Roger Christman of Pleasant helps build a school in Honduras

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When a longtime friend of Pleasant’s Roger Christman told him that he and members of his church were going to Honduras to help build a new school, he asked Roger if he would be interested in going and helping lay concrete blocks in the project.

“I hadn’t laid block in 20 years,” Roger Christman laughed. “I told him that I thought I could still do it, but it was just a little rough getting in it.”

Roger Christman said that his friend’s church in North Vernon was in an effort with a church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to go and help build several structures at the school site, and were having trouble getting enough volunteers to handle all of the work that needed to be done over the week that the group would be there.

“They plan the same trip every year in terms of time,” Roger Christman said. “It’s two weeks total. It’s seven days on the job; and then there’s a couple of days on each end traveling, and then they do a three day ‘R and R’ on the way back.”

Roger Christman and the others from the North Vernon church drove to Oklahoma City where they met the rest of the group; then it was a flight to Houston, Texas, and then on to Honduras, where a flight of just over three hours landed them in the capital city of Tegucigalpa in central Honduras.

“From there we drove three and a half hours on a bus down the main highway to the south to Choluteca,” Roger Christman said. “It’s kind of a low desert area, but a large city, though. I’d say 50,000-75,000 people.”

The group was headquartered on the south edge of town, where they stayed in a hotel located inside a compound. Every 12 hours the armed guards for the hotel would change shifts.

“I was glad to see them,” Roger Christman said of the guards. “There were 41 of us total, and of that there were 12 high school kids who went as helpers and eight on the cook crew, so the guards made everyone feel safer.”

As for the food, Roger Christman said that the cooks and the rest of the crew were vegetarians, but that the produce of Honduras provided ample supplies of wonderful fruits and vegetables.

“We had fresh egg plant, pineapple, coconut, oranges,” Roger Christman said. “Nice big cucumbers and tomatoes. A lot watermelon and cantaloupe. It’s was really a good time to be there. It was their August, kind of late summer.”

The school being built was on the eastern side of the town, encompassing 80 acres approximately two miles outside of town. Even though the school wasn’t built yet, there were already 800 children signed up to go there once it was ready.

“Actually, yesterday (Monday, February 20th) was their first day of school,” Roger Christman said. “They were getting to start in their brand new school. They had a school at the church in town, but they were very limited. They were needing to branch out, so they got this project started. Really they put it together pretty quickly.”

Roger Christman said that the principal was on the site, painting inside the classrooms everyday that the group was there. They were told that when finished 1,200 students would be able to attend classes at capacity.

When the group arrived, Roger Christman said that they main auditorium, a steel structure about 80’x150′ feet in size, was pretty much completed. His group worked on small, individual classroom buildings, as well as “safe houses”, concrete and rebar-reinforced structures that served several purposes for the school, including providing students and staff with a safe structure if severe weather hit.

“Everything there was ‘open vented’, with vents in each end for comfort,” Roger Christman said. As long as you could stay in the shade, you could stay cool. When we were there it was about 80-degrees most of the time, but about 1 p.m. it would get up about 100. It’s a dry climate for the most part.”

Roger Christman said that about six of the classrooms had been completed when the crew arrived at the site.

“The classrooms are basically a concrete slab, about 20’x30′, and then they have what I call a carport with galvanized tubing every so often to hold the roof supports. Then they go in and they drywall them inside. They have a dry-erase chalkboard on one end, and that’s their classroom. They’re vented on the ends and in the gables, and have fold-out windows. The classrooms don’t have any electricity in them. The windows provide the light.”

Roger Christman said that the first building he and some others worked on was a bathhouse, and with the specs to make the structure withstand severe weather, the little building took the crew three days to complete.

Next to the bathhouse was an elementary school cafeteria; and from there he helped lay block for the library, which was a 20’x90′ structure.

By the end of the week, the crew had laid over 5,000 blocks.

Also on the site, members of the group worked with Honduran citizens in putting metal on some buildings, putting on roofs once the block was laid; and also providing the support needed to keep workers moving with adequate supplies and materials.

“One guy and two of the local Honduran boys, all they did was mix mortar and mud, and I mean they worked at it as hard as they could go,” Roger Christman said. “It was a lot of work to keep everybody supplied. Then there was probably four who did the mortaring. One guy was dedicated to the block saw. That’s all he did was cut block.”

The blocks that had upright rebar running through them were filled with concrete, and Roger Christman said that those doing the filling handed concrete up in old gallon orange juice containers with the bottoms cut out – handing one up at a time until the wall was full.

“The last night we laid the last block, and it had to be cut on about four sides,” Roger Christman laughed. “It was probably about 8:30 p.m. and they had lights everywhere and guys had lights on their heads, but we got it completed.”

But the American crew left more than their hard work in Honduras.

“When we left everybody was pretty much down to their sock feet,” Roger Christman said. “No tools. Nothing. We gave all of our tools to the local people who were going to be finishing the project. We had some young boys there who were local, and we left things with them. They didn’t have much. Everybody pretty much pitched in at the end. Anything we didn’t need to get home we left with the principal, and she was going to see who needed the help.”

So does he stop to think about those children who are in school today because he gave up his time to go and help?

“Oh yes,” Roger Christman said. “One thing that we talked a lot about is what a blessing it would be to go back at some point in the future and see how that project has impacted the entire community. Most of the people seemed to be really happy. They’re not used to having very much, and they’re all right with that. It makes you feel good to know that you helped in some small way.”