Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Sun, Sea and Sandflies - A weekend well-spent in Tela

Taken on my phone: The picture perfect paradise of Punta Sal. 
For Thanksgiving weekend Maia and I decided to travel to the north coast of Honduras to Tela. This is a delightful little coastal town with plenty to do, lots too see and most importantly...lots of beach to laze around and sunbathe on. After spending a total of 6 hours on various buses trying to get to the destination we finally arrived at the town centre where we settled into a small backpackers hostel named Hotel Mango. In the morning we decided to visit Punta Sal. This is actually a national park in Honduras is definitely worth a visit. Situated on the western end of Tela it consists of a beautiful peninsula of lush forests and Caribbean beaches- An ideal place to spend our Thanksgiving holiday.

To get to Punta Sal we had to disembark on a small motorboat from the shore which took about 20 minutes. It was a rather bumpy ride to say the least but thoroughly amusing. The waves were a lot bigger than we were used to and we got very wet indeed. When we arrived at the beach we went on a small hike around Puerto Escondido (The Hidden Port) which was truly amazing. We got to see (and hear) Howler monkeys from all around the trees, as well as seeing many rare forest plants which the guide had shown us. The national park of Punta Sal is also home to the Garifuna community of Miami, which is one of the only two Garifuna communities left in Honduras (the other being Chachahuate at Cayos Cochinos) so we also got to learn a lot about the history and culture there. Unfortunately during the tour I had made the extremely wise decision to wear sandals so my feet were very red with ant bites by the end- I was very jealous of Maia in her walking boots! After doing the hike, and rinsing my sore feet off in the water, we boarded the boat again to head to the Puerto Caribe beach. This was the main attraction of the tour where you can settle down, be treated to the typical sea food lunches, swim and snorkel. There were only 8 of us so we had a whole stretch of beach to ourselves- it was so relaxing. We did lots of sunbathing, paddling in the sea and we also made the most of the hammocks hung up in the trees. The only slight problem was that despite bottling on loads of insect repellent we did get bitten through by mosquitoes and sandflies. The sandflies being particularly troublesome; they're so small that you often don't realise you've been bitten by them until the next morning- not the nicest surprise to wake up to!

A short rest after our very long bike ride
    The next day we also decided to have an early start and headed off to the gardens of Lancetilla, which is the second largest tropical botanical garden in the world. We thought that as we were in the area we might as well take a look and learn a new few things along the way. However getting to this Lancetilla garden was more difficult than expected. In an effort to be more fit and healthy, Maia and I decided that we would rent a bike and cycle to the gardens. As this was an option also mentioned in the guide books we thought this was a fairly sensible idea. In reality this short bike ride ended up taking a lot more time then expected. After cycling through various different streets and roads to get out of the town we were thrilled to see the gates to the gardens- A rest at last! But no... as soon as we arrived and brought the tickets we were told that the gardens were a further 4 kilometres away down from the forest track. However when we got there we were somewhat baffled by the entrance... There were no directions and no signs to follow. So having absolutely no idea where we were going we continued cycling along one of the many forest pathways. The only noticeably different tropical plant we saw on our travels were the bamboo plants. The stalks were the size of tree trunks and were at least as high as a two-storey building; we both had no idea bamboo could get that big. Venturing further and further into the forest we came up to an old bogged up lake and realised that we had probably arrived at a dead end- so reluctantly we had to retrace our tracks and cycle the painfully long journey back to the hotel. We're still not quite sure whether we did go completely the wrong way, or whether these rare botanical plants were just all around us and we didn't realise. Either way we did get a lot of exercise and we now know that bamboo is very big (which of course is a very useful life skill to know).

But despite getting lost in the world's second largest botanical garden and being bitten by an assortment of sand flies, red ants and mosquitoes we actually had an absolutely fantastic time. Our weekend in Tela was a truly incredible experience and we were both very sad for it to come to an end. Never in my life had I expected to go to a beach as isolated and as beautiful as Punta Sal. It will be a time to be treasured and remembered for years to come.


