Charla de Padres

Last night was my first official night at Charla de Padres, a bi-monthly discussion group with students’ parents and teachers that promotes community empowerment and cultural exchange. Activities range from guests lecturers, to group discussions, to fun activities. Topics are also varied, and in the past meetings, have focused on healthy eating habits, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, and effective discipline of children. Last night we had small group discussions about life in Honduras, after which we all rejoined the big group to talk about some of the things we discussed.

The other teachers who help with Charla, Raven and Caitlin, and I decided to bring coffee to the meeting. The ladies who work in the school cafeteria were kind enough to lend us the percolator, and we left the apartment in a moto-taxi at around 4:45, with plenty of time to make it to the 5:00 meeting. We had filled the percolator with purified water before leaving, which ended up being an unfortunate mistake. I held the percolator on my lap for the duration of our bumpy moto ride, which was not helped by the driver’s acceleration/deceleration habits. Long story short, I ended up with a good amount of water splashed on my pants. Great. This is one of the first impressions these women will have of me, as an educator of their children. A girl who can’t function without spilling all over herself.
We arrived at the church where we hold the Charla meetings around 4:50, and there were already women waiting outside. This is rare in a country that has it’s own time. Honduran time means that it’s not unusual for people attending a 3:00pm gathering to show up at 3:30 or even 4:00. But this shows you how important these meetings are for the parents at our school. We plugged in the percolator, and several mothers brought bread, cookies, or crackers to share with the group. Raven and Caitlin immediately started chatting with the attendees, but I was feeling a little shy. These women are the mothers of some of the kids that I teach, and I suddenly felt that I somehow needed their approval. What if they thought I was just some dumb gringa who couldn’t possibly be teaching their children anything meaningful? Not to mention I looked like I had wet my pants.

After about 15 minutes, we decided to begin the meeting. About 20 mothers (and one father!) showed up, and we pulled chairs together to form a large circle. A few of the kids also tagged along with their moms, which saved me from having to ask, “So who is your kid?” We started an icebreaker activity of “Never Have I Ever,” which I explained to the group after introducing myself. I got a lot of blank stares, so Raven explained it again. We started with me, and I said that I had never traveled to Guatemala. About a third of the group raised their hands, indicating that they had. When we continued around the circle, questions were kind of stuck on “visited this country/traveled to this place,” and of course someone said, “Never have I ever been to the United States.” Four gringas raised their hands. “Never have I ever been on a boat.” Four gringas and one Honduran raised their hands. “Never have I ever been on an airplane.” Four gringas, with their hands raised. These declarations of things they had never done were in no way meant to be polarizing. But when there are “Never Have I Ever” statements that will only be applicable to the privileged, I couldn’t help but feel a little ashamed to be raising my hand in front of these women, many of whom have never left Honduras. But then one woman blurted out, “Never have I ever killed someone,” and the group dissolved into laughter. And no, no one raised their hand.

We then split into three smaller groups and spread out across the church to discuss questions that Raven had come up with beforehand. Each group had different questions, and my first two were very similar. Question 1: What do you hope your children will gain from attending SJBS and Question 2: What hopes do you have for your children? The answers were unanimous: a good education and a better future. For the sake of keeping the conversation going, I tried to push for more. “Anything else?” Silence. Ok, different approach. “So your children are being taught the basics; math, science, English, etc. Is there anything else you want the teachers to communicate with your kids?” What am I even saying? I think I was trying to go for “What kind of life skills would you like the teachers to educate your kids about? Wisdom about the future?” But I was feeling pretty nervous with six Honduran women staring at me with puzzled expressions. I ended up just asking if they wanted the teachers to be strictly business or to have friendly relationships with the kids too. They all agreed that they wanted them to be friends and teachers. Duh.

My third question was “Do you have any concerns for the future?” Several mothers brought up their fear that after leaving SJBS, their kids’ bilingual education would come to a grinding halt. Not every family can afford to send their kids to a bilingual school in San Pedro. They wanted the beca (scholarship) to be available to more kids graduating each year. Let me explain the scholarship briefly. At the end of each year, two 9th grade students are awarded scholarships by BECA to continue at a bilingual high school. Nearly all students apply for these scholarships, and they have to complete an interview process with a panel made up of SJBS teachers and administrators. These teachers/admins send their recommendations to the BECA board members, who then decide which two students will receive the scholarships. In addition to the BECA teachers’ recommendations, they take into account the interviews, the student’s performance throughout their time at SJBS, and the financial situation of that student’s family. One high school scholarship is guaranteed to a student who has financial need.

And my fourth and personal favorite question, “What does it mean to be a woman in Honduras?” I hear a loud humph from my right. A little background on the topic: Honduras has typically been, and continues to be, a misogynistic society. There are double standards regarding what is acceptable behavior for men and women in Honduras, especially regarding alcohol use and adultery. Controlling or abusive husbands rarely faces any objection from the rest of the community. Women are constantly subjected to whistles and catcalls, and occasionally assaults, just while walking down the street. It’s just accepted as “the way it is.” Yes, I admit that I am generalizing. There are wonderful Honduran men out there that respect their girlfriends and wives, just as there are many women who participate in women’s rights activities in Honduras.

Back to Charla: the woman who humped had a lot to say. In Honduras, she said, to be a woman means that you are a mother and a father. You take care of the children, you clean the house, you do all the cooking, you work. The list continued. I remember thinking, “So what exactly do these men do?” I mean, why even keep them around? And then I realized the obviousness of it: for the sake of their children. Everything that these women do is for their children. Whether their husband is a good husband or father or not, these women know that they do not want their kids to grow up without a father. Having a male role model in Honduras can make a world of difference in a child’s life. Young boys and girls around the world look up to their fathers. Kicking out the father of your children could have serious long-term consequences for the kids’ mental health. Those same children might grow up with lingering feelings of abandonment and resentment, and in turn try to cope with those feelings by abusing drugs and/or alcohol, and the worries about children joining gangs are never far from their minds.

Ok, I’ll to wrap up my story. The whole Charla group reunited into a large circle, and we shared some of our responses. The women seemed genuinely excited to share their questions and the points they discussed. I left the meeting feeling a little embarrassed at my own shyness and inability to verbalize coherent thoughts. But I was also excited and proud to be a part of an organization that not only reaches out to students, but to their parents as well. In any case, it was a great first meeting for me, and I look forward to the rest of the year’s meetings. Any suggestions for further meeting themes or activities are welcome!