Honduras Project sends more than 200 poor children to school

  • Seventh-grade students at the Middle School in Guinope, Honduras. Contributed Photo/Beverly Phelps

  • Sixth-grade students in front of the elementary school with the principal, Carlos Donaldo Rivera. Uniforms are required for schoolchildren, but not all families can afford them. The Honduras Project raises money for school uniforms. Contributed Photo/Beverly Phelps

Published: 8/5/2016 10:36:14 PM

BERNARDSTON — Early in 2003, 13 people from Bernardston and Northfield traveled to Guinope, Honduras, a town in the mountains, roughly 35 miles from Tegucigalpa, to work at a mission camp. There they painted walls, laid tile, and using hand tools, helped excavate and lay out a foundation for a local church-sponsored medical facility.

The group met two missionaries who had spent most of their lives there, Charlotte and Dr. Pearl Marcy, who had many connections to the Bernardston and Northfield area. Charlotte’s father was the pastor at the United Church of Bernardston in the 1930s. That church had been supporting mission work there since then.

The group also met Honduran families who were hard working and very poor, struggling to provide food for their children. They had great fun working alongside the families, attending church with them, and taking a hike further into the mountains to a waterfall. It was, all in all, a wonderful working vacation.

It was during the school year, as well as coffee-harvesting season. They saw many young children wandering around and some others working at the coffee processing facility (which was attached to their small motel). Asked why they weren't in school, they were told their families could not afford uniforms and school supplies for them to attend, a cost of about $30 per child, which happened to be the average monthly income for a family.  They learned that, although schooling was “free,” they needed these items in order to attend.

Bev Phelps of Bernardston came home thinking about these kids, and their situation. She also questioned what she had really accomplished by spending close to $800 in travel expenses in order to wash and paint walls. She asked herself whether that money couldn't have been better spent to help the people. She knew that another group from Bernardston and Northfield were headed back down in the fall, and she made the decision to use what would be her travel expenses to purchase uniforms, fabric for uniforms, and school supplies to send along with them.  

With what she would have spent on airfare, Phelps hired a young Honduran woman to sew uniforms for the kids. With the help of other donations, and taking advantage of employee discounts and sales, each of the 11 travelers took an extra suitcase filled with school supplies.

Soon the project of furnishing children with uniforms and school supplies took on a life of its own.  The 11 travelers who worked at the camp met a retired elementary school principal who took them into the hills around Guinope. There they met the families of the poor children who could not attend school. As a result of this meeting, the travelers promised that any poor child who signed up for school would be provided with what they needed to attend the following February, the beginning of the 2004 school year. One hundred twenty children signed up.

Since Phelps had started this project, she felt a keen responsibility to follow through. She then traveled with Bonnie L'Etoile of Northfield to Guinope to officially get the project off the ground.

The group continues to work closely with Kenia Cruz, a young woman studying to become a doctor, who speaks English and communicates via email with updates. They outfitted 120 children that first year. The number has risen to 150 elementary school children. The mission allows all poor kids (about 25 percent of the school population) to attend. They have expanded the project further to add middle school children, at $75 per child, who have moved up from the elementary school. About 55 middle school children receive support from the project.

The job here in Bernardston and Northfield has become to raise the funds necessary to fund the Project annually, about $8,600.  

United Church of Bernardston has continued to support the mission. Trinitarian Congregational Church (“TCC”) in Northfield became involved when members first traveled to Guinope to work in 2003. These two churches, along with help from the Unitarian Church in Bernardston, support this project by various fundraising methods. One year, the students from Pioneer Valley Regional School raised almost $1,000 for the project.  TCC member Cathy Hawkins-Harrison headed up this fundraiser. They had a video made which was broadcast on BNCTV. Phelps received a Haystack Award, an award given to individuals and groups making a difference in the world by the United Church of Christ, in 2006.

Aug. 14 is Honduras Sunday in Northfield

Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield (147 Main St.) will host “Honduran Sunday” on Aug. 14, with a focus on educating young children (particularly girls). There will be colorful traditional Central American dress, Latin music, as well as a Honduran Coffee Hour, featuring traditional food and sweets for all in attendance. The public is encouraged to attend. Service begins at 10 a.m.

As an artist, Phelps has created a series of striking paintings of life in Guinope, in order to help fund the project. These paintings, as well as hand-painted note cards will be available on Honduran Sunday, with all proceeds going to the Project.  

Phelps can be contacted for private showings, if desired.

For more information, contact Phelps at edcp.bap@comcast.net or call 413-522-2325.


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