Kids of Copán

The indigenous Maya Chortí people

Alberto wakes up

 

 

 


Copán Ruinas, a beautiful town

Copán Ruinas
Copán Ruinas is the name a town located in the mountainous West of Honduras, about 10 miles from the border with Guatemala. The streets are cobble stoned and most houses are built in the typical colonial style from the time the Spanish had conquered the country. The one-story buildings have thick walls made of adobe (a sort of unbaked brick made of mud). The windows are covered with metal grills. The whitewashed walls, the deep red roof tiles and the almost always blue sky make the town look like a happy place to live.

In the town of Copán Ruinas live about 7,000 people. More than half of them are children under 12 years old. In the whole municipality live about 30,000 people. So most people live in one of the 88 small villages around Copán Ruinas. Some villages are so small, they only exist of just a few houses. Some villages are easy accessible, because they re located close to the roads. Others are very hard to get to, especially in the rainy season when tiny creeks convert in wild rivers.
The green dots on the map are villages where the indigenous Maya Chortí people live.

The red dots stand for villages where latino people live, in other words, people of mixed indigenous and Spanish blood. The whole municipality is only about 40 miles long, from North to South, but the roads are so bad, the trip takes about four hours by car!

Map of the Municipality of Copán Ruinas
 
 

Copán Ruinas is a very poor municipality

Kids that live on a garbage belt
Copán Ruinas is one of the poorest municipalities of Honduras. You wouldn' t say so when you walk around this town, because it looks really nice. There are many restaurants, hotels and souvenir stores. That s because Copán Ruinas has one main advantage over other towns in Honduras: It's a tourist destination! Not so much the town itself, but the ancient Maya ruins located less than a mile from the centre of town. Every year, thousands of tourists from all over the world visit the archaeological park of Copán.
Typical kids from the Copán area
So how come Copán Ruinas is still one of the poorest municipalities in the country? Well, good question...
Unfortunately in many Latin American countries, most of the land is owned by a very small group of very rich people while the majority of the people in Honduras are very poor and have to work hard to make enough money for the basic necessities. The rich people make a lot of money with the crops they grow on their land. The result is that the poor become poorer every day,and the rich become richer!
 

The indigenous Maya Chortí people

You have probably heard about the maya indians. Most maya peoples live in Guatemala and Mexico. In Copán there's a group of maya people called the maya chortí. These maya chortí belong to the poorest inhabitants of Copán. That is because for many years they were looked down upon because the were "just indians". They worked as cheap labourers on the coffee plantations for the rich landowners.
Girls in Carrizalón
These days, the Maya Chortí feel no longer ashamed to be an indigenous people. They're even proud to be Maya. Little by little they are recovering their traditions and customs that were lost because they hadn't practiced them for many years. The biggest problem of the Maya Chortí is that they have not enough land to grow their crops. That's a bit strange, if you think of the fact that it is the heritage of their ancestors, the famous ruins of Copán, that now bring so much money into town.
Girls in La Laguna
The government finally agrees and after years of struggle, land occupations and demonstrations by the Chortí, the government is now buying land for the Chortí.

So the Chortí are happy and satisfied? Not quite, because the process of getting titles to the land takes a long, long time and often the pieces of land are not very good to grow crops or are located in forested areas that are protected. But at least the government recognizes the rights of the indigenous people.

Boys in ChoncóKids in ChoncóA house in La Laguna
 

Time to go to school!

A school in  La Pintada
Every child has the right to go to school. In Honduras too. Every child is obliged to attend six years of primary education, followed by three years of high school. But does that happen? No. In the town of Copán Ruinas, the situation is not too bad. There are three elementary schools in town. The biggest one, the public school, has so many students that the children no longer fit in the building. That's why they go to school in shifts: The first shift is from 7.00am till noon, the second one from noon till 5.00pm.
Every grade counts about forty students. There are not many supplies. The government supplies the building, books, desks and chairs. Anything else, the children have to bring themselves. Even brooms to sweep the classroom!
In the small villages around Copán Ruinas, the situation is far worse. Often there's only one teacher for up to sixty students, divided over six grades! Imagine to sit with you classmates in a dark classroom without electricity, sharing a small desk between three of your friends! No games, no art supplies, no science or craft corner and much less a computer or television! Often, the children don't even have a backpack or notebook! And could you imagine yourself attending class for five hours straight with an empty stomach because there was no food at home to make breakfast?
School in El Chilar
 

Favourite Food in Copán

Honduran food is probably very different from what you eat in your country. You might not be used to having a hot lunch. Or tortillas??? For most Hondurans, maize is the most important nutrient. Made into small pancakes or tortillas, it fills the stomach and also functions at cutlery! You take the tortilla in your right hand and scoop up some of the rest of your meal!
Boys from El Triunfo
Typical food
Avocado
Breakfast for Hondurans is mostly tortillas with beans and a scrambled eggs. Lunch is the most important meal of the day. It sometimes includes fried plantains, some meat, rice, beans again and of course tortillas. At night there's beans again, tortillas, some white cheese and cream.
 

