By TENILLE GOODMAN and JULIE DYMON
A UMW professor and his children spent a week building a school and forging relationships in Honduras.
Anand Rao, associate professor in the Department of English, Linguistics and Communication, traveled to Honduras last December with his daughter, Tirzah, and son, Sidd, to help members of the UMW branch of Students Helping Honduras (SHH) build a new school in La Nunez.
According to BBC news, Honduras is “one of the least developed and least secure countries in Central America.”
In a nation where 50 percent of the population is younger than 19, the need for education improvement and the assistance of organizations like SHH is apparent.
During their travels to Japan, Europe, Egypt and India, the Rao’s have been exposed to many cultures and differences in quality of life compared to that of the United States. However, nothing could prepare Tirzah and Sidd for their week in La Nunez.
“It was a lot worse than I imagined,” Tirzah said. “There was nothing [the kids] could have done to deserve the conditions they were living in.”
Tirzah knew enough Spanish to ask basic questions, but some of the villagers were not impressed with her grasp of the language and teased her.
Fortunately for Tirzah, she befriended Cassidy, a local girl who she had been tutoring.
“She stood up for me for that, it was really sweet,” Tizrah said.
Sidd was not familiar with Spanish either. In order to overcome the language barrier, he used the power of video games to connect with a local boy at the airport.
“He helped me with my Spanish, and I helped him with his English,” Sidd explained.
Rao jokingly told his son to tell his mom that video games do serve a greater purpose.
“They bring people together,” Rao said. “Even with the language barrier, it didn’t hold them back and they became fast friends.”
Like his children, Rao also had a moment where the language difference was overridden by the desire to help a community.
“Many of the parents [whose] kids will be going to the school [currently being built] were mixing concrete with us,” he said. “They were teaching us how to do that without even speaking any English.”
The construction site was a place of constant activity and each day held a sense of purpose.
“Everyone was so pumped up to get the school started, [that all of the construction] goals were met early,” Rao said.
According to Tirzah, during the one week they were in Honduras, they dug the foundation, filled it with cement and set up the rebar, which is a rod or bar used for reinforcement in concrete pouring.
While construction was going on, several students were tutoring the local children.
Rao was happy with the experience and its impact on his children.
“I have a great sense of pride to see them working and getting something out of it,” Rao said. “When they were there, they upped their game. They were so responsible and I was proud to see them rise to the challenge.”
Because of the experience, both of the Rao children plan to continue to help the Honduran students from home. They even talked about starting a chapter of SHH at Gayle Middle School in Fredericksburg.
Tizrah and Sidd also discussed plans to hold fundraisers at their school in order to purchase school supplies for the children who impacted them so significantly.
The simple fact that they were there and trying to make a difference in the lives of the people in La Nunez transcended language.
“The people were so kind and so thankful that we were there,” Sidd said.