FAIRBANKS (AP) — Returning to Alaska from a stay in Honduras this summer, LindaMae Scolman carried back a large plastic container of brilliantly hued, papier mache bowls and plates.
The neatly crafted containers are the result of one of several programs Scolman, a Zion Lutheran Church lay minister, has initiated in the Central American country since she first visited there almost two decades ago with her Honduran-born mother.
At the time, Scolman wanted to learn more about her family roots. She did, and she also fell in love with the country and its people, and has been returning regularly ever since.
The home industry papier mache project is dubbed “Vessels for Life,” since the women’s handmade containers also serve as vessels to help themselves and others.
It’s a path to self-sufficiency for the poor, uneducated women who eke out a living near a garbage dump on the outskirts of Puerto Cortes.
The cheerful, vibrant containers were created by combining simple, recyclable materials available — newspaper, flour and water — with the women’s individual creativity and the panache of bright paper scraps.
“They did so good and I’m so proud of them. They’re only going to get better,” said Scolman, who has an undergraduate degree in art.
Each container is sealed with a clear acrylic and can be used for display. They’re safe for dry food, Scolman said, or if lined with a napkin can be used as a server for bread, rolls or fruit.
This first batch of “Vessels for Life” was recently part of a sale at Good Shepherd Bazaar at Zion Lutheran Church.
Recently retired from teaching, Scolman plans to return to Honduras in February and continue working with the women to improve their work and introduce them to selling their own products.
“The goal is to help them market their own stuff,” Scolman said.
The project rule is to share the container sales proceeds — 50-50 — Scolman said. Half of the money goes to the women for their artistic labor, and half is given away.
On this first venture, half is being donated to Good Shepherd Communities and Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, Inc., which aids people with developmental disabilities.
When Scolman began her Central American odyssey, she was facilitator of the gifted and talented program at Crawford Elementary. Her class decided to contribute $60 to buy shoes for poor children in Honduras.
That summer, while directing a summer bilingual program in Honduras, Scolman asked the school custodian where she could find poor families who needed shoes.
She directed Scolman to the garbage dump community she unknowingly passed through daily on her bus ride to school, thinking the shacks were trash piles.
The next day a reluctant bus driver dropped Scolman off at the dump and the first person she met was Maria, who today, Scolman lists as one of her best friends.
Since that initial contact, Scolman has returned 24 times to Honduras and continues working a number of projects with the support of many donors and Zion Lutheran Church.
Every time Scolman returns, Maria’s husband, Hector, reminds her of what he told his wife after she left that first summer.
“She won’t be back. She’ll be like the other Christians. They come, they gawk and they give us pieces of paper we can’t even read (tracts).”
Yet, Scolman continues working to provide food, education opportunities, medical clinics, medicines and building a prison ministry that incorporates a Celebrate Recovery program run by trained prisoner volunteers.
She also facilitates Bible schools, English class, runs a women’s retreat, and organizes a three-day bike trip for youth and performs the occasional baptisms and weddings.
Scolman would like to address another need once the container home industry project becomes self-sufficient — diabetic education.