Thursday, May 31, 2012

Oh man, should probably update this thing...

"Thumbs up" in the waves at Cedeño.
The boys take a break from swimming.
A lot has happened these past two months. But that’s not abnormal. It’s kind of an intimidating thing: attempting to give an accurate summary of my past several weeks. So much happens here so quickly that by the time I’ve processed something and feel I could write about it, something else has come up and the old something is no longer relevant. When you’re really busy, time does fly.

April and May.

April zoomed by. We started the month with an awesome camping trip to Cedeño, a small beach town in the Gulf of Fonseca off the southern coast of Honduras. I went with all the boys of the Ranch; there were separate trips for the girls and the little ones. We rode the waves, ate fried fish, and slept out on the sand. It was a beautiful time, really. I wrote a news article on the trip, so please click here to see the article and hear more of our trip.

Candlelight procession to mass on Easter. 
After the camping trip we returned to the Ranch with a week break for Semana Santa, the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday. The kids were out of classes and we had more free time than we could deal with. Yes, the kids still worked a lot, my boys mainly clearing out huge roots from a large field that will eventually be used as a new vegetable garden. During downtime I usually brought my computer and projector to hogar and we watched a ton of movies, back to back to back. Man, they love to watch movies here. We viewed mostly crumby B action flicks since they’ve seen every Hollywood film you could possibly image. The week culminated with Easter Sunday, where the
 whole Ranch processed to church with candlelight
 and attended a 4 AM vigil mass as the sun rose.

San Lucas with their South Soccer shirts!
Things in hogar have been good. I try to spend some time with each individual kid throughout the week. Although sometimes it's hard since there are 18 of them and some are more social than others. Lot's of school and work as usual. I was recently sent a box full of South Soccer shirts that I gave to them one night (thanks, Mom!). They subsequently went absolutely crazy. I think I took over 100 photos of them in their new shirts that night being ridiculous.

Me and Chele
I also recently got to spend some quality time with Chele, the tío (caretaker) of my hogar outside the Ranch. He and his wife, who also works at NPH, invited fellow volunteer Jen and I to a picnic at a nearby creek by their home. They played host and prepared us a delicious lunch with fried Tilapia as the main course! There were these small, but DEEP pools of water which you could jump into from a-high. We had a photo shoot (see flickr!).

The Brigade.

One of the biggest things to happen lately was the surgery brigade. For one week we hosted a diverse team of medical personal from the US at our on-site Holy Family Surgery Center. It’s actually through the surgery brigades that I heard about NPH, as the majority of the team comes from the Twin Cities and my uncle, who is an anesthesiologist, often is a part of this group. This specific brigade brought doctors and medical personnel with a wide range of specialties; general, orthopedic, pediatric, ear, nose and throat, and gynecologic surgeons.
Volunteer John speaks with a patient.
Dr. Barth during surgery.
It was a long, but interesting week. Each day I went down to volunteer, working at first as a medical translator, assisting the doctors as they assessed the patients to see if they were appropriate for surgery or if another type of treatment could be administered. This was fascinating to say the least. I would listen to patients who have had problems that they've lived with for years; Unattended gunshot wounds, broken bones from motorcycle accidents, injuries that have been infected for over three years. And then a whole lot of people with severe arthritis - I think I saw over 100 cortisone shots to knees and elbows that week. 
When the consults were over and surgery started, I switched over to photographer and took a lot of photos and video of the visiting medical team for them to use for their website and personal purposes. It took a little gettin-used-to, being in the room as real live people were opened up and worked on. But it really was a very educational experience overall.  Here’s a news article I wrote about the April Brigade. I also created this short “patient story” video for the NPH youtube channel:

Still working away in the office...

Work has been work. More of the same mostly: responding to the many requests of the fundraisers abroad while also trying to keep up with my own monthly duties. Taking tons of photos as usual at Ranch events. The video component has been picking up; doing a lot of "thank you" videos for donors and also a monthly video about a Ranch topic of my choosing. I recently followed a child, Alber, for an entire day to fulfill a "Day in the Life of a Child" assignment for the German fundraising office. I had to take many photos of him throughout his average day so that potential donors can know how our children live here. I also took this opportunity to record video and make this short vignette of Pequeño Alber. He is such an awesome kid. Take a look!