Friday, 20 November 2015

1st Partial done and dusted

Now the first partial is over I thought that I’d love to take the new time I have to write a new blog post. Work at the Bilingual school has been hectic, hectic, hectic! But so enjoyable. The more time I spend here the most I appreciate how enjoyable teaching can be. My 2nd graders have been getting on really well recently and I can tell that what I’ve been teaching them in the classroom has begun to sink in. In science I’ve been teaching them about diet, teeth and keeping clean. Every day I teach them a child puts their hand up and shares how they’ve been good and have eaten cabbage or green beans for lunch, or shows me how one of their teeth is going to fall out (although I’ve been trying to put them off doing that-It’s quite gruesome at times!). And also, and probably one of the most important things, they’ve all been passing their tests. Okay, one slight flaw in me boasting about this is that in Honduras it’s the teacher who gets to make up the tests, but I can tell you- the tests really aren’t actually that easy. Even in science they’ve still got to learn some technical words like “enamel”, “sweat gland” and “oil gland”. I swear I never had to learn stuff like that when I was at primary school!

     So as I mentioned earlier one of the tasks us teachers have in Honduras is making our own tests and quizzes. This is THE ONLY WAY the children’s work and efforts are assessed in the Honduran education system- there are no national tests just internal ones made up by teachers. For this reasons it’s quite important that we at least assess the children once every week which really does make me appreciate the system back home (although even that one is far from perfect). These children have a time table stuffed full with tests and quizzes- and they’ve practically only just entered their primary school years. Although this does seem hard, the system really does keep them on their toes. Being constantly assessed means that it’s very difficult for children to slip through the net and fall far behind- but this does give the teachers a ton work to do- Lots and lots of marking.

Some of the tests and quizzes I've been making for 2nd grade

Teaching aside, life in La Union is pretty good. Maia and I have been keeping ourselves busy doing Pilates videos, writing our diaries, watching films and mostly nattering over a cup of Honduran coffee (Or the Yorkshire tea I got given in the post- Thank you Gran & Auntie Ann!!). The truth is that in highly rural places such as here there really isn’t that much to do in terms of community activities. In the evening the streets are filled with gangs of men on every road or corner. This does sound quite scary but it is relatively safe. There are street lights in certain areas and it’s not that daunting but we still make sure to get moto-taxis when we can- just to be extra safe and to save us a long walk! One of the outings we make regular is a weekly trip to Café Zazzo. This is literally the lushest place on Earth! And I would definitely say that it is the highlight of our week. Every Friday night the Vida Abundante teachers have a good old gathering here where many beverages of Frappuccino’s and fruity licuados are shared- not to mention the delicious ice cream on offer…Its to die for. I’m probably a bit over enthusiastic about food but I would certainly say that it’s one of the things we have learnt to appreciate the most since being here. Not a scrap of food get wasted in the kitchen of Alice and Maia! 

Me at Café Zazzo and a classical bean Honduran meal

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Getting into teaching and settling in

Apologies for not having blogged in a while- It seems that the one week we initially got of reading and relaxing has been taking over by crazy lesson planning and after school revision classes. Both me and my project trust partner have been finding ourselves plenty to do- and even though we enjoy teaching we often can't wait for that end-of-school Friday feeling!

The first week of our project was thoroughly enjoyable. We had been warned in our Project Trust training week that the resources in some of the schools that we would be working at would be limited and at our project this was certainly the case. There were no shops to buy classroom decorations, no laminating machines, no colour printers and there was only a few pieces of card and scissors to use. This actually made decorating classrooms a really fun task. Everyone got to put their creative skills to the test. Having no stencils meant that we had to draw a lot of the pictures and lettering free hand- the last time that I had done this was  probably during my GCSE Art class which seems a long time ago from now. I got to make labels of teachers names to be stuck on the classroom doors. I spent hours cutting round the lettering and making the different backgrounds but it was highly therapeutic and a fun activity to get to know people.

