Area educators take mission trip to Honduras

Local volunteers built a house, aided Honduran teachers and helped to fund a clean water project during a summer mission trip to Honduras.

A group of 35 parishioners from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Prairieville joined area educators on a summer mission trip to Juticalpa, Olancho, Honduras.

Yvette Surla said the trip was part of St. John’s International Outreach program, which is dedicated to working with residents of Honduras and Liberia.

The group partnered with two nonprofit organizations, Olancho Aid Foundation in Honduras and Franciscan Works in Liberia. Ville Platte Christian Mission raised money to make the mission work in Honduras possible, she said.

Surla described Olancho as a poor community with a high unemployment rate.

“The people are very hard-working, but there are few or no jobs for them,” she said.

“The Honduran people are very friendly, faith-filled and most appreciative of what they have. They live a very simple life. It is very common for a multigenerational family to live together in a two- or three-room house.”

She said some of the houses have no electricity or running water and a washing machine is considered a luxury item.

For Surla and others in the group, volunteering in Honduras was a life-changing experience.

“Through the mission trips, volunteers are able to experience the gift of giving through physical, financial and emotional means,” she said.

Ascension Parish educators joined the mission team to work with Escuelita Nazareth, a school for children and young adults with disabilities. The school is part of Olancho Aid Foundation, a nonprofit Catholic-based organization.

The group of educators, led by Jackie Lass, included current and retired teachers.

Lass taught at Dutchtown and Duplessis primary schools and owns Casa de Amigos, a bilingual preschool in Prairieville.

Other members of the group included Dodie Melancon, first-grade teacher at Dutchtown Primary; Surla, a special education teacher at Dutchtown Middle; Linda Mayers, who taught in Ascension Parish public schools for 33 years; Alycea Wickboldt, retired educator; Brittany Lass, speech language therapist with Little Works in Progress Pediatric Therapy in Rapides Parish; and Tracy Boudreaux.

The educators consulted with other educators and specialists over the last year in preparation for the trip, Surla said.

The group received help from Beta Eta Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, a teaching sorority.

While there, the educators provided consultation, staff development and support to the teachers and administrators, as well as hands-on teaching with the 73 students at the school.

They provided recommendations for students with the most significant disabilities and met with the parents of the children enrolled at Escuelita Nazareth.

The volunteers donated 16 suitcases filled with school supplies.

“When we arrived, the school had very few materials,” Lass said.

The school had limited supplies and no access to training in research-based teaching practices, she said.

One of the proudest accomplishments of the group, the volunteer said, was a sensory room that was furnished by donations from Ascension Parish residents.

The local educators designed and set up the room, as well as trained the teachers and administrators there how to use the equipment.

“The sensory room will provide a quiet space to work with students, especially those who have autism. It includes a small trampoline, a tunnel, large beanbag chairs and a variety of small sensory materials,” Surla said. “When we arrived, the teachers at Escuelita Nazareth had no concept of sensory integration. However, in just our short visit working with them, they saw benefits for the students.

“I am confident that as we continue to support them, we will impact the lives of these children.”

Surla said the teachers plan to continue their partnership by using Skype to communicate with the Honduran teachers.

In addition, four young adults spent their summer volunteering with a bilingual summer camp at Santa Clara School, a preschool and elementary school that is part of Olancho Aid Foundation. Marissa Lass, Jordan Whaley, David LeBouef, and Trey Roussel each spent seven weeks in Honduras.

Surla said the group will continue to support the Honduran school and is looking for donations of puzzles, toys, equipment for the hearing impaired or any other classroom materials.

For information on St. John’s mission project, visit stjohnsmissions.webs.com.

For more information on Olancho Aid Foundation, visit olanchoaid.org.

To volunteer or learn more about the next trip, email Lisa LeBouef at lrlebouef@eatel.net.