As a volunteer.

Welcome to the jungle.
Volunteer life is good. Going by unnaturally fast as usual. It's crazy to think that the old group will be leaving soon and we're getting a new group of volunteers in less than a month! Life in the house is fun. We recently had a pretty festive party in which we called a “cuarto crawl”. Each room in the volunteer house had a different (secret) theme and corresponding game. We spent around 20 minutes in each room and then we passed on to the next. It was some serious entertainment. My room was jungle themed!

Oh yeah, and choreographed dance… The Ranch recently celebrated “Día de Buen Pastor” in which we had a day of games and night of activities. The volunteers decided to perform a dance in front of everyone. Check out the hot babe in the black dress.

Girls just wanna have fun.

Dressing in drag is quite the trend on the Ranch these days. The boys here think it’s very hilarious to put a dress on and act a fool in front of everyone. So, after seeing both the caretakers of my hogar and half my boys prancing around in woman's attire, I found it surprisingly unembarrassing to follow suit.


I’ve been more regular about posting photos to my flickr. So continue to check for photo updates since I am better about that than blogging. Here’s some examples. More to come soon.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Job and the Dry Season

My housemates are better bloggers than I am.
Well, turns out, not surprisingly, that I’m not the best at keeping you guys updated on my life. Sorry about that, but it’s not as though I’ve been avoiding blogging altogether. I have honestly been quite occupied. I’m very busy.

Seriously, with the mix of work, responsibilities in hogar, and duties around the volunteer house, when I do get some free time I’d rather not spend it in front of a computer. But, at the same time, I know this is important, so I’ll try to be better about posting updates.

I thought I’d take this post to tell you about two things: my job and the dry season.  If you’re in a hurry, skip down to the video and the photos; they’re probably more interesting. But for those of you who are wondering what I actually do here, here’s a little overview of my duties.

Office Hunter.

 Work has gotten busy and multi-tasking’s the name of the game here. When I first arrived I had a short list of assignments to do during my work hours and a lot of time to do them. That has changed. I now juggle many projects and office time has become a matter of prioritizing to know what to do first.  Although it’s stressful sometimes with so much to do, I have started to feel a real sense of purpose for being here in terms of my job, so that makes it all worth it. Plus, it’s nice staying busy.

Essentially, my job, Communications Officer, can be thought of in two categories: international work and local projects.

Photo I took for a "Child Story" article.
For NPH International, I have set responsibilities that I must complete every month. For example, I must write two news stories monthly that highlight something that has happened, is happening, or is going to happen here at the Ranch. Less often, I must also write an article about a child, an employee, or a volunteer. The subject matter of these articles is completely my decision. Starting now we also have a monthly video requirement (which of course I am very pleased about.) So be on the lookout for posts about that.

A birthday celebration I documented held for the youngest kids on the Ranch.
To read the articles I’ve been writing, follow these links to the NPH website:

1. "Working Together to Save Water"
2. "Birthday Bash in the Park"
3. "Chicas Poderosas is Back-In-Action" 
4. "Child Story: Edís"

Besides the monthly tasks, much of the international work is communicating with the NPH fundraisers abroad. They are always developing their own publications for fundraising purposes and they often request specific photos and information that will constitute their print-outs. It is then my job to supply them with whatever they request. If this photo or information is already on record in our database, I can simply find it and send it to them. If it is not, it is my responsibility to acquire it by going out into the field and taking the photos or asking for the information.  This type of work can pile-up fast, so it’s wise to stay on top of it.

Fundraisers love photos from our montessori school.
I must also constantly supply the international community with photography updates of the events taking place at the Ranch. This part I like to do. Although with so much happening I often find myself falling behind, with hundreds of photos to go through, edit, and upload to the internet. But taking photos is fun, and so is editing them. So I don’t mind it at all.

 In terms of my local projects, these are things that I do to help out directly here at the Ranch. We have so many different departments that are always doing their own individual projects and I am often asked to help out on the technical end of these things. People know me as the guy with a camera and a printer, so it’s not uncommon to get several daily requests for this type of help.

