Sustainable Housing Project

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Angie's trip to Honduras November 14-19, 2016

The trip to Honduras with Dr. Kathleen Stone and Dr. Elizabeth Barker was filled with productive meetings and many PR moments. We originally had more plans for our time, but we were in meetings with Aleyda Spetnagel and Rosa Margarita Rodriguez much of the time. Aleyda is the director of the new nursing school and Margarita will be our nursing instructor. 

On Tuesday, we had a meeting in the morning with the Director of Hospital del Sur, Dr. Saúl Júarez, to discuss the new Nursing High School and how we can collaborate with the hospital. We also checked on the progress on the lactation project that we have been working on. Dr. Juarez expressed his enthusiasm for the new nursing high school program. He stated that he is willing to help us by allowing our students to do their practical hours in the hospital.

The Lactation project is in collaboration with the company Medela. They donated 5 lactation pumps earlier this year, along with the one donated through Dr. Kathy Stone. Both Dr. Stone and Dr. Barker helped seek funding for the construction of a room to take care of the lactation equipment. Part of the agreement between Medela and the Hospital del Sur was the hiring and training of a nurse who would be the Lactation Coordinator of the Hospital. That will be fulfilled in January when the program will officially begin. We did training last March with the head doctor (Dra. Martha Cano) and a nurse on the Educational committee of the hospital (Lic. Iris Lorena Rodriguez). 

The pumps arrived in May, but we have been in the process of collecting baseline data as part of the research involved in this project. The Hospital del Sur data is being compared to data that is being collected in India. In India, they have found that the increase of the amount of milk that a mother produces at 6 months and a year post-birth is directly related to the use of a lactation pump within the first two hours post-partum.

We were excited to see the Lactation room that has been built. There is a refrigerator (eventually, a milk bank will be set up), microwave, sink, and water storage system. We still lack a shelf unit to be built, and we are checking into a water filtration system for the room. All of this was bought with donations.

In the afternoon, we met again with Margarita, the nursing coordinator and instructor for the nursing high school. We discussed the proposed curriculum and schedule for the 3-year program. We met for several hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, adjusting the program (combining some of the courses and rearranging the classes from simple to complex) that we would later propose to the Minister of Education.

We enjoyed the opportunity to meet with the proposed instructors for the new schoo. It seems to be a great group of teachers, who are open to suggestions from us on how to integrate nursing principles and examples into the curriculum of each course.

On Wednesday afternoon, we went to the Sémesur Hospital to meet with a group of nurses and the administration to also talk about the nursing high school. We have already received an agreement with them to use their hospital for part of the practical experience for the nursing students. They are very excited about the program. They requested that we continue to do continuing educational teaching with the annual nursing brigade, and also to involve the nursing school.

Angie was not particularly excited to be seated at the front table. 
On Thursday morning, November 17, almost 100 specially invited guests came to the Hotel Rivera hotel to learn about the new High School Nursing program as presented by the Ministry of Education. 

Interviewing with the local TV stations. 
There were around 12 different television stations represented at the gathering, where Gloria Arieta, Laurie Potter (as representative of the mission), Quintin Soriano (the mayor of Choluteca), the Regional Director of Education (Lic Lennin Enrique Burgos Arce), and the Regional Director of Health (Dr. Jose Maria ), and I were interviewed. There was a lot of excitement about the new program.

In the afternoon on Thursday, the specialists, such as doctors and nurses, and health care personnel were given an opportunity to ask questions and express their opinions about the program proposal. There was a good dialogue and exchange of ideas.

Then, at 5 PM, Dr. Barker, Kathy Stone, and I met with the Education committee, who had worked on the program, to propose the combination of some of the classes, and a different order of the classes, from simple to complex. We also discussed the proposed idea of a four-year program, with the fourth year being the practical experience. We suggested that the practical experience will be completed at the time of the theory of each class (Pediatrics theory, with Peds clinicals, for example). We also suggested that we offer a specialty nursing year for their fourth year, which would be optional (For example, School nursing or Agroindustrial nursing). 
Meeting with Quintin Soriano, Choluteca mayor. 

