Friday, April 30, 2010

New Students from the Garbage Dump

By Melanie Miller

Today was the long awaited day when all the students we have been tutoring in the dump were set to begin in AFE. We were thrilled this morning to see each of their smiling faces milling around AFE this morning waiting for classes to begin!
They took the first big step into a new world today…now we continue to pray for their persistence in it.
We know these kids are persistent! At the beginning of our time teaching in the dump we offered a prize to the student who had the best attendance. At our party (previous entry) we had not one or two winners…we had 7! Let me present some our dedicated, bound-and-determined-to-win-that-prize, present-every-single-day, students…



Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Keeping Young Men in School

AFE’s junior high classes, while small, are predominately filled with young women. After the sixth grade it becomes a struggle to keep AFE’s kids in school, especially if they are young men.

As teenagers young men have the earning potential of an adult, and their families expect them to do so. Their communities perceive staying in school as a strange waste of time when they could be working.
This last year we have had to fight hard for six of the eight young men to continue. One young man left AFE to go back to the garbage dump (he’s now back at school again). Another young man was pulled out by his parents so he could work. Some just don’t seem to have the internal motivation to continue. We have had success convincing all eight to continue, but the struggle does not appear to be over.

To answer the felt-need of income potential in our young people, we partner with the Micah Project to teach the boys ready-to-use vocational skills in the afternoons. Three AFE boys have been accepted into this program. Another option is to teach the young people to make sellable handicrafts similar to those AFE’s mothers are creating.
Additionally, we hope to hold a workshop about money management for AFE’s teenagers and families so they can learn the importance of saving instead of working to provide for that day. Please keep this effort in prayer.

Contact Rey Diaz if you want to help with afterschool income-producing activities for our young people.

Trash to Treasure: AFE Mothers Generate Income and Hope

It is not uncommon for a mother at AFE to get up at dawn and sort through garbage until dusk. In the afternoon she does not oversee her children’s homework or ask how their day went. She leaves the household chores to her family until she arrives bone-tired in the evening with 100 L ($5) in her pocket: enough for dinner for the family’s dinner that evening. Not only does this lifestyle make it hard to involve parents in their children’s education, but it also makes it difficult to reach families for Christ.

Melanie Miller, a missionary-disciple from World Gospel Mission, has started a new business venture to empower AFE’s mothers to generate their own income in positive ways. Three days a week a group of six mothers gather in the upper room of AFE to bead-together works of art, chat about their lives, and receive Christian mentorship from a missionary-mother. They took out a loan to buy the supplies for their necklaces and with their successful it has already been paid back. Each necklace sells for 150 L ($6) and is available in AFE’s store. The small business is run by the women themselves.

Our pioneering, entrepreneur mothers range in ages from 19 to 30.

The best part about the business is that the women are turning trash into treasure. They find the paper for the beads in the dump and turn it into beautiful creations.

One afternoon Rey and I stopped on a bridge to see why a crowd had gathered. It was the rainy season and the Rio Choluteca was bloated and running feverishly. Despite the strong current, a young calf had ventured bravely into the water to meet his mother on the other side, but was being washed down stream. The calf bleated and his mother moaned while the crowd watched, clutching nervously at the railing. “Come on, baby-calf! YOU CAN DO IT!” a little girl yelled. Somehow, after ten minutes of struggle, the calf found his footing and made it to the other side. Applause rang out over the bridge.

Sometimes the children of AFE remind me of that brave little calf trying to cross a strong river current. The number of children who succeed in Honduras’ education system is discouraging. US Aid found that:

“At present, 86% of Hondurans complete sixth grade, but fewer than 45% complete the ninth grade and fewer than 25% complete high school. Only six percent continue to complete a university education. Despite an increasing elementary school completion rate, Honduras has the lowest secondary school enrollment rate in Latin America” (

Elise (and Walesca sometimes) help AFE with marketing and communications.

With no more than a sixth grade education, the cycle of poverty continues, as does the fragmentation of families, drug and alcohol abuse, child labor, and the maltreatment of children. The rate of educational success is even more discouraging within the garbage dump community where many parents have no more than a third-grade education.

When a child leaves AFE (for whatever reason) they forfeit more than educational opportunities. They also leave their Christian community, positive mentors, pastors and a church behind. They decide (or it’s decided for them) to take a path that does not have abundant life as its destination. For this reason, AFE does whatever it takes to keep its students in school. This issue of AFE’s newsletter will highlight some of our new strategies to fight the drop-out rate affecting our community. Please pray that AFE’s children will be like the young calf that entered the river with courage, and kept his eyes on the Father as he attempted such a difficult feat.

