Carly Hoecherl - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to volunteer abroad?

I became inspired to go abroad due to a number of factors. Having just recently graduated from college at the time, I did not feel ready to "settle down" into a career and be "stuck" right away. I knew I wanted to travel, but that I also wanted to do something helpful with my time and not just be a tourist. This led me to volunteering abroad.

Why did you choose Honduras Child Alliance (HCA)?

I chose Honduras Child Alliance for so many reasons! First, I had just graduated with my teaching degree and I knew that I wanted to volunteer with an organization whose goal was to better the lives of children. Along with that, I desired a program that really seemed to make an impact and had the true NGO feel to it - I preferred a smaller, close-knit type of organization as opposed to a large one.

After searching for a few months, I had narrowed it down to three organizations, all involving work with children in impoverished communities. What made me choose HCA was the immediate and welcoming introductory email that I received from Eve, the director of Honduras Child Alliance. After talking with her about the organization, its goals, and my own personal goals, I immediately felt at home with HCA.

Volunteers with children in Honduras
Some of the best volunteers and group of kids I've ever worked with!

What was your favorite part about El Porvenir, Honduras?

El Porvenir, Honduras is such an incredible place! It has natural beauty, with Caribbean beaches on one side of the organization and mountains on the other side! The community is also extremely welcoming and immediately make you feel right at home.

What made your experience abroad unique?

I believe that the relationships that I made during my experience abroad truly made it unique. I formed relationships with the children who attended our projects, the other volunteers, and the community members. To this day, three months after returning home, I keep in daily contact with some of my students from the projects, my fellow volunteers, and even some community members!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Eve, the director of HCA, was an immediate support! Upon interest in the organization, she provides necessary information as well as answers any questions that a potential volunteer might have. After applying, there is a Skype session with Eve to talk in more detail about the organization, its goals, and volunteer responsibilities.

Alongside Eve, volunteers are supported directly through the Project Manager. My project manager was named Jenna, and she was great! The Project Manager coordinates everything in Honduras and lives in the volunteer house with the volunteers; she is available 24/7 for support. Upon arrival, I was also able to Skype with her to learn more about the projects currently going on. HCA provides immense support of all forms for the volunteers.

What surprised you most about Honduras?

What surprised me the most about Honduras was definitely the overwhelming sense of community and welcoming feeling I felt while living there. My first impression and thoughts on Honduras were initially negative; I had been told by family and friends that it was “the most dangerous country in the world” and that I should “be careful.” Hearing this before leaving, I was nervous and apprehensive.

My first few days in Honduras, I still felt these negative feelings. But after I decided to leave those impressions brought on by others behind, I was able to form my own opinions and was open to the community. The locals were extremely friendly and welcoming as I walked the streets in my small town. I was constantly greeted with “holas” and “buenas!” as I walked to and from my classes with Honduras Child Alliance. My preconceived notions about Honduras quickly got lost in my mind as I formed my own, positive opinions. I was surprised at how safe and at home I felt in this “dangerous” country.

Volunteer with preschool children in Honduras
Preschool friends :)

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Honduras?

I wish I would have not listened to everyone’s opinions about Honduras and “how dangerous” of a country it was. These negative connotations surrounding Honduras and Central America really impacted my first week there. I was slightly withdrawn, apprehensive, and nervous; these negative feelings caused me to miss out on experiences that would have been amazing! Because of this, I wish I would have known prior to arriving that Honduras really is just like any other place; as long as you use common sense, it is safe and welcoming.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

A typical week day in El Porvenir, Honduras with Honduras Child Alliance starts out with volunteers waking up together in the volunteer house. My team and I usually made some coffee and sat on the patio discussing the events for the day. After this morning routine, I would look over the lesson plans for my first class of the day, which started at 9:00 a.m. All three class locations are within walking distance from the volunteer houses, so we would leave about 30 minutes before class started to walk there and get set-up for class. The walk to class was always one of my favorite parts of the day! The scenery is so beautiful and the community members always happily greeted us.

Once in class, my teaching team and I would teach a group of about 15-30 students whatever lesson was scheduled for that day. Each week typically had a theme or a unit to follow and the lesson plans went along with the theme. We always started class with free play and got to just be goofy and play games with the students. After that, we would go into an English immersion activity, followed by a healthy snack. After snack came the bulk of the lesson -- sometimes arts and crafts, computer time, Spanish literacy, among many other things. Class lasted two hours and then we would hug the kids goodbye for the day and walk back to our volunteer house for lunch.

The afternoon classes didn't start until 1:30 p.m, so we usually had about an hour and a half to two hours for a lunch break, during which we would prepare lunch, go to the beach, or just hang out together. After this break, we go to afternoon class and repeat the same schedule as the morning class. Around 3:30 p.m., afternoon classes ended and then we headed home for the evening.

