Bilingual Education for Central America (or BECA, ‘scholarship’ in Spanish) is an organisation based in Cofradia, Honduras, set up to provide bilingual education to Central American children aged 4 – 15. BECA is a truly inspiring organisation, operating a unique model where decision making and responsibility are shared with its local community partners. These equal-footing partnerships have proven to be highly successful – BECA now provides education to 470 disadvantaged students and enjoys long-lasting relationships between its teachers and community members. Pocket Robin caught up with Sean Bell, BECA’s Executive Director to find out more.
Jaime Koppel first came to Cofradia, Honduras as a volunteer teacher. Two years later in 2003, she founded BECA to support a school for children from low-income families in the area, which was in need of volunteer bilingual teachers. At this time Jamie met with the parents of the community to lay the foundation for a new model of education; where the parents would be the legal owners and set up the infrastructure, and BECA would supply the bilingual volunteers, counsel and feedback.
This model proved very successful and after a few years, went on to provide the framework for 2 more BECA community schools, one set up in a town of families displaced by Hurricane Mitch, the other established to provide education to children from extremely traumatic backgrounds.
In one BECA school it was the parents themselves who agreed a base tuition rate that every family could afford. BECA then operates a 4-point scholarship scheme on top of this where parents can either pay $2 per point or work 4 hours a month in the schools themselves – helping to build new classrooms, cleaning, selling food etc. All the money from this system gets reinvested back in to the schools and pays for school counsellors and new school buildings.
BECA’s model makes it a rather unique organisation therefore: BECA does not own and operate any of its schools; the community does, and the parents are truly invested.
Sadly, less than 40% of students continue on to High School in Honduras. A lot drop out at 6th Grade (aged 11 or 12) to become income earners. Honduras also has one of the biggest inequality gaps in the world: 70% live below the national poverty line, 30% above, with no or few opportunities to ‘cross over’. With the increase in US businesses, call centres and tourism in Honduras, one skill that separates the two is English. Honduran parents see the value in giving their children a bilingual education: it opens so many otherwise closed doors.
Sean is clearly proud of the opportunities BECA’s schools provide for local communities: its graduates have gone on to great things – 3 on scholarship in the US, others attending High School, Universities or holding down highly paid jobs in Honduras.
But it’s not just BECA’s students whose lives are enriched; BECA’s mission is to also empower its volunteers by connecting them with the community. BECA volunteers attend Summer Institute training – including a 2 week homestay and Spanish classes – prior to the school year start, as well as professional development throughout the school year.
Sean also talks at length about how warm and welcoming the Honduran communities are towards BECA’s volunteers and more importantly, how much respect and care they show them. His favourite memories from his 3 years in Honduras have been spending the holidays with many of the local families; laughing and joking together, eating traditional tamales and drinking coffee. This immersion of volunteers into local communities has become very much part of BECA’s culture.
Sean is also keen to counterbalance the negative attention Honduras receives, often blown up by the press. Whilst Honduras does suffer from high crime rates in certain areas, these are very much isolated and overshadow the real Hondurans who Sean describes as “the most welcoming, caring, loving and generous”.
“Reach out. You are not going to find a more personally and professionally rewarding opportunity. Those kids that you’re going to teach every day are going to fill you with so much love. And the families are going to welcome you like your own family. If you’re looking for a life-changing experience, I don’t think there’s any other that exists like this.”
We wish BECA all the very best for what we are sure is set to be a bright and promising future.
To read more about BECA, including details on how to become a volunteer, visit their website: www.becaschools.org