Dieuveck (NPH Haiti) with a pequeña during the Communications Officer conference.
Two weeks ago I attended the NPH International Conference held for Communications Officers that was held here at NPH Honduras. Communications Officers and Projects Coordinators -- which Honduras currently does not have – (anyone looking for a job?) attended the workshop from all the other NPH Homes, which included Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. We had an intense three days of meetings, discussions, and fieldwork. Overall it was certainly a productive week. I came out of the workshop knowing better the responsibilities of my job and how to go about doing them. It was also really nice meeting these people who share my job and with whom I frequently communicate via email.

There. Hopefully that gave you a better idea of my job and wasn’t too dry. Oh, and speaking of dry…

The dry season.

The current state of the dam from which we get our water.
We are in the dry season, which means hot weather and little rain.  This is the Honduran summer, and with this weather comes many consequences. Dusty air, deafening cicadas, forest fires, and lack of water  - the latter two are what can cause concern. To hear more about our water situation, please read the article I recently wrote for the NPH website. I linked it above with the other articles.

To learn about the fires, watch this video. These types of fires are not uncommon during the dry season. This is footage that I took this past Sunday (yesterday). When a fire such as this starts on our property, and keep in mind that our property is HUGE, we send our oldest boys and their caretakers to handle it. They must prevent it from spreading down to our homes and endangering the rest of the Ranch. Equipped with tree branches, machetes, and water spray tanks, the boys fought the fire for nearly seven hours. I was there for five of them, where I filmed at the beginning and end, helping fight the fires for the four hours in-between. Many of the boys from my hogar (San Lucas) helped fight the fire. The four celebrating at the end are all my boys.

Some photos. 

To see more photos, follow this link. I recently uploaded a lot more, and they'll be more coming this week.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And it begins, for real

The whole volunteer group at the "despedida" in Tegucigalpa
All’s well and becoming routine here at Rancho Santa Fe. Last week marked the end of a long transition period and the beginning of the rest of the year. The old volunteers, whom had been here for a 13 months, left in style this past weekend. To see them off, every single volunteer (all 20-some of us!) went into Tegucigalpa on Saturday for their “despedida” - going away party. It was a rollercoaster. On the one hand, it was exciting to stay in a quite luxurious hotel, eat delicious food, and go out dancing until the wee hours. On the other, it was sad to watch the old guys go. Seeing how upset the old volunteers were to leave the kids, the Ranch, and each other gave us newbies a sneak-peak into the emotions of our future selves. Heck, it was hard enough for me to watch them leave and I only knew them for a month! Nevertheless, it is nice to be more settled now. I have since moved into an actual room with a roommate, (shout out to my boy John!), have been assigned an hogar, and have begun my job as Home Correspondent. Things are finally becoming normal.

The new volunteers.

A bit about my hogar...

Not quite all of San Lucas, but almost
Me with some of the boys on my birthday
Last Thursday I was assigned my hogar for the next year: the boys of San Lucas. When I first thought about working at an orphanage I had pictured myself being surrounded by tiny humans that climb all over you and laugh, yell and cry a lot. While this is certainly a reality if you spend time with some of the younger hogars, it is not the case with mine. My boys are older - (15-17 years old) - and have since calmed down a bit, (well, most of them anyway).  There are 18 of them and they are smart and articulate, while still young enough to need supervision and nourishment. While my responsibilities might be more as a guardian or disciplinarian in a younger hogar, here in San Lucas, I try more to serve as a peer who doubles as a positive role model. But will see how that goes, it’s only been one week…

… a good week, however.  Spending time with them in the hogar  so far has mostly included playing card games and watching them roughhouse. Soon they will start school and the homework will begin. For now it’s more fun and games. I was wise enough to sneak that my birthday was coming up into a conversation with the tío (caretaker) of the hogar. This prompted an awesome b-day party. My boys prepared the best and most food I’ve had since being in Honduras (main course: fried chicken!) while I baked two cakes to try to satisfy their intense sugar addiction. We finished the night off with a movie (some ridiculous James Cameron flick about cave exploring when everything goes wrong and the characters die off one by one). San Lucas is fun.  I’m excited to get to know the boys better through work and play. Once I told the boys I like to make movies they immediately asked if we could make one, starring them of course. I said “yes”, as long as they write the script.

