Local student on a mission to help Honduras

TORRINGTON - Armed with little more than a suitcase and charitable intentions, city resident Martina Smielewska is headed for Honduras.

A sophomore at Boston College, Smielewska will join close to 20 classmates who are opting to spend their winter break in the hot and humid environs of Honduras, one of the poorest nations in the world. Their mission - increasing educational opportunities and providing permanent housing for the people of Honduras.

"I’d like people to keep in mind that, while we’re just a small group, there are so many people out there in need of our help," Smielewska said. "There’s so much more going on in the world outside of the little bubble we live in."

Founded two years ago by a group of Boston College students, H.E.L.P., or Honduras Education and Leadership Project, has been delivering successive classes to Comayagua, a small community located about 30 miles north of the capitol, Tegucigalpa.

Balancing a double workload of French and psychology classes, Smielewska meets weekly with fellow H.E.L.P. members to discuss their coming strategy before flying to Central America to take part in their own Habitat for Humanity-style project. While unaffiliated with the ecumenical Christian housing organization, H.E.L.P. also works closely with underprivileged children and their families.

"They’ve prepared us that it’s an emotional experience and, if you’re emotional, to toughen up right now," Smielewska said.

Preparation for the annual excursion also comes in the form of studying key aspects of the native land.

"We really just educate ourselves to learn about the different culture, religion and style of education," Smielewska said. "A little bit bigger than the state of Tennessee, Honduras has one of the highest unemployment rates and such an unequal distribution of income."

During the visit, students will purchase a small plot of land and construct a new home for one deserving family.

Through the generosity of Jesuit friars, who maintain immediate ties with the Jesuit-oriented college, Smielewska and students are afforded free lodging, but are otherwise responsible for providing their own airfare and day-to-day living costs, in addition to costs associated with constructing a new home.

Aware that funding for the annual humanitarian effort won’t come from the Honduran government nor from the resident friars, Smielewska and classmates are forced to take up an active round of fundraising to cover all aspects of the trip - from transportation costs to the price of children’s school supplies.

"I’m just trying to get the word out for donations," said Smielewska, who has also put a call out to the community for donations of books [particularly in Spanish], calculators, paper, pens, pencils and the like.

At the close of the trip, Boston College students often maintain regular correspondence with the children they meet, including serving as a regular sponsor for $25 a month, which covers the cost of food and shelter, Smielewska.


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