Josue Salinas, a deaf child in Honduras, could never hear his mother say "I love you" as she picked him up in her arms. All he could see was the love shining in her eyes.
Mariana, a Honduran mother, knew her son could not hear her as she held him tight and hugged his little body close to hers whispering "I love you" while pain was tearing apart her heart.
AHMEN, Alabama Honduras Medical, Educational Network, is working in Plan de Flores, Honduras with monetary support for a school for deaf students. Mariana Salinas and husband, Fredrico of Plan de Flores take care of their own children with disabilities and recently took a "leap in faith" to set up the school for the deaf. Their son, Josue, the teacher for the school, is deaf and was sent at the age of 3 to the city of Tegucigalpu, the capital of Honduras, and left there to go to a deaf school to be taught sign language, as well as to learn to read and write.
"At the age of 7, my parents moved to another city and I stayed with another family," Josue said. "At first when I was very young, I suffered a lot not knowing this family very well. I thought that my parents didn't love me, but when I got older I saw the pain every time my mother came to visit and then had to leave me. That's when I realized that they just wanted me to learn the language of deaf people. Thank God the family I stayed with were good to me. They sent me to school and paid for my expenses and meals."
Mariana was just as upset as her son. She was aware that he did not understand what she was doing was best for him.
"I wanted him to get an education so that he could come back and help our village. I knew he could not do that with us," she said. "There are so many children like him and there is no one to help them. But I think that now, he understands what I have tried to do."
About three years ago, Josue moved to Plan de Flores to live with his parents and became the teacher of the school for the deaf. In 2010 the school had 12 children and youth. Eight boys and five girls were enrolled in last year's classes. Only four of them had a sponsor to help pay for their living expense. School began this year on Feb. 15 and there are 17 students enrolled. Each student attends the school for the deaf and regular school, and some of the boys go to the woodworking school. Regular school in Plan de Flores goes to the sixth grade and students in grades seven and higher take a bus to another village but have to pay for that schooling. Usually only the boys in a family are allowed to get a higher education. Until now deaf children did not get to go to school at all. To go to school they need a sponsor.
Some of the deaf boys are attending the woodworking school and want to learn that trade. Not many jobs are available in the small villages of Honduras and most of the boys trained in woodworking go to the larger towns to work. The woodworking school is in the process of marketing and selling the products the boys make to other villages and towns. However, marketing skills are also limited in Honduras. Plan de Flores' school for the deaf and the woodworking school is just a starting point and there are problems with housing students.
There is not a dormitory in Plan de Flores and space is limited in the room that was made available to students last year. All eight boys shared a room and all five of the girls shared a room in a small building attached to Mariana's house. There is not enough space to house more students. There is not enough school supplies for more students. Last year a grant from the North Alabama Conference of United Methodist Churches was awarded to the school for supplies. However, the students had no desks and chairs in which to put their supplies. They kept them in the small rooms they shared and during school, they simply used what they had which was most likely a spot on the ground with the supplies held in their lap. They wanted to go to school and learn how to speak in sign language. They want to be as normal as possible.
A plea went out from Mariana to AHMEN for desks and chairs for the deaf students. Dr. Tom Camp, president of AHMEN, sent the plea out to all of the organization's volunteers and team leaders for help in purchasing the items needed for the deaf students. Lamon Chapel United Methodist Women in the Thach community of Walker County received the email and decided to help the students. Lela Aaron-Vicente, a volunteer and advocate of AHMEN, spear-headed the campaign.
"I asked our United Methodist Women if there was any way we could purchase the supplies for the woodworking school and hire the students there to make the furniture the school needed," she said. "I contacted Dr. Camp about the cost and he sent us an estimate. We had yard sales to make up the money for the furniture and to sponsor a deaf student."
Aaron-Vicente said the church as a whole and individual members helped make the purchase of the supplies possible.
"We also asked the church to give half of the cost and let us pay the other half," she said. "God is so good to us, the church agreed to pay half the cost. At our annual bazaar in November, one of our ladies was talking to some people about our project and a couple came forth and gave us $200 toward our cost. By the end of November, 2010, we sent the required estimate to AHMEN for the school desks and chairs. We can only thank God for making this possible because our United Methodist Women have only five or six active members. But thank God, again, we have a loving and giving congregation that comes to our aid in whatever project we undertake."
According to Camp, a dormitory is needed now. There have been up to 24 request from the surrounding villages who want to send their children to Plan de Flores to go to school. Camp discussed the situation with AHMEN team leaders at a recent meeting and the Rev. Ray Crump decided to help.
"Plans are in the works for a building we can use as a dormitory for the deaf school students," said Crump, a retired United Methodist minister. "We have contacted several Honduran people by email to get specifics for a new building using materials from Honduras as well as construction workers. It usually takes time to get this all put together and right now we need sponsors to help fund the building as well as the students."
Crump has also contacted several volunteers with AHMEN to see about supplies to send to Honduras on the spring shipping container.
"I don't know how Mariana keeps going. She is basically taking care of all the students as well as housing them. She has a couple of ladies that come to help with the cooking and feeding the students, but is limited due to lack of funding," Crump said. "She has a great faith that we need here in the good ol' USA. We just have everything available that we need, and we just don't realize how much God has done for us until we go to another country and see the needs of the people there."
For more information about the deaf school or possible sponsorships, email Camp at firstname.lastname@example.org, Linda Norris at email@example.com or Lela Aaron-Vicente at laaronvicente @gmail.com.