Fairbanks teacher uses leftover funds to help poor in Honduras

Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- It was only $53: money a class at Crawford Elementary School had left over from a fund-raiser.

In Fairbanks, such a sum could hardly buy a pair of brand-name tennis shoes or a single outfit for a teen-age girl.

In Puerto Cortes, Honduras, it bought clothes for 13 people and shoes for more than two dozen children living in a garbage dump there.

And teacher LindaMae Scolman says that $53 changed her life. She hopes it did the same--even in a small way--for the impoverished children she spent a summer afternoon with.

''They had a day they didn't have to worry about a meal. They had a day when they were happy and they laughed,'' Scolman said. ''It opened a whole new door for me. If it wouldn't have been for this ($53), I never would have gone.''

Scolman for the last two years has spent her summers in Honduras teaching at an Episcopalian school in Puerto Cortes. This year the students in the gifted and talented class at Crawford sent her with $53 and a mission.

''They came to me and said they wanted me to buy shoes with the $53,'' Scolman said. ''I was touched.''

Student Tiffany Shock said she and her classmates thought is was the right thing to do with their leftover funds.

''She would bring back pictures from her trips and we saw how poor they were and we thought it would be nice just to give them something,'' said Shock, 11.

The class decided on shoes, she said, because of the pictures they saw of barefoot children in what looked to them like hazardous conditions.

But neither the class nor their teacher had any idea how far that money would go.

When she got to Honduras, and talked about her class and their $53, Scolman said a custodian at the school in Puerto Cortes told her to go to the dump. ''She said, 'You take a taxi and you stop and you look,''' Scolman said.

She couldn't believe what she saw.

''When I stopped there the first time I was in tears the whole visit,'' she said. ''Nobody, nobody should have to live that way.''

Scolman said 24 families lived at the dump in makeshift shelters constructed of odd pieces of lumber and tin they scrounged from the waste of the nearby city. Everything was covered with thousands of flies, Scolman said. Every day at 5 p.m., the garbage trucks come, she said. ''They dig for food, for clothing, for anything usable.''

The photos she brings are striking: little children in tattered clothing and naked babies standing barefoot on the trash-laden ground; mothers holding toddlers who are obviously ill.

Scolman, in her not-so-fluent Spanish, told one of the women--her name was Maria--about the $53. Scolman asked the woman to pick 12 of the children to come with her to buy shoes, because that's all that would fit in a taxi.

She traced the feet of as many more children as she could round up, and then she, Maria and the 12 youngsters ages 4 through 13, headed into town.

This, Scolman said, was where the $53 started to grow, every time she told the story of how her students sent her to Honduras with a mission.

''We got to the market and the shoe vendor guy was just really excited,'' Scolman said.

''I ended up with 28 pairs of shoes.''

But she still had some money left over, so she headed with her entourage down the street to the used clothing store, and told her story there.

''He was very excited to help too,'' she said. ''He knocked the price down in half.

She spent 75 lempira there--just about five dollars. ''Twelve kids all got a new outfit and Maria got a new dress,'' Scolman said.

Energized by the experience, Scolman decided to spend a little of her own money as well, and took the kids out for ice cream and burgers.

When she took the children back to their homes, the taxi driver would take only 30 lempira--about two dollars--half what the same trip had cost her the day before.

''He told me 'no, he would not take any more money; he wanted to help,''' Scolman said, ''because it was kids from the garbage dump and it was children helping children.''

''The kids came up with a little idea and it kept blossoming,'' she said. ''I would never have gone to the garbage dump. I would never have stopped there.''

''It has changed my life, truly it has, because I want to do more,'' Scolman said. She plans to return to Honduras this year.

The story she brought back touched her students as well.

''I just can't explain it, like wow, it was cool,'' Shock said. ''We sent down just a little money and all that happened just because of us. It is a miracle that all of those people pitched in.''

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)



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