However the first few weeks in of teaching were fairly chaotic. We started off just teaching a few classes and assisting in most- however a couple of days in this soon changed and we have a very full teaching time table now. I teach First grade English, Second Grade English, Science and Spelling and Fifth Grade Maths and Maia teaches 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade Art (so she has lots of student names to remember!) as well as 4th grade science and 3rd grade spelling. It does sound like a lot of work but we both agree that lots to do it better than too little to do and the work here is very rewarding.

5 main differences between schools in Honduras and schools in England

So, there are quite a few things both the English and American teachers have noticed about the school systems here, and also the different attitudes of the children.

The first difference that we notice was that Honduran children like to talk. A lot. Although this isn't the idea quality for the children to have when there is up to 27 of them in a class it does make the lessons very interesting. We hear a lot of funny stories and facts about the students, although some of them (or rather a lot of them) we're not quite sure are true. Apparently in 6th grade almost all the children by now seem to own a helicopter or a private jet! However one story which is surprising true is that there is a skeleton on the schools grounds. Yes, a skeleton. (Although it is only a plastic version.) According to the students and teachers it was founded quite a while ago and no one quite knows what happened to the person and how they got there. It's quite an interesting mystery and the children love telling us all their theories on the subject.

Another difference is the pride the children make over their country. Every child knows the Honduran national anthem off my heart which is an amazing achievement and quality to have as admittedly I don't think that I even know my own nation anthem off my heart yet.  More than often their school day would start with an assembly where they would start singing it. I've started to sing along with the lyrics now and most the non-honduran teachers are in love it it- It's extremely catchy!

A perhaps more obvious difference is that the children here really don't have that much. They take a lot of care over their belongings and appreciate what they have. If a pencil goes missing in the class for example, the child won't simply forget and get out a new one. Quite often in second grade I would have a child in tears over such an event, and they would persist to stay after school in the hope of finding it.

There is also a big Make do and Mend attitude here as well. The amount of half destroyed water bottles I've had to tape up with duck tape within just the past week has been very impressive. Even me and Maia have been adopting this cultural custom, getting out the sewing kit and mending the clothing which in England, we would normally throw away.

And finally and probably one of the most significant differences is the fact that this school is Bilingual. Speaking to some of the older students even admit to saying that they speak better English than they do Spanish. Although this may seem ridiculous considering this is their second language it really is true when you thing of all the words you learn in school and not at home. For example, in biology and chemistry half the words you wouldn't have known in English if your teacher had not taught you- and with a second language the principles are exactly the same. It really makes me want to have gone to a bilingual school now- buy third grade most of the students are pretty much fluent.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

My first taste of Honduras

On the plane, London - Miami
where we could later catch
the plane to San Pedro Sula
I have now been in Honduras for a total of two weeks and I am loving it! The scenery is so beautiful. When I typed in Honduras or La Union into Google it only came up with dirt tracks and some rather dull scenery but the mountains here are breathtaking and the land is covered in lots of lush forestry. It seems like a very relaxing place, quite the opposite to the tone portrayed in the media. The journey here though was completely different and has highly stressful. Terminal five was shut down in Heathrow airport and quite a few of the Project Trust volunteers still had their luggage stuck in London when they arrived in Honduras! As a result it had to be sent to each of the individual projects, taking 2-3 days. Luckily everyone had packed some spare pairs of underwear in their hand luggage so it wasn't the end of the world! Getting to our actual project from Honduras was quite relaxing though. We stopped off at the airport, had a typical american fried chicken dish with fries (which we got advised to eat so there would be no upset stomachs for the bus journey!). Then after that we hoped onto the mini bus and had a short journey into San Pedro Sula where we got to our hotel. It was quite a nice hotel, and even had a swimming pool, but all of us were so tired from the journey we couldn't bare the thought of doing any exercise!

