and sticks and trees and string. And it works great. We didn’t stop there though. After seeing the benefits derived from a net, we brainstormed about more extracurricular activities, and asked for student ideas too. Now an acting club and newspaper have started, and there are plans to build a soccer field and park and begin dance classes too.
Of course, improvement isn’t limited to just the school. At the Leadership Center, it happens to people too. In the five months I was there the students’ knowledge and ability expanded at a rate that exceeded my expectations. The main goal during the first year is to teach the students English. I understand how hard it is to learn a language, as I have studied Spanish on and off for 8 years, and still have trouble forming correct and coherent sentences. Many of the students are already better at English than I am at Spanish, and they’ve only been learning for a year. While some of that is due to the immersive and communicative environment of our campus, I never worked nearly as hard as they do on learning the language. When you teach someone an English grammar rule or new vocabulary word, and then you hear her use it properly in normal conversation, it’s a good feeling. And I experienced more of those moments than I can count.
The students aren’t the only ones who benefit from their time at the Leadership Center. The person who left home to live in rural Honduras five months ago is a different one than the one who has returned. I can’t pinpoint the difference, but I know it’s there, and I know it’s for the better. Living amongst nature, with fine people and lots of time to think and read, without TV or fast food or the constant inundation of information that is synonymous with America today, does good things to a young man. And now, I still don’t know what I am doing next week, but I do have a direction, an idea, of where I want to take my life, and also a model to follow in how to get there, that of the Leadership Center.
The Leadership Center is a work in progress, continuously learning and improving and discovering, but it has a commendable goal to work towards: creating the future leaders of a small and impoverished country. For showing me how to achieve the almost impossible, I will always be grateful that I spent five months in the rural mountains of Honduras.