Experience of a lifetime

Elise Hussa embraces students of local elementary school in Danli, Honduras during her trip with Castleton's Rotoract club.
Courtesy Photo.

After returning from their service trip to Honduras, Castleton students find their everyday problems to be miniscule and unimportant.

“This trip was definitely the experience of a lifetime,” said Rotaract Club member Emily Burke.

Castleton’s Rotaract club focuses mainly on community, club, financial and international service and professional development. Last year, the club organized many community service projects, but this year they concentrated more on international service.

Rotary groups have been volunteering in Honduras for the last 60 years, and this February, nine Castleton students were able to experience what life is like there.

After generous donations, spaghetti dinners, bingo nights, numerous bake sales and many other fund-raisers, the group was off to Central America.

But not without some complications and delays.

“Because of the huge storm in Boston our first flight was cancelled,” explained Daniel Warnecke. “Our bus trip turned out to be about 45 hours with barely any sleep.”

Rotaract Club President Maria Burt spent hours revising travel plans.

“Saturday night was a huge mess,” she said.

Elise Hussa said the trip there was a struggle.

“A couple of our busses were canceled, so we had to nap on the floors of the bus stations. We were in the same clothes for so long. It was pretty gross,” she said.

They finally arrived at Hotel Granada in Danli, Honduras and quickly realized that repeated days in one outfit and naps on bus station floors were nothing compared to how some Hondurans live.

“The culture shock was unreal,” said group member Emily Burke.

The city’s streets were filled with stray dogs, men on horses herding cattle, armed police guarding buildings, men carrying machetes, and trash.

“There was trash everywhere! Every inch of ground was covered in garbage,” said Burke.

“It’s just so different from the United States,” added Susan Gay.

The students remember being especially surprised by the divide of social classes. They saw the lower-economy families who lived in huts made from scraps and wealthy family’s huge, gated homes all within a two-hour drive from the bus station to their hotel.

“There was no middle class. You’re either dirt poor or you’re extremely rich,” said Warnecke.

The group got to see just how divided the social classes were when they volunteered at two local elementary schools.

“We really got to experience the two extremes when half of us went to a super poverty stricken school and the other half went to a wealthy school,” said Gay.

The wealthy students could speak English and had plenty of supplies while the poor children were taught in a one-room schoolhouse with just the basics.  

“A lot of their supplies were donated,” said Gay. “They had simple supplies like pens, paper and a few crayons.”

The club members said clean water was also hard to come by. Because of the weather delay, the group was unable to work on the construction project they had planned.

“We had originally planned on putting in water filtration systems because their water down there is so bad,” explained Warnecke. “We had to cover the faucets in our hotel because we would have gotten really sick if we had drank their water.”

Instead of the filtration project, the students began work elsewhere.

itation center for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics,” said Charlie Wilson.

They spent almost two full days painting the inside and outside of the rehabilitation building.

“That was quite the project,” added Warnecke.

Before they left the United States, the Rotaract Club members collected countless donated items and brought them in their personal luggage.

Hussa said the most powerful moment of the trip was when they distributed the donations.  

“There was one mother who got one single sanitary napkin. She gave me a huge hug and thanked me with tears in her eyes,” recalled Hussa. “It was amazing to see how happy that made her.”

That day really resonated with each group member.

“At one point, we had run out of donations so I had to turn families away. I watched one mother walk away looking so sad, another mother approached her and handed her half of the donations she had received,” Warnecke explained. “They hugged each other and cried … that hit me pretty hard.”

Wilson described a scene of children dragging him to the ground for a chance to receive a simple glow stick.

“They didn’t even know what they were, they just wanted them,” Wilson said, laughing.

Burt recalls one of her favorite moments of the trip.

“Being able to interact with the local Rotary Club was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. It really helped bridge the gap internationally,” she said.

After a week filled with volunteer work, laughs, struggles, tears and accomplishments, they headed back to Vermont with a whole new outlook.

“You definitely look at things differently when you get back,” said Warnecke.

The other group members seemed to agree.

“We have very small problems compared to the people in Honduras,” admitted Burke.

The Rotaract Club is planning to go back to Honduras again next year and encourage any interested students to join them. The club members meet every Monday at 5:30 in the Campus Center.

This trip was truly a bonding experience.

“I felt like I didn’t know the club members very well before we left. But now … now I really know these guys,” said Gay with a laugh.


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