Parish of San Gaspar, Taulabe, Honduras
This reflection was submitted by Karen Gresser, from St. Mary Immaculate Conception Parish, West Bend (Visit 2011)
First of all, Padre and the people of Taulabe send their love and prayers to everyone at St. Mary’s. There have been many positive changes in Taulabe due the support of our parish community, both financially and spiritually. This relationship has given them hope and inspiration to move forward. It was visible so many times throughout the week.
About seven years ago our parish began the sponsorship program with two students. Today 56 students are being sponsored. We have had 40 students graduate and another twelve will graduate at the end of this school year. All through their education, Padre Tito instills in the students the importance of helping their family after they graduate. Josue, our former student, graduated in 2009 with an education in electricity. His mother died last summer, and at 20 years old he took over the role as head of the household. He has a job in his trade and is able to support the younger siblings. He works six days a week and often for 12 hours a day. But despite all of his struggles, he was always smiling when we would meet him on the street and he used the little free time he had to encourage other youth in the community by leading a youth group on Saturday nights. It is amazing what the effect of a little encouragement can be for these students who sometimes feel like no one cares about them. With people like Josue, they can see that they aren’t alone and his success serves as an example of what they can do with their own lives if they work hard and take advantage of the opportunities offered to them.
I was reminded again when visiting the elementary and middle school. Two years ago we started the Amigos Unidos coffee project to raise money for the elementary students of Taulabe who are unable to attend school because they cannot afford supplies. Money for this project is raised in our community through coffee sales, Christmas gift bags, January Bake/Book sales, as well as donations. Before the school year begins, the principal and teachers at the elementary school interview families to find out what each student needs to start school – shoes, uniform backpack or school supplies. In that way they are able to help more children. All of the supplies are purchased in Honduras and the teachers hired a person in Taulabe to make the shoes for the children. This year we had the pleasure of presenting these necessities to eighty children!!
At the middle school, the home economics teachers worked very hard to improve the condition of their classroom. Everything was old and not working very well. During the entire school year of 2010, these teachers made and sold snacks to the students and teachers at lunch time--(there is no school lunch). The principal was so impressed that he matched their profits. The money they earned was used to purchase supplies including paint, tile for the countertops and floors and appliances. During their summer vacation Marcela and her 2 colleagues worked all day, every day, along with a workman, putting in new tile counters, laying a new floor, installing new shelving and painting the walls. Marcela, by the way, is a member of the Twinning Committee in Taulabe.
A mountain community we visited was very proud to show us a new building that they are finishing that will house their co-op that has been functioning for 30 years. They also have a new school room where students can attend middle school. Previously the students got together and listened to a teacher on the radio. Now there are two teachers there one complete day a week. The other four days, the students gather at the school and work in groups to complete the work given by the teachers. Two people very involved in this community were in our scholarship program, and graduated last November. This is a huge step for the people of this village, and they are so proud of their accomplishments....
And I think that no discussion about Taulabe is complete without mentioning Padre Tito. He is such a strong, inspiring leader not only in the parish community but in the entire community of Taulabe and the outlying areas. His passion for ensuring the well-being of his community was shown in the most simple and profound ways. One afternoon, he invited us to his park. This is a piece of property that Padre bought, which started out as nothing more than a mess of overgrown vegetation. However, over the years Padre Tito has slowly been transforming this area into a beautiful park by cleaning up, planting new trees and flowers, and building bathroom facilities and a covered stage for entertainment. This is a work in progress that still has a ways to go but the steps already made have been amazing. This park will be open to the entire community of Taulabe, just one of the many gifts that Padre offers to inspire progress for all of the individuals living there.
In many ways, the Twinning Committee’s relationship can be likened to this park. It started out with many possibilities, but no one was really sure where it would go. As the years went on, this relationship grew stronger and more people began to see the positive effects that their hard work was yielding. As trees grew and flowers bloomed in Padre’s park, students progressed in their educations and passed this knowledge on to family and friends in the community. This success inspired more of you here to get involved and help more students. It is exciting to see the continuous progress being made between our two communities. These students have [taken] these scholarships and turned that money into a lifelong education, much greater than what they started with. In the same way, Padre transformed this land that he started with and turned it into a beautiful, inspiring representation of the continuous forward movement taking place in Taulabe. This project is not finished however. There is still much work to be done. As Padre enthusiastically explained all of his future plans for improving this park, it reminded me of the ever-growing relationship between San Gaspar and St. Mary’s.