Representatives from the Olancho Aid Foundation, which facilitates mission trips to Olancho, Honduras, visited students at Father Ryan High School on Tuesday, Jan. 31. Father Ryan, Holy Family Church in Brentwood, and St. Philip Church in Franklin have sent groups to volunteer in Honduras. The Foundation delegates, Carlos Najera, left, Bishop Joseph Bonello, and Jessica Santavy, toured Father Ryan classes during their visit. Photo by Theresa Laurence
Members of the Honduras-based Olancho Aid Foundation, including Bishop Joseph Bonello, recently traveled to Middle Tennessee “to say thank you for the time, talent, treasure, and presence” that people from the Diocese of Nashville have given over the last decade to the people of Olancho, Honduras.
Bishop Bonello was accompanied by Carlos Najera, Executive Director of the Olancho Aid Foundation, and Jessica Santavy, the organization’s Director of Advancement. During their visit, the group attended Masses and a fundraising breakfast at Holy Family Church in Brentwood, and visited St. Philip Church in Franklin and Father Ryan High School in Nashville, which all support Olancho Aid through monetary and mission support.
The Olancho Aid Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)3 Catholic and Honduran-run nonprofit organization dedicated to “creating a sustainable future for Honduran families through faith-based education and service.”
Holy Family parishioner Steve Hayes, president of the board of the Olancho Aid Foundation, has been involved in outreach work in Honduras for about 10 years. “My family and I have been blessed to be a part of this life-changing ministry,” he said, and he wants more people to learn how they can live out their faith and make a difference by getting involved with Olancho Aid. “We want to encourage other parishes to come visit for a mission trip ... we have all the infrastructure in place,” he said.
Mission trips can take different forms depending on each group’s focus and talent, and could include a medical mission trip, water purification efforts, or a building project, to build a home for a local family in need or help with repairs in one of the foundation’s four schools.
Mission teams contribute to building projects, but Olancho Aid also hires local Hondurans to help with the projects. Bishop Bonello said that it is important that mission teams traveling from the United States “don’t go there to change them, but help them change themselves, respect their dignity.”
The Olancho Aid Foundation’s priorities are education and better health through water purification. The foundation runs four Catholic schools, two of which are bi-lingual, and one that is fully dedicated to serving students with special needs. In total, the schools have more than 900 students enrolled and 110 staff members.
The special needs school, Escuela de Nazareth, is particularly important in rural Honduras, Najera said, because “the attitude towards those with mental disabilities is about 100 years behind here,” in the U.S. “Families still hide them and feel embarrassed,” if they have a child with special needs, he said. The main goal of the school, he said, “is to make them visible,” which has resulted in “a big change” locally in the perception and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities, Najera said.
The Olancho Aid Foundation’s schools are in demand because they are located in a safe part of the country, for the most part removed from the crime and violence of larger cities, and “the ethical and moral standards are high,” Santavy said.
Providing a quality education within a Catholic framework is especially important to Bishop Bonello, because “a well-educated person is a better Christian,” he said.
In addition to its educational mission, Olancho Aid has heavily invested in providing clean and purified water to the poorest of the poor. In the last few years, they have installed 18 filtration systems in remote villages, which provides 23,000 people with purified water daily, a necessary step to ensure the health of people in that region, according to Hayes.
Working with the Olancho Aid Foundation can create lasting cross-cultural connections. Parishioners from Holy Family who sponsor a Honduran child’s school tuition visit them year after year to get to know them and see their progress. Father Ryan students keep in touch with peers they meet in Honduras through social media and the occasional phone call. “The need is deep and great for that connection,” said Father Ryan teacher Jonathan McGee, who has led mission trips to Honduras.
Witnessing how people live in rural Honduras “really changes the kids’ worldview,” said Father Gervan Menezes, Father Ryan chaplain who has also joined Honduran mission trips.
“It’s amazing to see them get a bigger perspective,” McGee said. He has seen how the Honduras mission trips have a lasting effect on students who travel there, including how they think and talk about poverty. “They can recognize Honduras in their backyard,” and may choose to volunteer or teach in an inner-city school, he said. Students who have traveled to Honduras also choose to further develop their language skills, or study international business or non-profit management in college, McGee said. “They’re being really smart about the transformation,” putting it into action, he added.
Najera noted that Olancho Aid is always looking for long-term volunteers, especially those with teaching experience to work in the schools or in an administrative position. “I have seen the results of Olancho Aid,” said Najera, a native Honduran who has been with the organization for 17 years.
The state of Olancho, located about three hours from the capital city of Tegucigalpa, has mostly dirt roads and no access to basic services, Najera said, and a high rate of illiteracy. But the educational opportunities provided by Olancho Aid, especially through the special needs and bi-lingual schools “is changing the community,” he said. “There are more opportunities for people.”
Bishop Bonello paraphrased an ancient quote regarding the importance of education: “If you plan for one year, plant wheat or beans; if you plan for 50 years, plant a tree; if you plan for life, educate the child.”
More information can be found at www.OlanchoAid.org or at Holy Family’s website, www.MissionHonduras.org.