Back to Our Roots: Classes Begin Again in the Garbage Dump

Nine years ago Jeony and Jesy Ordo┼łez climbed the dusty road to Tegucigalpa´s landfill and pioneered the first classes reaching children of the garbage dump. Their first effort birthed tremendous success. AFE´s bright, successful 10th grade class were Jeony and Jessy´s original students. When they were six and seven years old, these first students sat on discarded tires and used their knees as desks to scratch out their first letters.

Since that time, AFE´s teaching staff has grown to sixteen qualified educators. Its enrollment has grown to 150 children, each connected to the garbage dump in some way, all learning in excellent classrooms and facilities.

Amor, Fe y Esperanza has accomplished so much since its humble beginnings. Yet over the last couple of years we have noticed a startling trend. Many of the children newest to school from the garbage dump have started strong in the beginning of the year, only to slowly drop out and go back to the work in the trash. It is hard to imagine why any child would choose garbage collecting over school. Perhaps it’s the freedom and disposable income (although its miniscule) available in trash-picking. Perhaps it’s the pressure to help provide for their families. Whatever the reason, perhaps it is time for us to refocus our efforts and get back to our roots.

Marvin and Daisy enjoy classes.

This year AFE has begun a strategy to keep new children at AFE for the entire year, even until they graduate high school. At the beginning of each year we will provide new students with a transition process from the dump to the classroom. By teaching children where they feel comfortable, we hope to show them that learning is fun, necessary and invaluable. Melanie Miller, who has helped teach classes in the dump describes the experience this way:

“Teaching in the dump is neither without its challenges nor without its joys. Daily, the staff is greeted with smiles and hugs of waiting students. Discarded tires and cracked pails serve as chairs, but not one complaint is heard. Needled syringes are a play thing and dingy dogs, an armrest. Any and every activity presented is greeted with rapt attention. Sadly, there are 14 year olds in 3rd grade and 3rd graders who don’t know their alphabet.”

The classes span several different areas, divided by grade level. Adult education is offered. Yet, just over the hill, families opt to work instead of take an hour off for school. Mothers encourage their children to sort through garbage instead of learning how to read and write.

Ruth shows the little lamb she made.

In January this new effort took off. Just three months later, twenty-six new children (who worked in garbage themselves), are signed up for classes at AFE. Twenty-six more children will have the chance at a bright future.

While our new (or rather, old) strategy is bearing fruit, the problem of child labor in the dump continues. Soon it will be time to offer more than simply a carrot. Our prayer is that God will provide the means, perhaps through political power, to urge the government to enforce child labor laws already in existence.

“There is a life of dignity, joy and freedom AFE wants to offer these children. They are beautiful and smart and desperately precious. And while they may not know it yet…it is our job to show them.” (Melanie Miller).

Wendy Figureoa: Case Worker Extraordinaire

She stands no more than 5´1”, an unassuming woman with soft eyes. She could be any Hondure┼ła, but there is none better suited to serve as AFE´s new caseworker.

* * *
She picked her way through the dirt to a house on the edge of a busy street, pieced together from garbage, vacant except for dogs milling about the yard. Yesterday one of AFE´s new students, fresh from the garbage dump, came to school but wouldn´t enter class. Sandra was too shy to tell her teacher why. She walked behind Wendy Figueroa as they went to visit her home and her mother. After the first knock on the aluminum gate it was apparent that no one was home. The only sound came from the flies landing on the laundry. But Wendy persisted. And persisted. Until a small woman with a suspicious scowl appeared in the doorway. As Wendy chatted with her, smiling gently, I saw the woman’s face change.

Although Wendy serves as AFE’s “eyes” in the communities, watching for home situations that are suspicious of child abuse, families immediately recognize her as their friend and advocate. At the same time, they know that AFE will come in strong with police and CPS if Wendy has anything suspicious to report to them.

With Wendy acting in this new position, the home life has changed for one young woman at AFE. Last fall the thirteen-year old girl confessed that her drunken father would come into her bed at night, instead of her mother’s, and she was afraid. When she voiced her fears to her mother she denied the problem. Yet, after Wendy’s home visit, the young girl’s mother and older brother have taken an active role in her protection. The young girl once again sleeps peacefully alone in her own bed.

When a tenth-grade boy sent a note to AFE saying that he was dropping out of school to work, Wendy visited his parents to remind them that education is a right owed to every child in Honduras. Jeyson is back in school today.

AFE has high hopes for what Wendy can accomplish in her new caseworker position. Thanks to Orphan Outreach who has donated the salary and helped train Wendy for her important role.