Training in Gracias 

The Project Trust Life Abundant Teachers
The next day we headed off to the town of Gracias which was about three hours away. We stayed in small rooms, one between two and spent our first few days there. One of the best things about the place we were staying in was the hammocks outside our rooms- they were so relaxing to lay in. The purpose of going to Gracias for this amount of time was so that we could meet the American teachers who were also helping out at the Vida Abundante schools near the area. After a quick introduction we headed out to the school in Gracias to start our teacher training which consisted of several different workshops lead by experienced teachers in the area. It was very useful and provided us with a good insight to what teaching would be like and the main differences about Honduran/Western cultures.

Arriving at La Union 

The journey to la Union provided us with some fantastic scenery as we spent most of the journey travelling in the back of a pick up truck! It gave us an amazing opportunity to see all the forests, small villages and coffee plantations but it also gave us some very stiff muscles the next day- the journey was so bumpy and lasted about 3 hours! When we got there we got introduced to our Host Ana, her husband and her seven year old daughter. They were all very nice and provided us with a very warm welcome. Ana also showed us around our accommodation, an annex at the bottom of her garden which the family had built themselves. It's a very nice place to live, the washing up bowl is directly by the window so when me and my partner Maia are washing up we have a superb view to look at!
Some of the fantastic views!

After a day of settling in we spent the next week at the school helping teachers with their displays and setting up our own. We also did a lot of planning lessons and it did our Spanish a lot of good to communicate with the Honduran teachers. In the evenings we met up with the American teachers and often did things like watching films together and eating pizza. There is also a small café in the town called Café Zazzo which sells such good ice cream. It also is one of the only public places apart from the school which has wifi so many of the teachers use it to mark work ect. One of the things me and Maia have enjoyed most in our project is cooking our own food. There are so many fresh fruit and vegetables to buy and the tortillas we can use can make really tasty and quick meals. We're quite lucky about living with a host family as they're so nice and Ana often gives us advice and ideas about what to cook and eat. The scariest part of the project was without doubt the 13th of August- Results day!! Maia and I had to stay over the American teachers house to receive them due to the fact that we had no wifi and due to the time difference we had to stay up to two in the morning to receive them. But luckily all the waiting paid off and we both got into uni:) So we had some celebrational pancakes in the morning to celebrate!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The National Three Peaks Challege

Three mountains in 24 hours- Are we crazy?! - July 2015

Ben Nevis with the weather conditions fighting against us

I had never heard of the Three Peaks Challenge myself before it was mentioned in one of the Project Trust fundraising meetings, so for those who don't know it's a rather difficult challenge...

In brief, what the Three Peaks consists of is climbing the highest 3 mountains in England, Scotland and Wales in under 24 hours. Not only do you climb these three mountains (Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon) in such a short amount of time but you also have to include travel time into it- which means no lay-ins between mountain walks, no nice warm showers and certainly no tea breaks or picture taking (although luckily we had the guides to take pictures for us). What that time also meant was that we had to walk some of the mountains in the dark, and at times, pitch black (which was interesting!) 

The first mountain we climbed was Ben Nevis- The highest and apparently the hardest out of the three. At the beginning it seemed quite easy, the sun was out and there was not a cloud in sight, also the track was fairly flat to begin with- but we knew it was going to get a lot steeper from the sights ahead of us... It was all going okay until we got about three quarters of the way up and the wind started to pick up, shortly followed by the rain. There was no room for sightseeing and gazing at the views at this point as one wrong move we would have been blown over. As we approached the summit of the mountain many of those who brought poles were more than happy that they'd brought them. Not only did they help us stick to the path due to the strong winds but the also helped us conquer the snow at the top of the mountain which was a big surprise for us all!- At the bottom of the mountain we had been in shorts and T-shirts and to think that there was snow at the top in July was more than a bit if a shock!

