Overview of Las Sonrisas de los Niños
We (Reid and Patricia, retired, from the US) operate a small charity project near the poor village of El Cacao in rural Honduras, Central America, called Las Sonrisas de los Niños. Our goal is to provide the youth in our area opportunities beyond what they might normally experience. This includes play and recreation, nutritional support, reading, exposure and instruction in English, music, and overall a chance for kids to act like kids. We are somewhat a mix of a day care center and youth center, and the ages of the kids that attend range from infancy to teens.
Note: Former two-time volunteer (and Reid's son) was deployed with the Army National Guard to Afghanistan in early 2012. We decided that having reliable access to communications, which is not available in Honduras, was paramount, so we have not been in Honduras since we closed out session 6 in Oct. 2011. With great happiness and relief we can report he returned safely on News Years Eve. Also note that future sessions will concentrate more on small group and individual interactions, which will change the manner in which we will utilize volunteers. We anticipate more emphasis on English, computers, and general academics for the handful of kids who have academic potential, and teaching skills such as carpentry and plumbing to kids that have either no academic future, or more realistically no future at all. We began this towards the end of session 6 and seemed to have quite a bit of success. While we will continue to be involved in a nutrition support program we will likely not have the hordes of kids we've traditionally had, hence volunteers won 't be involved in controlling chaos! such as ball games, arts and crafts, supervising free play, etc. Volunteers in future sessions can expect to do one-on-one tutoring in a variety of areas, depending on their abilities, and Spanish-speaking will be more important but not absolutely necessary. Also, people interested in volunteering but with their own ideas (such as facilitating the sewing co-op, helping improve houses, directed activities such as teaching drawing) would more than likely be welcome to use our infrastructure. People thinking of volunteering should click here to read about how to travel to the project and increasing security concerns.
Above: phone call for Cesia; dia de los niños celebration; Palblito the clown; Cinderalla (aka Lupita ) in her fancy carriage on the way to the ball
A main emphasis of our project is volunteerism. It is absolutely wonderful watching these poor kids meet, develop relationships and friendships, and learn so much from our volunteers. And it is equally amazing seeing the volunteers respond to the kids. We have had volunteers from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Holland, Belgium, the UK, Denmark, and Ireland, ranging in ages from the pre-teens to the almost 80. We’ve had individuals, groups of friends, and whole families. In many cases volunteers have kept in touch with the kids or our local employees long past the time they were there, and many times volunteers have returned to renew their relationships and experiences- the current record is 10 trips. We try to make volunteering as easy as possible, with no applications or fees (we do maintain and offer hostel type housing for $25 a week, which seems to be pretty popular), and volunteers have been with us for a few days to 5 months. People thinking of volunteering and new volunteers should click here to read about how to travel to the project and increasing security concerns.
Below, volunteers: Kayla reading with Esperanza; siblings Johann and Karin getting palm prints; Stephanie and Rosalinda share a hug
We typically operate Mon. through Fri. 8:30am to 4pm. Since we opened in May 2007 we have run the project in "sessions," i.e. we’ll be in operation for 4-5 months, then close down for several months in order to live our US life (rest, visit friends and family, work on our small house and land in southern Alabama, etc). We would like to have more continuity, which prompted us to consider trying out what we termed on-site managers in our absence. This was never brought to fruition for a number of reasons, but our goal remains. Hence we have posted a request for operating partners, perhaps a retired couple that has been looking for a meaningful challenge and has the financial wherewithal to run the project in our absence. Please click here (the page about volunteering, then scroll to the bottom) to learn more about this concept.
Above: end of Session 4 party for las mujeres (i.e.our employees); Manuel and Santos came to the project on a horse; Mirian was put in charge of crafts during a time of no volunteers and came up with some good ones
In the summer of 2009, totally unrelated to our presence, a Canadian group called Adventure in Missions (http://adventureinmissions.com) opened a needed clinic in the village of El Cacao. We of course came to know each other and in the spring of 2010 they expressed an interest in trying their hand at running their version of our project using our facilities. As we closed out session 5 in October 2010 we handed them the keys and they have been active since then (this being written in May 2011). We will be returning towards the end of this month to open session 6 and we'll look forward to learning in-person of their experience.
Below left: Claribel at the sewing machine; Below center: many of the kids in this family attend the project- in front of their fairly typical house; Below right: Abi la princesa
We have a few additional goals for session 6. We now have two sewing machines courtesy volunteers from session 5 and hope to form a viable co-op for some of the older girls and local women. We also plan to purchase an industrial weed-whacker and form a co-op for some of the young men around that. Lawns like we are accustomed to in the US are uncommon in Honduras but rather in order for land to be usable it has to be constantly cleared, and this provides a significant livelihood for those few that can afford a weed-whacker (typically called a Shindawa in our part of Honduras). Machetes are often used but are very labor intensive and time consuming and power lawn-mowers are rarely seen and not efficacious for coarser land, so heavy-duty weed-whackers are the most viable and variable tool. Lastly we plan to (finally) offer instruction in carpentry, allowing those interested to build something useful- a shelf, table, stool, etc- while learning the basics.
Thank you for visiting our website. We hope it provides a lot of useful information, especially if you are considering volunteering with us. If you have any questions or want further information, feel free to contact us.
Las Sonrisas de los Niños is a project of United Charitable Programs (www.UnitedCharitablePrograms.org)– a registered 501(c) (3) public charity. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law. All funds raised by Las Sonrisas de los Niños are received by United Charitable Programs and become the sole property of UCP which, for internal operating purposes, allocates the funds to the Project. The Program Manager makes recommendations for disbursements which are reviewed by UCP for approval.