Since our founding in 2003, Just Because We Care has made a great deal of progress towards ending the cycle of poverty on the mountain. We began by feeding the children one day per week. There were 99 of them in school at that point in time. We held our first golf tournament and raised $21,000. And finally, we began collecting data that would help us understand if we were making progress with the children, and if so, how much. Here’s what we found:
Today, we feed the students five days per week. Every morning, each student gets a glass of milk and a vitamin. We’ve consulted with a nutritionist to design a lunch menu that will provide maximum nutrition each day for our budget. And an amazing thing happens when you feed the kids every day. Their parents keep them in school because in most cases, it’s the only chance they have to eat. They can stay awake in class because they’re not hungry. The have the mental stamina to concentrate and learn. As the above chart illustrates, enrollment is up and grades have risen dramatically. In fact, Just Because has recently learned that the grades our students are achieving are among the highest in the region. We are providing excellent education for our elementary school students. But it doesn’t stop there.
In 2004, we sent our first three students to high school. This was made possible through special sponsorships by Just Because supporters to pay the expense. At that time, only one person on the mountain, our kindergarten teacher, had ever gone to high school. The high school was down the mountain, in town, so students had to make their way down the mountain each morning, pay for transportation to get to school, then make the trip back each afternoon. Yet they were learning, and so excited to have the opportunity.
In 2006, with a desire to change more and make even more progress on the mountain, Bob and Diane Wamhoff built a vocational school on the mountain. The vocational school would allow students who couldn’t go to high school to learn a trade. They enlisted the help of residents of the mountain to perform the construction. Some residents were skeptical, but in the end, the original call for 50 volunteers resulted in 98 people showing up to build the school. Once completed, the vocational school began holding classes in things like carpentry, sewing, auto mechanics, baking, computers, and even piñata making. Many students have learned skills that have led them to better paying jobs, allowing them to provide for their families and begin giving back to the community.
As the government watched the progress on the mountain, they began giving Just Because more responsibility for educating the children. For the last several years, we’ve added a grade level to the school. By 2015, we will run a full high school, allowing us to educate children on the mountain from kindergarten through 11th grade (the last year of Honduran high school).
In 2011, the Just Because community was proud to see our first students go off to college. Three went that year, and today, we have eight students attending college who have dreams of becoming teachers, psychologists, and even lawyers.
In a relatively short time, with the vision and passion of one woman from St. Charles, Missouri, the community has changed, and the stronghold of poverty there is very slowly beginning to loosen its grip.