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Students at the Mercedes Calderón school taking classes on land lent for the last 11 years
Students at the Mercedes Calderón school taking classes on land lent for the last 11 years | Photo courtesy of Father Víctor Manuel Cortés Calderón

Priest launches school for poor children in rural Honduras

The first students to join our classes sat in metal chairs that a nephew donated. We placed them under trees for shade, and the children used them as tables, kneeling on the ground.

Father Víctor Manuel Cortés Calderón started a school for poor children in Honduras
Interview Subject
Víctor Manuel Cortés Calderón, is a Honduran priest, born in Tegucigalpa. He is the son of teachers. Father Calderón founded the Mercedes Calderón school in honor of his mother who, in 1968, was declared a teacher in the Honduran capital.

In his life as an educator, he often supported poor children during the December and January vacations in his home, an action that had a deep impact on Victor. The Mercedes Calderón school was founded 11 years ago and has a team of 6 volunteer teachers.
Background Information
The Honduran educational system is one of the worst in Central America, with only 32 out of 100 students managing to finish primary school without repeating grades, according to United Nations statistics. Data from the Development Program of the United Nations Organization (UNDP) reveal that 51 percent of those enrolled finish primary school with an average of just over nine years.

The levels of school dropouts are increasingly higher. The most acute problem is that the basic educational system only covers 86.5 percent of those who are of school age, while the remaining 13.5 percent cannot access education.

SANTA CRUZ DE YOJOA, Honduras ꟷ When I heard the names of the first-place winners in the mathematic Olympics in my municipality in June 2022, my body overflowed with joy and gratitude.

Keinor, a sixth grader, and Cristy, a ninth grader, competed against high school students and showed me my work as a volunteer teacher was worth it. I always knew they could win!

Rural school in Honduras gives poor children the opportunity to learn

Keinor and Cristy represent the fruit of my efforts as a volunteer teacher for the Mercedes Calderón non-governmental school. Each of us who teach have a history of dedication and care for the most deprived children in our community. We teach with love.

The job never proves easy, but when the COVID-19 Pandemic forced us into quarantine, we had to figure out a way to continue teaching face-to-face classes. Our students possessed neither an electronic device at home nor a good internet connection.

I could not stand to stay locked up watching the days go by while the children learned nothing. I obtained a permit to continue in person teaching, even against the will of the local authorities. We managed to conclude 2020 and 2021 with 300 days of classes, from Monday to Saturday, without any student or teacher getting sick.

Always passionate about teaching, I became interested in developing an educational center to help my community in Honduras. I looked to the examples of Spanish father José María Arizmendiarrieta and the Salesian priest from San Salvador José María Morataya, who each left a legacy in education. They inspired me to do something in my country.

Honduran priest follows his mission and finds resources

Though I lacked resources, I believe God put teacher Ana Lourdes Enamorado in my path. Ana lent us land to use for the school, and our dream took shape. We sought to help poor children in Santa Cruz de Yojoa.

When I arrived at the municipality, we had no desks, books, health service, or a proper fence. We started from scratch. In the beginning, we served about 13 children, and little by little the number increased.

Students plant seeds in the ground at the Mercedes Calderón school | Photo courtesy of Father Víctor Manuel Cortés Calderón

The first students to join our classes sat in metal chairs that a nephew donated. We placed them under trees for shade, and the children used them as tables, kneeling on the ground. The children were surrounded by a botanical garden, featuring around 70 varieties of plants.

We wanted our educational center to be productive so from the first year, we started a small poultry farm. It grew as we incorporated rabbits, pigs, sheep, and a variety of crops.

The children grow and learn at school and on the farm

For our students, the farm is the engine for everything. They learn mathematics, natural sciences, language, and the environment. They focus on themes like recycling, which allows us to link study with work.

Every day, teams take charge of cleaning the cubicles where the animals live and harvesting the crops. In Honduras, education is in crisis. Low-income people have little access, but we show the world that poor children who experience better conditions can succeed.

One former student, Ryan Castro, had a Nicaraguan mother and a Honduran father. His parents decided to move to California. When they arrived in North America, the school system evaluated Ryan in Spanish, math, and English. They found out their child could be enrolled in a center with a higher level of learning where he could develop as an excellent student.

Every day we move forward to give students like Ryan the quality education children need. Our efforts flourish, even though we are just six volunteer teachers without any permanent aid workers. More and more people join our cause and recently, the mayor of the municipality donated another piece of land.

Today, I dream of seeing children aspire to become doctors and engineers. My mission is not just to teach, but to lead them into a better future.

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Honduran journalist with more than 12 years of experience in the media. A communication and advertising sciences graduate of the University of San Pedro Sulha, Xochilth has worked on different radio and television channels and taught at the university level. She currently collaborates as an editor of a digital newspaper.