I heard from my friend Ellen last week. She sent me a picture of Schmuel, a street dog she recently adopted. Schmuel has a face as pathetic as any you’re likely to come across, a face that would be difficult for anyone to resist, especially someone like Ellen.
I met Ellen in Seattle. She lived in the same neighborhood where I lived, back when she was a full-time jazz musician. But Ellen isn’t working as a musician anymore. Ellen doesn’t even live in Seattle anymore. She lives in Honduras and runs an organization called Project School Supplies. Ellen founded the organization in 2007 to provide the village schools with educational and building materials.
When Ellen first visited Honduras, she went there to study Spanish. She planned to stay in Copán Ruínas for a week and then return to Seattle. Instead, she stayed two weeks. And when she did return, she sold most of her possessions and gave notice on her apartment. Three months later, she headed back to Honduras to teach English.
But teaching English soon took a backseat to the desperate conditions of the village schools. Classrooms had no books or blackboards or even desks. Students sat on concrete floors beneath roofs that leaked whenever it rained. Lunch programs were unheard of. Restrooms often nonexistent.
Out of these conditions, Project School Supplies was born. The original goal, as I mentioned, was to provide schools with much-needed building and educational materials. Since then, the organization has built 10 schools, restored over 50 schools, and supplied more than 80 schools with those materials. They’ve also built a playground, a regional library, and over 20 pilas and banos (bathrooms and wash facilities).
Not enough for you? Project School Supplies has pioneered a high school grant program and provided more than 20 beds to children who’d been sleeping on dirt floors. They even built a house for three orphaned children who had been living on their own. And each year, the organization distributes over 100 Christmas baskets to single parents and orphaned families.
Project School Supplies does whatever they can to remove the barriers that affect the children’s abilities to go to school and stay there. That means installing water tanks and constructing aqueducts and building bridges. It also means taking steps to counter starvation. They’ve set up milk, vitamin, and deworming programs in seven villages and recently launched a sweet potato pilot project.
And Ellen is constantly being called on to help in ways outside the umbrella of Project School Supplies. For example, she once took a mother and her sick baby to a private clinic and paid the mother’s expenses. This after the woman walked three miles down a mountain to a free clinic, only to find it closed.
There’s more. Much much more.
But Ellen—and by extension, Project School Supplies—has proven to be an accommodating force. She has to be. The needs far exceed her capacity to address all of them. Every day, Ellen must face the challenges that surround her. “The malnutrition rate for children in rural areas is a daunting 44%,” she says. “Children are dying from starvation and a lack of clean water. The mortality rate is stunning.”
But Project School Supplies is, if nothing else, a grassroots organization. As grassroots as them come. They source all materials locally, and except for an occasional paid foreman, volunteers from the villages do the work. And that includes the children.
Ellen told me about one village that’s up the side of a mountain, where they’re trying to build a school. Because of weather and road conditions, they can’t get a truck up to the village. “Kids and adults have to walk the two-kilometer muddy climb, carrying one brick at a time.” Then there are the bags of cement—over a thousand of them, each an 80-pound sack. It takes five village children to carry one of those things up the mountain.
But the villagers keep plugging away. And so does Ellen. So, yeah, Schmuel has found a good home. All dogs should be so lucky. The fact that Ellen would take on another responsibility at this point is itself a small miracle. But miracles are what it’s all about. And in a world that condones such abject poverty, it’s good to know that people like Ellen are out there.