In March 1995, two dozen intrepid Drew students decided to spend their well-deserved spring break helping needy children in Honduras. They found their way to El Hogar de Amor y Esperenza, a home for abandoned and orphaned boys, where they painted the schoolhouse and doted on the children. They volunteered at Nuestras Pequeñas Rosas, one of only a few homes for girls in Honduras. Those experiences proved so powerful that the Drew Honduras Project – now in its 18th year – is the longest running service program on campus.
The Drew Honduras Project, which began at the urging of Nathaniel Raymond ’99 and Julia Schleck ’99, continues to be a completely student-run humanitarian group. The goal was to provide funding, labor and supplies to children’s homes in Honduras. Along the way, Drew students took on unexpected responsibilities and connected with people in ways that would not have been possible in larger humanitarian efforts.
“We were a bunch of enthusiastic, but uninformed, students trying to be helpful,” Schleck recalls of the first trip. “We quickly realized that this wasn’t a charity mission. It was a life-changing experience for us as well as a commitment to the people and place.”
These days, about a dozen students are selected by the student-run Honduras Project board and spend an entire academic year preparing for a two week trip in May. This includes logistics, like arranging work projects and transportation, in addition to fund-raising. Each participant pays their own way and makes contributions to the organizations with which they work – totaling about $850 per student. The group’s most infamous fundraiser, the Pants Auction, which raised thousands of dollars over the years, was the brainchild of Raymond, who convinced Drew faculty and national celebrities, including Kurt Vonnegut, to donate their trousers to be sold off for the cause.
Sandra Jamieson, professor of English, has been faculty advisor to the Honduras Project almost from the beginning. She sees her role as that of advocate and observer. “Each day in-country, we have a time of reflection. Invariably, a student will explain what they experienced in the context of their Drew knowledge. It might be an economics major talking about the Honduran economy, or a science student about public health.” Time and again, she has seen the trip transform students’ understanding of the world and their own place in it.
“On the last day in Copán we visited an orphanage,” recalls Nicolette Lynch ’13 of the most recent trip to Honduras. She says that the small children, though living in squalor and deprivation, greeted them with joy and excitement. “I cried because, despite their living conditions, these children could still smile,” Lynch says. “The time we spent playing with each one gave them the kind of attention I am pretty sure they rarely receive.”
“This experience taught me that I have the ability to help, and that sometimes the smallest things count the most,” she concluded.
Click here to learn more about the Honduras Project.