Daybreak at Scafell 
 After getting down the mountain and travelling to the Lake District we were were approximately an hour behind time due to the weather conditions. Next up was Scafell Pike which many had argued was more difficult than Ben Nevis. The trouble was Scafell was that it was very rocky and there were loose stones everywhere. It was extremely exhausting because you were physically tired out from stepping on all the high rocks and mentally warn out too from having to concentrate all the time on footwork and placing the poles. The dark didn't make it much easier- but luckily we all had head-torches, knowing that as long as they didn't run out of battery they would all be fine!

My parents and cousin on the last Summit at Snowdon 
 The last and final mountain we climbed was Snowdon in Wales. This, for both me and my cousin, was the first time we had visited Wales so the views were all very new to us. When we got to Snowdon we were separated into a few different groups, groups of those who wanted to stick together with friends/family and those who wanted to go different speeds. I went in a group with my uncle in order to try and make up some of the time we lost on Ben Nevis. It was very hard work! On the last climb my legs were extremely stiff and sleep deprivation meant that you had to put in extra effort when stepping up higher rocks. However once we got into the climb it did seem easier to establish a better pace. In the end we managed to save some time on the walk- taking only 3 hours hours 50 mins instead of the estimated 4 and a half hours. However even with this time we weren't quite at 24 hours (only 45 mins over!) however speaking to the guides this was unavoidable because of the weather at Ben Nevis. - some of the later groups had to turn back due to the winds so we were quite lucky that didn't happen to us!  Unfortunately one of the people in our group couldn't make it to the top due to knee problems- however her friends wrote her name on a Rock named "Michelle" and brought that to the mountain (as you can see in the photo) - Such a lovely idea! All in all it was a very hard, yet enjoyable experience- and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is prepared to train really hard and see some amazing sights! :) 

Back up to Coll (Training!)

Training: One week to train for one year - June 2015

On the 23th of June I had my 2nd voyage to Coll. Even though I had already made the journey once in training it was still very daunting- each week there is only one ferry which goes up to Coll and if you miss miss the whole training week. So it's quite important to make sure you catch it! Not that I didn't trust my train catching skills (which admittedly aren't the best!) I decided to catch the earliest train possible and to say in Oban over night. The ferry was scheduled at 5:30 in the morning so I would definitely of needed a rest and a good nights sleep after a whole day tackling the trains. - What I did get in fact was a goods night sleep as we got an email in the evening saying that due to the ferry strikes it didn't leave till 9:30- So there were lie-ins for all!! :D Although not for the people who didn't check their emails- arriving at the ferry station at 5:30...they were not very happy at all!

The Honduras Gang
Arriving at Coll we were straight into the training. Us Hondurans were sharing our week with the group from Zambia and Guyana (However previously these volunteers were meant to be going to Nepal but due to problems created by the earthquake they were unable to go). The first couple of hours were all very exciting- as we got to find our out who our partners were!! It seemed unreal how in a matter of 10 seconds we were all going to meet the person who we'd be spending a whole year with!  

After we had al met our partners we stated with some paper work from the One Award Booklet (documentation which when completed would provide us with a certificated demonstrating our skills learnt abroad). Even though after finishing college the thought of writing in booklets seemed a bit painstaking it was actually quite a good way to organise our thoughts and plan out our year abroad. The staff really looked after us because as soon as we had a long writing session we would immediately get a coffee and cake break. On the last day it was Sam's 18th Birthday (one of the volunteers going to Honduras) so including desert, two coffee breaks and a birthday cake we ended up having 4 pieces of cake in one day! 

Swimming in the Coll sea
One of the sessions which many volunteers were dreading was the teaching sessions. We had to plan one lesson of a 10 minute duration and one of a 20 minute duration. This was incredibly daunting as few of us had ever given a lesson before- plus we had to make it fun and amusing because the people we were going to be teaching weren't going to be the same age as us but a whole decade younger. To make the lessons more fun we were advised to use lots of stickers, games and songs. I gave my lesson on parts of the body as when in my teaching project I'll be teaching English and Science as my main subjects (although with music and art as extra-curricular). It seemed a little strange standing in front of a group of 18 year-olds and making them sing "heads, shoulders, knees and toes" but it was highly amusing!- Especially as many people hadn't sung a song like that since primary school...The use of stickers, songs and games just made I want to go back! 

