Did you know that the word “BECA” means “scholarship” in Spanish? BECA – Bilingual Education for Central America – is a non-profit organization focused on realizing large hopes and dreams for the children and families of Honduras, and children and families throughout Central America and the USA.
The idea for BECA was originally conceived in 2001, when several North Americans arrived in Cofradia, Honduras with the idea of collaborating to build a school that could serve as a model for inexpensive bilingual education in Central America. Hurricane Mitch had devastated the country only 23 months before and the wreckage was still present in many places – bridges out, entire towns leveled, and more than 3,000 schools around the country seriously damaged. Many folks were contributing to relief efforts by sending school supplies or contributing towards school building repairs, but there was no movement to level the economic playing field by creating access to a high quality bilingual education.
Over the course of the 2001-2002 school year, we built a school in partnership with community members – opening on September 24, 2001 with 38 students in a building that did not yet have a roof or classroom walls. Many of our students had previously been in the public school system – which ran three sessions a day to accommodate students, had classrooms filled with 60 or more first graders, and only managed to actually hold school about 90-110 days out of the required 200 days. By the end of that first year, we had 84 students (and a roof) as well as a clearer sense of what it was going to take to turn our fledgling venture into a high-quality educational endeavor. It was also clear that success lay in the beauty and challenges of the multicultural realities of our work. We spent the next few years building relationships with our Honduran partners, refining how to recruit long term volunteers, learning how to prepare volunteers for their role as full-time teachers in Honduras, seeing our student population soar to more than 200 and so much more.
In 2004, the community came to BECA with the idea to make our collaboration direct by building what is now San Jeronimo Bilingual School – a nonprofit, community-led bilingual school. Our community partners achieved the seemingly impossible in just six months – securing permission from the Ministry of Education to open a school, raising the money to build our first humble school building, forming a Honduran nonprofit organization, and entering into a formal partnership agreement with BECA. San Jeronimo opened its doors on September 1, 2004.
BECA has grown so much from our very humble beginnings. Yet our commitment to the two prongs of our mission – providing a high quality bilingual education to children in under resourced communities and doing so through meaningful multicultural collaboration – has not changed at all.
We now have three partner schools in Honduras – each of which is managed locally. We serve 650 children and their families every day. Because of our collaboration each of the schools operates at low to no financial cost to the families whose children attend. And, those families put in an unbelievable number of service hours to keep the schools not only running but thriving. BECA has designed a high-class bilingual curriculum, an intensive training institute for our volunteers, ongoing professional development, and so many other elements that are part of running high quality schools. And, we do it in communities where electricity and running water are not to be taken for granted, in places where the drug wars have taken countless family and friends of our students, where migration is often on the tips of our families’ tongues as they wonder how they will possibly make ends meet. We do all of this in an equal partnership with our Honduran colleagues.