San Lucas working in the fields

Other Things

On the work end of things, everything is good. It’s a little tough adjusting to office life, especially when I have my own office, actually my own entire building to myself. It can get a little lonely in there by myself. I try to limit the time at my desk and be as mobile as possible by walking around the Ranch – taking my work elsewhere when I don’t need the internet. My work so far has mostly consisted of taking photos at Ranch events and corresponding with the folks at NPH International. They often request information about the Ranch or specific photos from our database for their publications. It’s a slower part of the year in terms of my work. Looking at the yearly schedule I can see how my responsibilities will significantly pick up in the next few months.

Life at the volunteer house is good - much more “tranquilo” now that we have less people living here. We play a lot of volleyball in our courtyard which ranges from pathetically lazy to surprising competitive depending on our mood and energy level. I got some sick “Top Gun” sunglasses that an old volunteer left behind that really help improve my game through pure intimidation.

Photo time

Hangin' with Alan - the youngest child at the Ranch along with his twin brother.

Smiling faces at the Ranch graduation ceremony.

Día de Suyapa procession to church

Some pequeños play while on a field trip to the children's museum

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The First Two Weeks

On January 13th at 5:25am I caught a flight for Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This is where I will call home for the next 13 months.  I’m volunteering for an organization called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. NPH is an organization that cares for abused and orphaned children in numerous Latin American countries. Here in Honduras, NPH looks after more than 500 “pequeños” at its expansive “ranch” location, which encompasses more than 2000 acres. The ranch has many different departments which include: “hogares” - homes in which the children live; 2 medical clinics; a farm and vegetable garden where our food is produced; kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school and trade workshops; as well as homes for the elderly, and hospice care for those living in the final stages of AIDS. It's a huge place.

View of the Hortaliza where we grow our veggies

I’ve now been in Honduras for two weeks. It was hard for me to put together a post before now since I have been over-stimulated by everything new here. Now I feel I can relax a little. Since arriving I’ve been in a constant state of absorption. Meeting new people, exploring the ranch property, visiting nearby Tegucigalpa and other neighboring towns, and testing out my rusty Spanish have occupied most of my time. Since we are currently in the midst of our orientation/training period, I’ve spent a lot of time with other volunteers, old and new. Some of the volunteers just arrived here like me, some of them are half-way though their service at 6 months, and some of them are finishing up and preparing to head home mid-February. All the volunteers here seem to have a lot of energy and a good sense of humor, which I think is necessary for this type of service. All of us volunteers live together as a community in a big home that includes a kitchen and open courtyard that the rooms surround. I currently stay in a large dormitory style room with bunk beds but will move into a regular room once the old volunteers leave in a couple weeks. I have really enjoyed the community style living thus far as I’ve gotten to know my fellow volunteers by spending time with them around the house. 

Casa San Vincente - The volunteer home
I will assume my position as Communications Officer in mid-February and my routine for the next year will begin. Currently, during orientation, our days are filled with meetings and tours of the ranch departments. So each day has been varied in terms of what we do. Some days we stick to the ranch property and become familiar with its resources here. Other days we travel off the ranch to explore the other NPH facilities and programs in the nearby cities and towns. The evenings, on the other hand, are more regular. Each night us new volunteers do the same thing: follow an old volunteer to their “hogar”. All the kids here on the ranch are divided into “hogares” in which they live. One's hogar is determined by the gender, age, and maturity level of each child. Each volunteer has a specific hogar to which  they go each night to eat dinner and generally help out. Soon I will be assigned a hogar with which I will spend every night and every other weekend for the rest of the year. So, during the day I will work as the Communications Officer, and at night I will be with my hogar. Although each day’s task will be different, this will be the pattern I follow for the next year. Once my regular schedule begins I will check back with another post. If you’d like to know more in the meantime about this organization or how to reach me, see the information at the end of this post.

Some more photos for ya...
Some cows chowin' down at the granja. Make sure to watch for a view seconds!
One of the many playgrounds we have on the ranch here.

A view at sunset from a hilltop on the ranch.

Una vaca.

Doing some long exposure on the roof of our volunteer house.

-- For more information on Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos:
-- My Address Here (for snail mail and packages!): 

Hunter Johnson
Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. Apvo postal 3223
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Central America

-- To reach me by email:
-- To see more of my pictures: