Cultural Exchanges

Bilingual School Waite

What does a three year old have to tell us about the complexity and importance of cultural exchange? A great deal more than you would think. Jonathan Waite, three years old, is the grandson of Wayne Waite, the Board President of Shoulder to Shoulder, and his wife Christina. Jonathan lives in Xenia, Ohio with his parents, Daniel Waite and Nidia Belissa Waite. He is presently visiting his grandparents in Camasca, Intibucá, Honduras, accompanied by his mother. His father will join them this week. Daniel and Nidia have organized a one-week sports brigade for the young people of Camasca with their church, AHOP, A House of Prayer. We’re very much looking forward to their arrival.


Last week, Nidia had to take a trip to Tegucigalpa to attend a high school graduation and she left her son Jonathan in the care of her parents. Jonathan is fairly bilingual, accustomed to hearing English and Spanish at home and using them interchangeably in his verbal communication. Still, those who he is speaking with are most often monolingual and he has a ways to go to figure out who knows which language. Additionally, he’s three, and his vocabulary is still a bit limited. Because of this, when his mother went off to Tegucigalpa, he ended up with a bit of a communication impasse. It seems he didn’t have his favorite t-shirt with him in Honduras. His favorite t-shirt sports a picture of a shark on its front and he refers to it as his shark shirt. His consternation at not having his favorite t-shirt was aggravated and exacerbated when his grandparents could not understand what was causing his angst. His attempts at expressing his great dismay literally fell on deaf ears, and that frustrating sense of not being heard nor understood simply eroded into a terrible state of unparalleled crisis.


It’s bad enough for an adult to be in this situation and I personally can empathize with Jonathan’s plight. There is nothing more terrible or frightful as to find yourself unattached. Your sense of security, of worth and honor, of integrity, begins to crumble, and as hard as you try, there is nothing you can do to stop this freefall into a dark and lonely place. Jonathan perhaps knew enough that the persons around him, his family, could not solve his terrible dilemma. They could not give him his favorite shirt. But it was a thousand times worse that they could not even appreciate the import of the matter. Jonathan’s crisis soon became everyone’s crisis and seemingly not a soul could make any sense out of the simple annunciation, “Shark shirt.”


But his cousin, Eduardo, a second grader at our bilingual school came to the rescue. The word shark in Spanish is “tiburón.” Being only in the second grade, one would not necessarily expect that Eduardo would know the word tiburón, let alone its translation, shark, in English. But as fate, luck, or simply a well rounded education would have it, Eduardo has a friend in the third grade who is something of a budding artist and also likes to draw sharks. The young artist has a pen pal in the fifth grade at St. Mary’s School in Lee, MA with whom he has been sharing his portfolio of a variety of maritime predators otherwise known as sharks. Thus Eduardo was well acquainted with the word. He simply told his family that Jonathan wants his shark shirt, “camiseta de tiburón,” and the crisis that severely threatened a three year old’s trust in his Honduran family was diffused.


Communication, even among people who speak the same language, is often as challenging as it is critical. It is by communication that we discover and invest in relationships. Sometimes I am asked why we are investing so much time and resources in a bilingual school in Honduras. Isn’t that secondary to the tremendous problems that poverty causes? I don’t know. Perhaps Eduardo and Jonathan, having easily overcome a problem for which all of the adults around them were rendered impotent, will actually find solutions to the causes of poverty. Shark means tiburón. This is more profound than you might think.

February Not Quite Like You Remembered It

February Not Quite Like You Remembered It

For the majority of my life living in the States, I absolutely loathed February. This is indeed my personal bias, but I’ll state my arguments anyway. Being a New Englander, it is very cold and raw in February. It just makes the winter too long. March brings the possibility of an early round or two of golf, but February just has to be endured. For sports fans, February is also a complete wasteland. Oh yes, there is the Super Bowl, but that use to be at the end of January until they made it the first Sunday of February to allow for extended play-off games. Still, after the Super Bowl there is nothing of import (except perhaps badminton games) until college basketball’s March Madness. February is so far away from the beginning of the school year or graduations. And who would ever get married in February. They put Valentine’s Day in February to trick us into believing it has some worth. Besides all that, February is just strange as a month. It doesn’t have enough days, and then its days correspond to March’s days exactly, like Groundhog Day only extended. Then there’s leap year that messes everybody up. I guess the only thing February has going for it is primaries and caucuses for the political junkies in an election year like this one. I’ve never been much of a political junkie. February has just always been difficult to get over.


But here in Honduras, February is a completely different experience. It is the end of school vacation, school begins on February first. Because the Christmas season is overly extended here, it is also the end of the Christmas season (I don’t think they have yet taken down the crèche in the central plaza in La Esperanza). We are now already in the heart of the dry season and summer is beginning. Yes, summer! The days will get drier and hotter, much hotter. With school in session, sports get really serious, especially fútbol (sorry, soccer), kids in full force running up and down the fields. Here, February is anything but boring. It is an amusement park ride and everyone is jumping on.


Ever Bonilla and Angela McCaskill on the radio advertising the brigades

Many of those who are jumping on the February roller coaster are the Shoulder to Shoulder mission trip participants. Whether it is because February is such a grueling month in the States, or because February rocks in Honduras, we have seven brigades scheduled in this all too short of a month, even with the extra, leap year day. One-hundred-three otherwise unknown gringos will come and leave their mark upon the soil of Intibucá over the next 29 days. This is great! This is exciting! We are so much looking forward to it. But at the same time, it means an incredible amount of planning and work.
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  •  Brown/Wingate is once again going to their clinic in Guachipilincito. They have so many participants, twenty-six, that they have decided to do it in shifts over the course of three weeks. They are also planning on more patient educational days and more professional training days. Our Honduran medical professionals are really looking forward to sharing practice protocols with Brown/Wingate’s team.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University and Fairfield Family Practice Centers are once again housing themselves at their clinic in Pinares. They serve some of the poorest and most isolated people in the Frontera. We appreciate their long standing commitment.
  • For the first time ever, Shoulder to Shoulder is hosting Unidad Hospitalaria Móvil Latinoamerica or Latin America Mobile Hospital Unit. They will be providing general and proctologic surgeries for many of our people in the Frontera as well as from La Esperanza. They will be at the hospital in La Esperanza. We are incredibly proud of this new mission and hope that it will be the beginning of a very meaningful relationship.
  • Mountain Area Health Education Center will return to Camasca with a small contingent of travellers to complete a study and to offer some assistance at the health center there, as well as at our bilingual school.
  • Johns Hopkins is coming to Santa Lucia once again after a year’s hiatus. It will be a small brigade, but we are pleased and honored to receive them.
  • Larry Tepe and a small dental brigade will see patients at the clinic in Concepción.
  • We will complete the month with a mega brigade from Cleveland Clinic and Christ Church of thirty-three people descending upon the small town of Camasca. I’m certain they will be a force to reckon with.

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So for all of you that will be sitting around your house feeling sorry for yourselves as the month of February drags on and on, we invite you to think about coming to Honduras. It’s the place to be this February.

Tangrams and University of Rochester

What does an ancient Chinese game called Tangram, the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, the University of Rochester, and thirty primary school educators have to do with sustainable development in the rural, isolated communities of San Marcos de la Sierra?  Everything.
No one knows how many millennia ago the game Tangram was invented.  Its genius is its simplicity coupled with its enduring applicability as a paradigm for life and learning.   Seven geometric shapes — five isosceles triangles of three distinct sizes, one square, and a rhomboid or a parallelogram — are cut from a large square.   Putting them back together is the first challenge.  It sounds easy enough, but it is a brain squeezer without a diagram.  Even with the diagram, it takes extraordinary concentration.  The rebuilding of the square is the first, and simplest, task.  There are thousands of geodesic designs of animals, persons, flowers, etc. that can be created by re-arranging the seven pieces.  This game, this simplistically profound art form, is being employed as a motivational learning tool in a wide swath of disciplines and enterprises.  Primarily, it is being employed as curriculum in primary, secondary, and university level educational institutions.
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It teaches plane geometry.  At the surface level, this is obviously true.  But, subtlety, it teaches so much more.  It teaches relational play between logic and creativity.  It demonstrates spatial relationships and the use of symbol and design in making connections and communication.  It unites logic, mathematics, and art to self-expression and self-understanding.  The builder builds and at the same time the builder is built.  This all happens on an individual level.  When the dynamic of simple design creation is placed into a collaborative, team model, a great deal more is discovered.  Some recognize their talents for thinking and problem solving.  Others realize gifts for organizational skills.  Yet another finds support as a motivator, a team builder.  The articulate spokesperson, the story-teller, emerges from the group.  As the simple game requires the rearrangement of the seven tiles into a cohesion, so too the players take note of their unique shape and how they fit into the whole.  Besides all that, it’s fun.
Or at least I was having fun.  I and Laura, about thirty primary school educators, a number of medical residents, doctors, and medical students from the University of Rochester brigade, and three or four translators packed into a small classroom to play Tangram.  The First Unitarian Church of Rochester had developed the curriculum to share with the teachers.  The church has been developing curriculum, teaching teachers, providing educational materials and supplies, and sponsoring students’ education for many years.  The First Unitarian Church, the University of Rochester, and the people and associations in San Jose are all pieces of the Tangram puzzle.  In relating one to another, they begin to discover their unique shapes and roles, and how they fit.  The design they are creating might be called sustainable development.
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As I sat there playing the game, getting to know the teachers, brigade members, and translators, I thought of how utterly different these persons are.  Some speak English, some Spanish, and a few both.  Their cultures and environments are divergent, almost to the point of being exclusive.  They don’t look alike.  I doubt that they think alike.  They have little by the way of shared references.  How do they come together?  Isn’t it our sameness, our commonality, that binds us one to another?  But then again, a square doesn’t look like a triangle.  A rhomboid is after all only a deformed rectangle.  But putting these pieces together leads to discovery and creativity.  That which didn’t seem to fit, fits extraordinarily.  And the discovery of that fit yields harmonious beauty.
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The University of Rochester brigade has been in San José, San Marcos de la Sierra, Intibucá, Honduras for the past two weeks.  More importantly, they have been there for the past decade.  Apart from the medical brigade work that they offer so generously, their development projects are building a Tangram of sustainable development.  Micro-financing, micro-business, clean and reliable sources of water, nutrition, health care, and education are a few of the pieces of the Tangram.  They bring people and resources to the community of San José who are perhaps of a different shape.  But they find a good fit.  The people of San José have found their fit as well.  Divergent shapes find a unique means to mesh into a creative beauty.
When we build together, we are built.  That which we create sustains us and empowers us.  We overcome that which impoverishes us.  We are enriched by our commitment one to another.
Read more at:
University of Rochester, San José Partners, initiatives:
The First Unitarian Church of Rochester, Honduras Partnership: