A Short BECA Visit with Long-Lasting Value
By Rachel and Curtis Rigby
For the better part of a decade, I had heard about BECA from Jaime Tackett Koppel, my Washington, DC area neighbor and friend. I saw how much time she dedicated to supporting this organization she had founded 22 years ago; I’d attended fundraisers; I’d heard stories about the early adventures of the Honduran and international partners that built the organization together. But in summer 2023, I got a chance to see this special place first-hand, as a BECA volunteer at the Escuela San Jeronimo summer camp in Cofradía, Honduras.
What’s even better, I got to be there with my son, Curtis. Having just finished middle school with a couple of years of Spanish under his belt, Curtis was ready for a cross-cultural experience. As we learned while there, he and I were following in the footsteps of hundreds of international volunteers who have served at BECA schools over the years and settled into local life in Cofradía. Most volunteers teach at BECA schools a year or more, but we participated in a pilot program of short-term summer volunteering which will, I hope, grow into a permanent offering. In the short time we were there, we felt able to meaningfully support BECA’s model of English language immersion for Honduran students, and at the same time, have a fun mom-and-son adventure.
From the moment we decided to participate, we felt surrounded by the support of the BECA team. Summer Camp Director Matt and Managing Director Amelie prepared us well, with helpful documents and phone calls to answer pre-trip questions. We learned how to keep ourselves safe and healthy in Honduras, and we understood what supplies and ideas to bring that would contribute to the kids’ summer camp experience. From touchdown at San Pedro Sula airport to wheels-up at the end of our trip, we felt like part of the community.
Both Curtis and I served as assistants to the main summer camp teachers. Among Curtis’s observations, thinking back on the trip afterwards, were that “the teachers were super nice, the students were well behaved, and the camp activities were fun.” I couldn’t agree more! We tried to add a cross-cultural element to the fun by bringing games and toys from the U.S. that the students had not played before, like pick-up-sticks, a giant frisbee, and Top Trumps (no relation to the ex-President), and we taught our class the classic playground game of Four Square.
This being Central America, no day was complete without futbol. Curtis’s favorite part of each day was el recreo, when his group of students headed to the soccer pitch. The kids quickly nicknamed him “Haaland” due to his slight resemblance to the popular Manchester City player.
After camp, both of us enjoyed getting to know Cofradía, a charming small town completely off the tourist track. Favorite foods discovered: baleadas and catrachitas with beans and avocado (me) and pan de coco (Curtis). Favorite beverages discovered: frozen limonada de menta (me) and mango juice in a bag (Curtis). It’s easy to while away an afternoon wandering the flower-filled neighborhoods, browsing shops, seeing views of the mountains everywhere, dodging stray dogs and cats, greeting everyone you pass by and being greeted back. Some of my best memories from the trip were evening visits to the homes of BECA community families, who fed our whole group of volunteers delicious home-cooked meals.
Daily life is not always easy for Cofradíans: while we were there, residential water services were not running most of the time; the electricity went out a lot; air conditioning is rare. BECA volunteers live like locals, so those who come from wealthier countries learn to adapt to a different way of life, which Curtis said was “completely not a problem at all.” There’s something about cultural immersion that changes your expectations and alters your view of what’s most important. In terms of a cross-cultural “exchange,” we felt like we came away with much more than we gave, but we hope to keep the exchange going by continuing to support BECA in any way we can.