Tonganoxie school-supply project a multicultural success
A drive to collect crayons and other school supplies to send to school children in Honduras was even more successful than Lisa Swaim had imagined.
On July 26, Swaim, and Stacey Sturdevant, who live in Tonganoxie, and eight other women who belong to Assembly of God churches in Kansas, flew out of Wichita, on their way to Honduras.
Because the donated school supplies far outweighed what Swaim could carry on her flight, she shipped them ahead of time -- all 1,600 pounds.
Among the myriad items shipped were 11,440 crayons, 1,400 pencils, 1,511 colored pencils, 500 sheets of stickers, calculators, toothbrushes and toothpaste, shoe laces, markers and some 300 small toys.
Although some items were shipped from across the state, Swaim said the bulk of it came from Tonganoxie.
During the last week of school, Swaim and members of the church her husband, Ron Swaim, pastors, put collection boxes at Tonganoxie Elementary School and Genesis Christian Academy so students could donate used crayons, markers and other supplies. Then the community of Tonganoxie got into action.
"Word got out and I had people dropping things off at my house and the church," Swaim said.
She and other volunteers spent a day sorting supplies. They refilled glue bottles, they sharpened pencils, and they organized crayons into sets.
Then came shipping. More volunteers stepped up to help.
"We took the boxes to the airport, and shrink-wrapped them on pallets," Swaim said.
In all, it cost $700 to ship the items, Swaim said.
Spirit of sharing
In Honduras, the women completed one of their goals -- to conduct a two-day, three-night mountaintop summer camp for 300 girls.
The women provided supplies for the girls to make a beaded necklace with a cross. And, they showed them how to decorate cards with stickers.
"They sponge painted on the cards and put on a few foam stickies and wrote their names," Swaim said. "But oh my goodness you'd think it was the most treasured thing they'd ever had."
While there, Swaim realized the nature of the people.
"They don't have much but they share everything that they have," Swaim said.
And, by the end of the trip, the women realized their other goal -- to begin distributing the boxes of school supplies.
They saw an educational system vastly different from that in the United States.
In Honduras, Swaim said, it's uncommon for children to stay in school through the sixth grade, even though the country's laws stipulate that all children attend school.
She realized even before she went to Honduras, that school supplies -- especially in small rural schools -- are in short supply. This carries over to churches, too.
"The church we visited had one little box of crayons, maybe 25 crayons, that were shared between two different classrooms," Swaim said.
She compared that to the situation in this country.
"Our kids come home with leftover school supplies and they're just kind of shoved in a closet or thrown away," Swaim said. "I heard a lot of comments from the children and their parents that they were so excited to get their supplies."
Life changing The women spent several nights at the home of Kansas missionary Becky Hoshaw. Hoshaw oversees 14 small private schools in Honduras.
"All the windows are barred, all the houses have hot wire or barbed wire fences and there are lots of really tall walls," Swaim said.
And, she said, some homeowners employ full-time security guards.
While in Honduras, Swaim met Maylin Garcia, a 6-year-old girl whom she plans for a group from her church to adopt.
"We'll send her $28 a month," Swaim said. "That will assure her to be able to keep going to that little private school and will pay for a lunch."
When Swaim and her group returned to Kansas on Aug. 3, it was with a new view on life.
"It was a life-changing experience," she said. "I would do it again. A lot of us women feel like we left part of our hearts there -- we're definitely planning on going back."