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Helping to create a safe place for children to learn

Brandon Funk, right, poses with Frankie, a Honduran child, left, in the village of Balsamo in El Progreso, Honduras Jan. 8, 2013. _Submitted photo
Brandon Funk, right, poses with Frankie, a Honduran child, left, in the village of Balsamo in El Progreso, Honduras Jan. 8, 2013. _Submitted photo (Submitted photo)

When I attended a music show called "HonduRock" in April of 2012 at the Recher Theatre in Towson, I had no idea that it would virtually change my entire way of thinking and cause me to reevaluate my purpose in life. That was the first time I was introduced to the volunteer group known as Students Helping Honduras. The Towson chapter of SHH was sponsoring the concert, trying to raise funds for the group to finish building a school in some small country in Central America that I had never really known much about. A short video explaining SHH's mission to put an end to the violence and poverty in Honduras by educating and inspiring young people to make a difference, played before the show. I was instantly moved by the dedication and determination of a bunch of college students to go out and try to change the world. This message stuck with me.

Fast forward three years and I'm now a junior at the University of Maryland. I just purchased a plane ticket for my third trip down to the beautiful country of Honduras. In these three years, I've traveled to Honduras twice, helped to build two different schools for underprivileged youth and participated in numerous fundraising events on campus to help raise money to complete the building of other schools in Honduras. Bake sales, date auctions and even a special 5K run in the spring to honor a member of UMD SHH who passed away — you name it, we've done it.

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For SHH volunteers at my university, the work begins in the winter — that's where the passion truly develops. In the first week of January, a dedicated group of students from the University of Maryland heads on down to Honduras with one goal in mind: To build a school for impoverished villages in a city called El Progreso. Though it's not necessarily hard labor — usually we're laying bricks or mixing cement — it's the decision to just be there and help out that forms the basis of my passion for this cause. After our week in Honduras is over, filled with fun events like salsa dancing lessons, barefoot soccer games and a beach day on the beautiful Tela beach, everyone heads home with a fierce determination to raise funds to finish building the school we just worked on. And that spring, we work diligently to raise money. Last spring, for example we raised over $25,000 to send back to Honduras to finish the building of La Democracia Elementary School.

When I was leaving Honduras for the first time in 2013, I promised a boy named Frankie that I would come back to Honduras to see him and his sister "el año próximo," or "next year." I had just finished helping to build him and his village, El Bálsamo, a new school so that the children there could finally receive the quality education they so rightfully deserve. I came home and couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that I got to come back to my normal life, while Frankie and the rest of his friends were left to a life they live everyday, dealing with extreme poverty and the constant threat of gang violence.

A chance at an education can turn that life around for these kids, and that's what I helped to achieve and plan to keep on working for. I learned that a lot of children in Honduras are unable to get a quality education for so many reasons — their parents can't afford it; the nearest school is miles away and it would be unsafe to travel everyday; or most simply, the schools there are deteriorating and in the instance of bad weather, they become flooded and non-functional. As a human, I ask myself, "What gives me the right to have a high- quality education while the children of Honduras can't?" If an education means keeping these kids out of gangs and out of the way of violence, I will work tirelessly to ensure they receive it. SHH has becomes such a huge part of my life; this cause really means the world to me. I can't go anywhere without telling someone a story of my experiences. My passion for helping others has become completely ingrained in my mindset, and I use it everyday as a basis for how I live my life. I can wholeheartedly thank Honduras for this mentality. Viva SHH!

The Volunteer Voices section highlights outstanding volunteers in the Baltimore County area. If you're a volunteer and are interested in submitting to the series, please email elaina.clarke@communitytimes.com.

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