On Friday, November 18th, specialists from all the different curriculum areas came to validate the curriculum. They worked all day on this. Some of the areas were not represented, so the following week, Margarita had to go find help at the Hospital del Sur to complete the validation.

We went to Tegucigalpa in the afternoon and then flew back to the US on Saturday. It was a very positive trip. We were able to complete and contribute to the validation process for the nursing school.

We can't wait to get back to Honduras to get directly involved again. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Guest Post-Pastor Greg Leeth

We appreciate Greg and Teresa Leeth for their service to the missionaries in Honduras. They recently visited the ministry in Choluteca and graciously agreed to write a guest blog telling about their visit-Larry

The challenges faced by many in the world never cease to astonish me. Poverty, illness and a lack of opportunity are throughout the world. And Choluteca, Honduras is no exception. The basic need for homes, clean water, education and daily food are a part of everyday life for those who live in this most southern Department (State) of Honduras.

Recently while in the city providing pastoral support to missionaries through Member Health WGM, within which my wife and I serve, I had the opportunity to see these challenges first hand. And while the challenges are there, so are answers. Answers through community development efforts in these needed areas alongside the work of the Shalom church lead by Pastor David, are making a “daily” difference.

What a privilege to stand inside a new block home where there is no worry for the family of collapse from rain nor wind as would be the case in the old, adobe structure still standing beside the new one. The look of satisfaction and hope is present. Or to see the students involved in learning a trade at the technical school which provides a future income for themselves and their families. Or to think of the great opportunity of the February 2017 start of nurses training that will not only provide a profession for those who complete the program but also medical assistance to the many throughout the communities who have health issues as they work in local hospitals and clinics. And then there are English classes, personal hygiene instruction, gardening and other programs to help supply food necessities.

What a joy also to see the many works of the church to evangelize the community and to reach out to the surrounding villages where strong churches have been birthed and continue to grow in the Lord. Lives are being changed as husbands, wives and children are being taught the truths of the Gospel. It is an honor to hear of plans for outreach specifically to the men of the community for the purpose of maximum impact upon the local families.

The hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being spread as the missionary and the church seek the Lord’s guidance for the best ways to meet these basics of life. Without doubt, the Lord is being glorified as lives are being helped and changed through community development and evangelism. The faces and testimonies of those touched prove it!

The call is ours to also assist. The Church body is key in the work of missions in Choluteca. Larry and Angie Overholt, Tim and Aleyda Spetnagel and Sarah Larson need us to encourage, prayer for and to help provide to them as they work tirelessly to accomplish the goals of the ministry in Choluteca, Honduras.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Developing a model home for Honduras

Honduras is a lower-middle income country in Central America. Throughout the country, there is great inequality of wealth and income. Nearly 60% of the population lives in poverty. Approximately two-fifths of the population lives in conditions of extreme poverty. The problem is even greater in rural areas among agricultural laborers (USAID, 2011). Interest rates are high and very few people are able to invest in good housing. Many people live in substandard housing.

A new house being built in front of the old one.
The climate conditions in Honduras compound the poor living conditions. Older adobe homes have
been damaged by recent seasonal heavy rains, flooding, and occasional earthquake tremors. Roofs are built out of whatever material is available and are leaky and hot. Many homes do not have concrete floors, allowing water to run into the sunken interior rooms.

Poor housing contributes to chronic health problems. While adobe brick construction is a relatively cheap method of construction, the earthen bricks allow potentially disease-carrying insects to live in the crevices. Cooking stoves are commonly built inside of homes with no chimney for the smoke to escape. Asthma cases are common. The dampness inside the homes encourages the growth of mold and causes respiratory problems.

As missionaries working with World Gospel Mission, we moved to southern Honduras immediately after Hurricane Mitch. Hundreds of families had lost their homes during the hurricane. Southern Honduras was especially hard-hit. The new church that was being established immediately began to respond to the need for helping provide housing in the community. They took on the goal of building a house each year for a needy family.

In the past couple of years, people in the church realized the need to begin developing a sustainable model for house construction. A low-cost model with available financing for poor families was urgently needed. We have been working to develop a housing model that provides options for building dignified housing with the poor.

You can be a part of our team. People of all ages and from various backgrounds have helped us set up a sustainable housing model for southern Honduras. We are now ready to expand the model.

The Ohio State University College of Engineering partnered with World Gospel Mission and with our local Shalom Church in Choluteca, Honduras to design a construction model using locally available materials. The goal was to design and build a pilot home and sustainable funding model that would be culturally acceptable and available to low-income families.

Skyping with OSU Engineering students. 
Teams of OSU students (view video) have built two model homes. They have worked alongside local Honduras construction workers and with home owners building not only houses but making relationships that continue to reach across international borders.

Several groups from the United States go to Choluteca every year to help build homes. They work alongside the future owners of the houses and with people from the community.

An essential element of the team was the creation of a rotating fund that is administered by our church's national credit union. A loan model has been set up where the credit union administers the financing of the houses. Through charitable donations, provisions are made to lower the payments for families who are not able to pay the full amount. It is vitally important that the clients take ownership of their homes. So far, the project has been a great success.

This year our Choluteca team has helped build four family homes. In addition, they are building a parsonage for one of our local churches, and they are in the process of building a dormitory for our vocational school.

You can help make a difference. Possible action steps:
  • Consider joining one of our construction teams.
  • Make a contribution to our rotating fund or to help finish build the Amigos Church parsonage. (account: 25498, Lizzy housing)
  • Pray that our local church will continue to learn how to best help needy families. 

House built by our Shalom Church with funds
donated by a hispanic church in the States.

House built by OSU students. 

Adriana's adobe house was not able to be
repaired after recent earthquake tremors. 

Adriana's new house was built by the Shalom Church.

USAID. (April, 2011). Country Profile: Honduras-Property Rights and Resource Governance Profile. Retrieved February, 2, 2016, from

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What went right?

As children, we started learning even before attending school. When we came into contact with the "hot iron" or similar learning experiences, we recognized very quickly that it is not a pleasant experience, where we wanted to go back and relive the pain. To a great extent we "live and learn".

When we attended school, we were expected to learn analytically. As we went through our first years of college, the scientific method became our mantra. We were expected to build knowledge on that which could be "proven". Anything else was suspect as knowledge, and of lesser value academically.

As adults, a greater portion of our learning takes place through our everyday life experiences.  In order to learn, we don't need to repeatedly touch the iron to see if we get burned.  Life-long learning is also much more involved than sitting down and memorizing the periodic table or analyzing scientific theories. We obtain much of our new knowledge at times when we are not even thinking about learning. Sometimes we still have to touch things in order to learn, but as adults, we learn holistically by engaging all of our senses with our environment and learning through our social contact of others. We become our own best teachers by socially participating in the learning process.

In our learning experiences as adults, we still take everyday tests of our accumulated knowledge and our application of that knowledge. The tests come in very different forms than we are used to taking in the formal classroom. The tests that we take in everyday life are actually much more effective in helping us learn. We learn to combine our classroom learning with experiential learning. Our life tests actually help us form, reform and transform our worldview which includes our belief systems, our values, and our perspectives on life. Transformative learning takes place when we go through the "process of examining, questioning, and revising" (Taylor & Cranton, 2012) our perceptions of our own experiences.

Some of our greatest learning opportunities take place when we go back and reflect on the mistakes others have made, as well as our own mistakes. We can also learn from what we ourselves and others do well. We learn from failures and successes. Hopefully, in the end, our experience will create purposeful learning, as well as, good teaching opportunities.

The negative experiences in life tend to draw most of the attention. We only need to take a look at today's news articles to confirm that emphasis is placed on the negative news events. Relatively little television prime time or newspaper front page space are dedicated to reporting the good news or in suggesting how we can improve on a bad situation.

As lifelong learners, we need to be open to new ways to broaden our experiences. The Ohio State University, Cedarville University, and other universities offer study abroad programs to southern Honduras. Study abroad for university students is often underappreciated, but it can be a valuable opportunity for students to learn outside the formal classroom.  Learning does not come without risks, especially when traveling to certain countries outside the US.

Though learning can be costly, the experiences with Study Abroad students in Honduras has been overwhelmingly positive. Through the experience, university students, faculty members, project hosts, and local community members have all gained new valuable knowledge. The study abroad experience can not be evaluated simply by analytical methods. There are just too many experiences that can not be measured quantitatively. Most importantly, part of the learning that takes place comes through long-term relationships which are being built.

It's impossible to know who learns the most when a group of US university students joins a group of ladies in southern Honduras to cook spaghetti over an earthen-stove fueled by firewood. The learning experience has little to do with the activity of cooking. Everyone knows how to cook spaghetti. The method of cooking is not the most important part of the contribution to learning. Learning takes place between university students and Honduran ladies because of the experience of building new relationships. The spaghetti will soon be forgotten but the memories of people from two very different cultures coming together for a few hours will be remembered. Even though language difficulty is a partial barrier to communication, the sounds of laughing together and stirring the spaghetti in an unbearably hot kitchen will remain fresh in everyone's minds for years to come.

The value of the flouride being painted on children's teeth will be unapparent to the casual observer. Maybe someone ten years from now will notice that the teenagers from a few villages in southern Honduras have healthier teeth than others, but more importantly, those teenagers will remember that someone cared enough to invest in their lives. Those who came as students will always know that they have impacted lives in a way that is not measurable by any regular classroom assessment. Both will remember the important lessons that were learned together.

Though few people who have never experienced being on a medical brigade will truly understand the importance of that visit to local villagers, the knowledge gained by a few minutes of
interaction with an OSU Nursing student may greatly improve their health. Once they are detected with a high blood glucose level they can begin to use that knowledge to make lifestyle changes or obtain the medicine that they need. Women who are detected with early stages of uterine cancer can often be cured.

The house that is built by university students alongside local community members is much more than a technological improvement over the cardboard and plastic houses that many people live in. The construction of the new house that includes an efficient wood-cooking stove and a new
latrine provides valuable learning experiences to villagers and university students alike. The knowledge gained involves more than designing and building a house. The improved lifestyle and better health are not the only positive outcomes from the experience. While many local villagers have not gotten the answer to "Why ?" someone from another country would come to help them, they continue to reflect on the experience. Every day the answer becomes a bit more understandable.

Together, we continue to learn.

Taylor, Edward W.; Cranton, Patricia (2012-04-06). The Handbook of Transformative Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice (p. 5). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

What went wrong?

If you have ever visited Honduras or any one of many other countries that are considered to be a developing country, you have likely seen development projects that have not worked out as planned. Everyone involved in the projects meant well. They saw a need that they wanted to help meet. Whether it was national governments, local governments, NGOs, universities, or individuals involved in the project, all made an effort to do good. Vast amounts of resources were often invested in planning, providing materials, and covering travel expenses. Everyone expected success, but in the end, something was lacking. 

Once the funds ran out, once the NGOs and church teams went home, or when the politicians left office, the projects often became unsustainable in local communities. They may last for a couple of years, but then the water projects run dry. Houses may have been left finished but often remain uninhabited or are soon in disrepair. Agriculture projects never even produced an initial harvest of the final hoped-for bountiful harvest. Technologies lasted as long as the people who installed the project remained, but quickly stopped functioning once they left. Promises were made, but ultimately were not fulfilled. As a result, oftentimes resentment builds between the donor organization and those who are recipients of the donations. Relationships become damaged and people stop answering inquiries into the reasons why the project has failed.

What went wrong? Was the technology unsustainable? Was it a design failure? Was the failure due to a lack of education? Was the project even one that the community or individuals really needed or wanted?

We have not only seen failed projects, we have participated first-hand in our share of them. I've found myself at times asking myself, for example, how to get people to want an aquaponics project in their backyard when they don't even have any concept of aquaponics. They could not possibly want aquaponics if they have never before heard of aquaponics. 

Last year we visited a remote community where internet had been installed by some organization, but the project had been totally abandoned by the time we visited the community. We had been asked to take a medical brigade to the community located on top of the mountain, and to see if there were other ways that we could help out with developing the area.

It took us about an hour to drive the rough rocky road, even though the village was located only a few miles away from our home. When we arrived at the community, we were told that the community consisted mostly of young children and women. The men were seasonal workers in the large farms that are located along the southern coast of Honduras. They worked too far away to be able to commute daily to their homes.

The village had a government health center, but there was
very little medicine on the shelves. It was vacation time so there were no children in the school. About the only other activity that we saw was with the local police post. One policeman was present and he told us how he had needed to look for medical attention back in the city when he had wrecked his motorcycle.

One room was set up as a computer laboratory. What really caught our attention was the large bank of deep cell batteries stacked outside the room and the wires dangling from the solar panels nearby. When we asked about the equipment, one of the community members proudly told us that everything had worked at one time, and they even had the internet connections to the school. The equipment had been installed some time after Hurricane Mitch had hit Honduras in 1999.

It had not lasted long though, and everything had been disconnected for several years. The assumption was that we would know how to get it working again and would have the resources necessary to keep the community connected with the outside world by internet. We had neither the technical knowledge to get things going nor the resources to sustain such a project. 

What could we do? The only thing we could offer was bringing a medical brigade to the community. We were unable to provide regular health support to the community. It was so close but too far away for us to commit to any long-term arrangement. Possibly, the medical brigade could be of some support.

The medical brigade attended the community for one day. They even left extra medicines to be used in the government clinic. But the frustration was overwhelming in not being able to adequately meet the health needs of the community. After seeing just a few patients, it was obvious that one of the greatest needs in the community was to have water. They didn't ask for clean water, they just needed water. Honduras has a pronounced dry season, especially in the southern part of the country. It usually does not rain from December-May. One of the patients was told that her health problems were likely related to not drinking enough water. She was dehydrated. When asked how much water she drank each day, she motioned with her finger and thumb and said about a half a glass was all she could get on a daily basis.

I've been asking myself ever since "What went wrong in San Ramon? Hopefully, we can all learn from our experiences.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What now?

     As part of a class assignment, I was recently asked what I plan to do with my PhD once I finish at Ohio State. Assuming that Angie and I are capable of working until the the age of 70 years old, I have about 10 more years of active ministry to do. Hopefully, we can still continue contributing to the educational work beyond that age as well.
     We are once again in a transition stage. The career motto of the missionary is to “Always be working yourself out of a job.” We have turned Choluteca regional project management over to others and are now helping mentor those people and support them in any way possible. I see my future support role as becoming involved in a couple of ways: facilitating US students in Study Abroad experiences, and helping to develop agricultural education in Honduras.
Adjusting a wheel chair.
Adjusting a donated wheel chair.
            For several years, we have hosted university students for short-term learning experiences in Honduras. Students mainly come during Spring break and during the Summer semester. We have hosted students from Cedarville University, Asbury University, and Taylor University. By far, the biggest group of students come from Ohio State. We have nearly 100 students coming every year from the Colleges of Nursing, Medicine, Linguistics, Engineering, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Now we are also having students traveling to Choluteca from Ohio High School FFA programs. 
     Our work with high school and university students has a two-directional purpose. These students who come from the US universities and high schools have a lot to contribute to Honduras. They contribute to local Choluteca projects that make lives better for Hondurans. We believe that the projects that they do are important but of secondary importance. More importantly, we have found that by simply coming and being there in Honduras, and by developing friendships with Hondurans, the Ohio high school students and university students have contributed in a way that they could never have anticipated. I know dozens of Hondurans who will proudly say, “I have a friend in the States.” Their faces light up and they can tell me their friend's name, how they got to know the student from the States, and, very likely, let me know when that friend is coming back. When the Ohio State medical brigade returns a second year to a village outside of Choluteca, they will likely be welcomed by a banner that says “Welcome back Ohio State”.
            All students traveling to Honduras expect to learn from the experience. We emphasize experiential learning. There is no way to adequately prepare students to anticipate what they will learn. Experiential learning cannot be completely planned. The syllabus has to be flexible. Students are initially shocked by what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. They quickly get their senses adjusted to the dramatic change from what they have been accustomed in the past and begin to see the assets and potential that exists among the Honduran people.
            I hope to continue facilitating this learning process of both Hondurans and US students. We have the advantage of being able to see the positive learning that takes place in both directions. Hondurans learn from North Americans and US students learn from Hondurans. Personally, I am fortunate to be able to learn something from both.
            Also, what I have learned by studying the history of agricultural and extension education in America has helped prepare me to do a better job in working with both Hondurans and US students who visit Honduras. By understanding the history of both countries I better understand some of the differences in development between them. If there had never been a Seaman Knapp, A. B. Graham, or a Rufus Stimson, there is no guarantee that agricultural education would look the way it does in the United States. On the other hand, if a decision or two had been made differently in Honduras a hundred years ago, agricultural education would likely be more advanced now in that country.
            Some ideas for my future involvement in agriculture education:
1. My dream for the future is be able in some way to facilitate the expansion of the Study Abroad experience of US students going to Honduras. I’m not totally sure what that might look like, but I can anticipate the development of new university courses focusing on experiential learning which would be done in Honduras and other countries. The advancement of today’s technology would allow for the proper supervision of course objectives. If we can have on-line courses or distance course, these courses would be even more valuable when done in an international setting.
2. By having studied the history of agricultural and extension education in America, I will be better prepared to host Ohio State students who are interested in doing graduate study research in Honduras. This research will lead to master’s theses, doctoral dissertations, and peer-reviewed articles within the discipline. There is certainly an opportunity to learn more through research done in Honduras.
3. I expect to apply what I have learned from classes at Ohio State to help initiate new programs in Choluteca and throughout Honduras. The US historical models of high-school agricultural education and of 4-H are models that should be presented as options to consider for adopting or adapting for future agricultural education in Honduras. The tri-part concept of classroom/laboratory instruction, experiential learning, and engagement through leadership training is a model that we have been introducing to several communities in Choluteca. It is not radically different than what many Honduran teachers are already doing. We are simply challenged to come alongside and encourage them. Using the 4-H model that “empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults" ( is an opportunity to prepare Honduran young people to participate in the positive transformation of their communities.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Supervised Agricultural Education-A vision for Honduras