Presenting: Alberto!


Reynaldo & AlbertoAlberto at school
Children are children. All over the world you'll see children play hide and seek or kids who don't feel like doing their homework. What makes children in Honduras so different? Truth is, the children aren't any different, it's just the way they live that is different from yours.

Look at Alberto. He's eight years old and lives with his family in a small village just outside of Copán Ruinas, called La Pintada. From his house, high up a mountain, he has a gorgeous view over the ruins of Copán. Alberto's home is hardly a house. It's made of sticks, covered with mud and straw. The roof is made of palm leaves and it leaks when it rains very hard. Crawly creatures like giant spiders and scorpions like to make their nests in the palm leaves too. There are no real beds in this house. Alberto's father has made some frames of wood with banana leaves woven in between. In one bed his parents sleep with the two babies. In the other bed sleeps Alberto with his older brother and younger sister.

Alberto sellin corn husk flowersReynaldo & Alberto
 

Alberto wakes up

When Alberto wakes up at 5.30am, his mom has been up for a while. She has already been to the creek to haul water and now she's grinding maize to make tortillas. Alberto puts on his only pair of pants and shirt and leaves his home to pee in the bush. When he comes back, his mom asks him to haul more water for coffee. Alberto sighs, but he has no choice. "And do clean your ears when you're down at the creek!" his mom yells after him. Alberto picks up a plastic jug and goes down the steep path leading to the creek. This chore really isn't too bad, he thinks. It is so beautiful here, this early in the morning. A mist hangs over the valley, birds sing and a few rabbits start running when they see Alberto coming.
When he gets to the creek, Alberto fills the jug and washes his face. He should take off all his clothes and give himself a good scrub, as his mom always tells him, but it is quite chilly this morning and Alberto feels a bit lazy. So he splashes some water on his hair and walks back up the path, as slowly as he can, so his mom will think he had a thorough bath.
Alberto
Alberto's home

Alberto's mom has lit the fire in the hut and pours water from the jug in a big pot hanging over the fire. She then pours some coffee, sugar and then she starts making tortillas by turning little balls of maize dough in small pancakes. She then toasts the tortillas over the fire, turning them every once in a while. Then the coffee is ready. Alberto finds a plate, serves himself two tortillas with beans and a mug of steamy, sweet coffee. Delicious!
It's time to go to school. Alberto looks for his notebook and chewed up pencil. He's a bit worried, because his notebook is almost full and there isn't any money to buy a new one. He hasn't asked yet, but yesterday he mentioned that the teacher had scolded him for not wearing shoes, because the ones he has are way too small. His mom had said that he would have to wait until the end of the month. "That is", she said, "if your father finds work..." Alberto sighs and leaves for school. To him it hardly matters. He can play soccer even better without shoes and he's planning on winning a game today!

 

Development work

Phot Project

Because many poor countries face serious difficulties, they are often helped out by richer, more developed countries. This is called development work and as the word says, the idea is that the country develops. In a country with hunger you can feed a thousand people, but as soon as the food is finished, the problem starts all over again. It is important to solve the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms, and also that people learn how to help themselves. In stead of giving a person a fish for dinner, you can better teach that person to fish. That way he can arrange for his dinner himself, every day.
Such a project would have much more result on the long term and that's why we call it sustainable development work. Of course, if a disaster happens such as an earthquake or hurricane, people need medicine and food immediately. But in the end, sustainable development work is much more successful.

Londin teaching a class in Carrizalito
The organization Arte Acción does a very special kind of development work. Arte Acción organizes all kinds of fun activities for kids, such as art classes, photo workshops, theatre presentations and video productions made by and for children. It s true: an art class doesn't make you less hungry and practicing acrobatics for a few hours doesn't help you to get rid of parasites. But it does make you happy! Most children in Honduras have a lot of responsibilities at home. They help looking after their brothers ands sisters; they look for firewood in the forest; sell tortillas in the streets or work in the field. At Arte Acción they can be kids for a few hours and enjoy real kids  things. Children in Honduras usually don't have a lot of self esteem. They're poor, have hardly any clothes to wear and some have trouble reading and writing. So they feel less capable than other kids. But in the arts, all that doesn't matter! Anyone can make a beautiful drawing or sing a song! You don't have to be rich to do so! And by having fun in the arts, the children also become more secure and confident.
At the same time, the children learn to look at the world in a different way. In the arts there is no limit and nothing is just black and white. Painting and acting helps to grow children's imagination, and that is what you need in order to dream. Because without dreams, there is no hope for the future!!!
Our acrobats!