HCA also has English classes for adults in the community, so on two days out of the week, I would head home and prepare for adult class, which was two hours long in the evening. On the days I didn't have adult class, I would hang out with my volunteer friends in the volunteer houses, at the local smoothie place, or the beach. Days were never boring in El Porvenir! Weekends with HCA are a different story!

The classes are operated Monday-Friday morning, and then volunteers have Saturday and Sunday for free time. During weekends, I would typically travel to other places around Honduras with my volunteer friends. We would leave Friday morning after morning classes ended and return Sunday afternoon. On the weekends that I didn't travel, I would spend time at the beach, watching movies with volunteers, playing volleyball with the community, or watching soccer matches at the soccer field.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

During my free time, I loved walking to the beach to relax and unwind from the days events. Since HCA is located right on the Carriage Ocean, the beach is just a minute away! I also spent a lot of time just hanging out with the other volunteers. On the weekends when I had Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday free, I would typically travel around Honduras. I went to the Bay Islands a few times, stayed in a Jungle Lodge that was right on a river, went zip-lining, and went to the Copan Mayan Ruins.

Copan Ruins in Honduras
Copan Ruins during some free time!

Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have allowed myself more time to stay! Originally I had only planned on being there for three months, but I quickly changed my leaving date when I arrived and ended up staying for four months. I would have LOVED to stay longer than that and easily would have if I had planned more and made different arrangements in my home-life!

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

The accommodation that HCA provides is great; it is clean, safe, and very secure. There are two volunteer houses, located right in the middle of town and on the beach. I shared a room with another girl for my duration of the time. We had our own bathroom for the two of us, which was great. There is a living room and fully equipped kitchen in each of the volunteer houses as well. Both houses also have wifi, so I was also able to contact family and friends back home while at either of the houses.

I especially loved that all of the volunteers became like a family to me -- we were all so close! Living together was a great experience. We frequently made "family" dinners and ate together, had movie nights, and always had music playing! We spent our mornings together on the patio or on the balcony overlooking the beach.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

During my first few days, I would say it was extremely difficult for me to communicate more than basic greetings with the locals and the children I was teaching. When I arrived in Honduras, I had basic Spanish that I thought would be just fine. But I quickly learned that I was not so confident in my speaking abilities and I became slightly withdrawn and self conscious when speaking to the locals. However, this was entirely untrue and was simply me being self conscious. Communicating with the locals was actually extremely easy, and fun. Once I got over my fear of confidence, the locals would correct my Spanish when necessary. And if I didn’t have the vocabulary or couldn’t understand them, gestures worked just fine! Even volunteers without any Spanish speaking abilities had no trouble communicating with the kids during classes. Smiles and gestures go a long way.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Honduras Child Alliance is located in an impoverished community and volunteers will be working with kids from some difficult backgrounds. Thus, volunteers should expect to experience some culture shock upon initial arrival. Living conditions will not be the same as at home and things will be very different. At first it will be scary and even discouraging -- I even considered leaving during my first few days -- but it is just culture shock! It will go away just as quickly as it came. Things that scared you or made you uncomfortable at first will soon become things that you love and will miss once back at home. So, expect to experience culture shock, but also know that it will go away and your time there will be nothing short of amazing!

How has your time volunteering abroad impacted your life?

When I say that my time abroad with Honduras Child Alliance was truly a life changing experience, I honestly mean it! I learned SO much about myself, my future goals, and what I wanted out of life. Spending my days working with the children in the community really opened up my eyes to all that life has to offer.

The people living in El Porvenir essentially have nothing compared to what I am use to having, living in the United States. But they are so incredibly happy, always smiling, and always willing to give. I learned what true happiness is during my time abroad. I formed some of the strongest relationships with other volunteers, the kids, and community members. I know now that I will continue to volunteer abroad, since it was the key to unlock true happiness in my life!

What made you decide to go back to Honduras?

I just returned from visiting Honduras and Honduras Child Alliance after only being home for a few months. I just HAD to go back and visit my community I lived in, the kids I worked with, and be immersed in the culture. I grew to love the Honduran lifestyle: laid back, peaceful, and happy. 

The people and the organization I worked with are definitely a major part in my desire to return to Honduras!

HCA had such an amazing impact on my life and me as a person—it’s something that I will never forget and constantly miss. I know that I will be going back there periodically for the rest of my life.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why? 

I would 100 percent recommend Honduras Child Alliance to others! I spent four amazing months with HCA, and had some of the best experiences of my life. I would love for others to be able to experience the same things that made me so happy. HCA truly works hard to make an impact in each child's life through the programs, and it shows! When the kids show up to our classes every day with smiling faces, eager to learn, you can't help but smile too. I believe that any volunteer that works with HCA will forever be positively impacted and have a life changing experience.