SOUTH COAST - In 2004, several South Coast residents traveled to Chamelecon, a poor suburb of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The group was led by Fr. Heiko Junge, who at the time was the priest at Holy Trinity in Bandon. They went to build houses and lend support to the late Fr. Tom Goekler, a Maryknoll priest who ran the neighborhood parish.
Upon their return to the United States, several members of the group were so moved by the experience, and the people they met, that they wanted to do something to help them, so they started finding sponsors and raising funds to send a group of first graders to school. Over the years the program has expanded. In 2014 the group was able to buy a large house in the neighborhood and convert it into a school which they named Regina Marie. Regina Marie serves 85 students, grades 7-11. There is no 12th grade in Honduras.
San Pedro Sula, with a population of 1 million, is the second largest city in Honduras. It is the industrial capital of the country. There are many problems in Honduras and, in particular, this city. In 2015 it was declared the murder capital of the world. Gangs and drug trafficking are the main crime problems. So far the Hondurans that run the school have been able to negotiate neutrality with the gangs. To date they have not had to pay extortion, nor has the school been the target of any crimes. The gangs carve out territories which they then control. There is a different gang territory a 20 minute walk away from the school. There are children that would like to attend Regina Marie but they cannot because they cannot cross from one gang territory into another. The gang borders can change and what was once a “safe” area can become off limits and even dangerous to be in.
Tim Stadelman and Val Cowan of Brookings are the main fundraisers and overseers of Regina Marie. Stadelman, who is an electrician, has been traveling to Honduras since the initial trip in 2004. He travels there twice a year now. His main purpose is to represent the sponsors of the school. While in Honduras, Stadelman also makes electrical repairs and works on a variety of construction projects. Cowan has a background in secular and religious education. Cowan works with the school staff and reviews the curriculum. She has a gift for working with young people and enjoys spending time in the classrooms with the students.
Stadelman and Cowan have taken their family members and other people from Oregon on some of their trips. Each year they return to the same neighborhood where they work and live. They have forged close friendships with people in the neighborhood and school. The accommodations are modest. The water does not work each day. The electricity works most of the time. The visitor’s meals are prepared by different families throughout their stay and usually feature rice and beans. Despite being very careful almost everyone that travels there becomes sick, especially on the first trip.
School privately funded
The school is a faith-based organization. Each day begins with a prayer and the students attend a religious education class. The number one qualification to be a teacher or administrator at Regina Marie is loving dedication to the students. Only one of the teachers has a degree in education. Some of the teachers are part time volunteers. The school’s principal, Marta Zelaya Carranza earns less than $4,000 a year. She could easily earn more elsewhere, but she stays for the kids. Regina Marie is a private school and receives no financial support from the Honduran government. In order to keep tuition low, or free, in some cases, the school is heavily subsidized. Most of the sponsors are from the southern Oregon coast. Donations ranging from $5 to $25,000 have been received. The target donation to subsidize a student is $250 per year.
The main focus of the trips is to help oversee the operation of the school and maintenance of the building. Donations of equipment and supplies for the school are also gathered in the United States and are transported to Honduras in suitcases on every trip. In the last few years, over 15 desk top computers, several laptops and two 3D printers have made the journey and now Regina Marie has the best computer lab in the area.
The most recent trip was this spring. Stadelman and James Schutte, of Brookings, spent 10 days there in May. The trip began in the United States by gathering donations. This year, 40 T-shirts, donated by Beachfront Gifts, a grinder, donated by North Coast Electric, medical supplies, donated by Cal-Ore Life Flight, and two projectors were transported. The medical supplies were given to the neighborhood clinic. One suitcase was filled with candy and toys which were enthusiastically received by the students.
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With a separate $500 donation, over 400 pounds of bulk food was purchased. Eight students stayed after school and helped divide the food into 30 bags filled to the brim with basic staples. The next day the bags of food, 18 students and two adults were loaded into the school’s minibus. They drove to a nearby neighborhood and distributed the bags of food to needy families. This is both rewarding and heart breaking as the food always runs out before the families in need. It is a good experience for the students, as the need to use their time, talents and resources to help their neighbors is being impressed upon them. This is putting their Christian faith into action.
Bandon Supply donated $1,000 for building materials to construct a chapel for the school. When the property was originally purchased there was an unfinished building in the corner of the courtyard. This building is being converted to a combination chapel and stage. There was an existing dirt floor and two walls. Blocks and a truck load of fill dirt were hauled in to raise the floor about 20-inches above the courtyard. Aside from the delivery trucks, everything was done by hand. The fill dirt was loaded into wheelbarrows, wheeled across the courtyard and dumped into the chapel area.
To make concrete in Honduras, sand and gravel is mixed with bags of cement on the floor. Water is then slowly added and mixed in with a shovel until concrete is formed. The concrete is then put into five gallon buckets and carried to the work area where it is leveled and smoothed. More blocks were laid and concrete beams were built, to bring the walls to 10 feet. The chapel has two doors, one is a standard man door and the other is an 11-foot-wide, 2-piece, barn door that opens up to the courtyard. Using only basic tools, and working 10-12 hours each day, Schutte, a welder by trade, and Stadelman constructed the steel doors and track system. On the last day they were there they cut an opening in the back wall of the chapel in the shape of a cross, then blue glass bricks were installed in the opening.
On the next trip, in November of this year, they want to complete the roof, paint and decorate the chapel inside and out.
Each year Cowan and Stadelman work to raise $25,000 to subsidize tuition, pay for repairs to the school and cover other expenses. A few examples of additional financial needs are: $600 for paint for the classrooms, $1,500 to finish the chapel and $10,000 for a new roof for the school. There is an adjacent piece of property with buildings on it for sale for $35,000 that will be needed for future expansion of the school.
Stadelman is on the board of Peaceful Waters Ministries, Inc. a small nonprofit, 501 (c)(3) organization based in Bandon. Peaceful Waters Ministries is the conduit through which donations from the United States are sent to Honduras to support Regina Marie. One hundred percent of the donations received go to the school. No one in the U.S. receives a salary.
Most of the people that run the school are under 35 years of age. To survive each day in this neighborhood is a challenge. They have managed to thrive. The operation of Regina Marie has always been tenuous. Every year problems have to be overcome. More important than donations are prayers for the students and teachers.