PROJECT: SEMILLAS DE ESPERANZA (Seeds of Hope)
DIRECTOR: SOR MARTA EUGENIA SOTO
In Honduras, there are many children who cannot attend traditional school. Poverty is great, particularly in rural areas, and many children must work and so cannot attend school five days a week. Distance from school is also an obstacle. Elementary schools exist in most villages but continuing past the 6th grade often means traveling by foot for long distances. Some children would have to leave their homes at 2am each day to get to the nearest middle school on time. Such a trip is simply impossible more than once a week. Finally, there are some living in urban neighborhoods who are prohibited from attending school because it would mean crossing gang boundaries. Two boys wanted to continue to the 7th grade so badly they risked their lives by enrolling in a middle school across gang boundaries. They were killed
Sister Marta Eugenia Soto, a Salesian nun serving the poor of Tegucigalpa, felt the keen need to provide an alternative form of education for these marginalized youth. For the program to work, it needed to be low cost and flexible enough to accommodate their work schedules. In 1989, with no financial help, just the “blessing” of the elderly Reverend she served under, she founded the Instituto IHER and began a radio school known as “El Maestro en Casa” or “Teacher at Home”. Students received instruction by radio during the week and attended class in person just once each weekend. The school, though accredited, receives no financial support from the Honduran government so operates on a shoestring with volunteer teachers and funds contributed by the students for books. Nevertheless, the school has expanded to include 35,000 students across Honduras in 256 centers, with schools in 17 out of the 18 states (departments).
It costs approximately $100 a year to supply the textbooks and other supplies needed for each student – a sum too daunting for many poor students. Sor Marta’s heart has been burdened for the many students who desperately want to continue their studies but simply can’t afford the fees. With help from Global Pearls, she was finally able to offer a high school scholarship program for the most promising students.
The program can only offer scholarships to about 5% of the students who need one, but one of our founding principles is the belief that a small help, properly focused, can have a large ripple effect on the communities we serve by unleashing local potential. To maximize the impact of this scholarship program, Sor Marta and Global Pearls decided that a primary component of the application process should be a written essay explaining how each prospective scholarship recipient hopes to use his/her education to benefit the community. A desire to help others, and our belief that the student can successfully do so, is the primary factor in choosing our scholarship recipients. In this way we hope that our scholarships will end up benefitting far more people than just the # chosen! To reflect the idea that each student we help can in turn benefit many, Sor Marta decided to call the scholarship program “Semillas de Esperanza,” or “Seeds of Hope.”
In fact, we were so impressed by the ideas and passion these students expressed in their application essays, we decided to fund school-led community projects to help develop the project management and leadership skills of the students. The students at each participating IHER center jointly decide on a project to help their community, put together a proposal and budget, and, if chosen for funding, manage the project to completion. The projects are varied, and reflect the hearts of the students. A very remote village with no access to healthcare wanted to develop and manage a community “first aid kit” to lessen the number of deaths their village experiences each year which could be avoided with simple, over-the-counter medicines. Another student group wanted to start a bakery to revive traditional recipes and raise money to help fund future university fees. We have really been impressed with how enthusiastically the students have pursued their projects, and we love the confidence these projects are building in our students. As one project student stated, “through this project we have left behind the impotent attitude of saying, ‘I want to develop my community, but I cannot.’ Now we can make a change.”
An overview of our project program: Semillas de Esperanza Projects
An overview of our scholarship program: Semillas de Esperanza Scholarships
Bringing IHER education into the 21st century with an Intel WOW grant