Agriculture can be a lot of fun for young people everywhere. One of the highlights, when I was in FFA as a high school student many, many years ago, was my participation in a Supervised Agricultural Education (SAE) project. I chose a project for school that I was already obligated to do at home.

Even though working in the garden was one of my daily assigned tasks every spring and summer while growing up, the gardening job took on new meaning when I was able to do some of the planning myself. At home, I was able to apply what I had learned in the classroom. Getting high school credit for doing my home chores made a lot of practical sense to me. I was especially proud when my vocational agriculture teacher made a home visit to see how my project was doing. He checked my record keeping and spent time visiting with my family. I was proud to be able to show what I was capable of growing at home on my own.

Maybe its time to implement something similar to the SAE in our education program in Choluteca. How might the three component model (instruction, experience, and leadership) of agricultural education that has evolved in the United States be adapted to our work in Honduras?

Working on test plots at the vocational school.
Honduras is an agricultural-based country, but formal agricultural education is not emphasized across the country at the high school level. In Choluteca, a city of 180,000 people, and the surrounding communities, we know of only two high schools that teach agriculture. Those high school programs are severely limited in classroom facilities, laboratory equipment, and practical experience opportunities. I am continually reminded of a statement told to me last spring by a local community official in one of the areas where we have been working. He told me that, "The young people in our community have lost all knowledge of how to produce their own food." There seems to be a great need for agricultural education in Honduras.
Supervised Agricultural Education

Supervised agricultural education projects in Choluteca would give high school and vocational school students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to projects which would give them additional real world experience. Teacher-supervised projects would be a part of the students' school work. We have the ideal situation of being able to build on the work we have already been doing with two different schools.
A new home for a mother in waiting. 

Last summer (2015), high school students from Ohio collaborated with a public high school in Choluteca in establishing a new project with raising hogs. The Ohio students worked hand-in-hand with Choluteca students to build a pen, and donated the funds for the purchase of a gilt which would be the start of a supervised agricultural education project.

Teaching a student to trim ornamentals at
the vocational school.
A fresh litter 15 pigs.