We also had to cover more serious aspects of our time abroad such a health problems, staying safe and a few other administrative aspects such as passports and paperwork. The health lecture was definitively the most daunting! There were lots of gruesome photos being shown to us- One thing all of the volunteers had drilled into them was the fact that wearing shoes is of paramount importance!! There are so many dangers in not doing this; cuts (which can then lead to some rather gruesome infections) and most importantly the threat of worms; which lay gets on your feet and grow in the skin beside them.- Never ever am I going outside in the streets of Honduras with bare feet after seeing that!
More fantastic scenery!

With all the gruesome photos and stories behind there were any aspects of the week where we could relax and take time to meet our partners. On the Wednesday many of the volunteers went swimming (although I didn't as it was far too cold for my liking), me and my partner spent most of our time taking pictures of the landscape of Coll- which we thought was a far more enjoyable activity that swimming in the ice cold waters of Coll- Think we'll wait for the sea in Honduras before we go swimming! On the last day we also had a Ceilidh- which was quite amusing considering there was a power cut on the same day. However all went to plan as we managed to borrow a generator from the Island- as there weren't enough sockets to fit the speakers for all the instruments some of the Project Trust staff decided to play the drums- a technique which many of them had learnt on their travels abroad. It was a really fun evening and put everyone in the right spirits to embark on their year abroad. - We all left the next day feeling very tired from all the dancing...although equally excited and nervous considering that the next time we would ever see each other would be in the airport for our year abroad! 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Fundraising Update - June 2014

How my fundraising's been getting on so far 

My Handmade Xmas Cards
At the start of Selection the thought of raising £5900 for Project Trust seemed almost impossible but now thanks to family, friends and some very generous charitable trusts and businesses it's seemed all the more possible!

My first fundraising idea was to take full advantage of the festive spirits and sell Xmas cards at village fairs. Even though it's June now I'll still never forget how much time and effort this took- making Xmas cards is harder than you think! After ordering lots of material off eBay and visiting lots of crafty shops I decided to stick to five basic designs- all of which you can see in the picture. By the end of November I had made over 200 Christmas cards, most of which I sold at fêtes and some I sold in batches to family and friends, the biggest help I had along the way was that of my lovely twin sister- who was my card-making assistant and head candy cane maker. I even had some of my friends who offered to cut out Xmas tree templates for me at college lunch break which is real dedication when food is on offer!

All the Xmas fêtes went really well. The hardest time was selling them at the outdoors fêtes- as in December the weather was really not suited to stilling still and selling cards, but I had may generous people buy them and there were even some people who gave me hot drinks to help get me by.

The next challenge was writing to Charitable Trusts and local businesses to ask for sponsorship for my year abroad. This was probably one of the most useful experiences I have had in concern to fundraising as I could finally see my GCSE English letter writing skills come into play. I made sure that each letter I sent was accompanied with a leaflet which was a easier and less formal way to show companies what my teaching project was about. I had great fun making the leaflets and in the end ordered over 500!!

I also got busy making a Facebook page ( so my technology skills were definitely being but to the test. It now had over 100 views which I can hardly believe- I'm so happy with all the support :) 

After the Christmas period was over I started to get some really positive responses from charitable trusts and businesses- I'm so grateful of all the money donated and found it really good to see so many people interested. After attending a Project Trust coffee morning which offered further help with fundraising one of the returned volunteers also suggested that I did a sponsored event to gain extra funds. As a family we all agreed that something like the Three Peaks Challenge would be good as it would certainly be a challenge but hopefully something we could all achieve. Mum booked it quite early on with a guided company to ensure there was no getting lost on the mountains! The more we read up on the challenge the more daunting it seemed- we weren't quite sure what we'd got ourselves into!