Mammoth local finds himself teaching in Honduras
“It’s my destiny … it’s my dream. I’m riding horses in the mountains and hauling bananas. I feel good there. I feel welcome.”
It may sound as though Corey Heimlich, his voice now tinged with a Spanish accent, is describing the ultimate destination vacation. In reality, he is describing his life in a country that was once the biggest banana port in the world, but is now going through a major upheaval.
Heimlich, raised in Mammoth from the age of four, is the self-proclaimed “black sheep” of his family, the middle child of three sons.
Now 25, Heimlich has returned home to Mammoth for the holidays following a year teaching middle and high school in the remote mountains above the Honduran Caribbean coast in Trujillo, Colon.
Heimlich was literally dropped off in Trujillo after sailing around Mexico with a German friend who owned a sailboat. The two had been to Roatan and Utila prior to arriving in Trujillo. It was there that the friend kicked Heimlich off the boat.
According to Heimlich, it was just a misunderstanding and the two remain friends today. The spat, however, seems to have unlocked Heimlich’s destiny.
“I started living with the people there,” he explains. “I was chopping and hauling bananas for about three months before I started teaching.”
Heimlich had attended the University of Santa Cruz where he studied Modern Literature and Russian, so he didn’t have teaching experience, but for small farming villages where the highest levels of education are the equivalent of high
school, he may as well have been Aristotle.
Each week from February through October, Heimlich would spend Monday through Thursday, traveling to, and teaching his students. From his apartment in Trujillo he would leave Monday morning by foot or by horse (although the first horse he bought bucked him off), which are the only modes of transportation in the area. He would head first to Betulia, where he would begin lessons for his high school students. Here, he worked through the Honduran Institute of Education by Radio, supported by a Catholic radio program.
This program has a set curriculum, and the students are more engaged and less sheltered, according to Heimlich. He taught typical high school subjects such as physics, chemistry, math, sociology and history.
On Tuesday, Heimlich would then head to Jazmines de Oriente — a four-hour trek, again by foot, up steep mountains — to reach his middle school pupils.
“The program here is called Una Educacion Pero Para Todos (An Education but for Everybody) and is designed for those who live in remote areas and have had little prior education,” Heimlich explains.
These students were much shier and had little to no experience outside of their village. The ocean, Heimlich explained, was only four hours away but the majority of his students had never been.
He was able to create and structure this program to what was needed, explaining that he began with a lot of world basics about the continents.
“Things like, where is Europe, what is Europe,” Heimlich says. “Most of them only knew Barcelona and Madrid before because of soccer.” He taught a 7th-9th grade curriculum for his students who ranged in age from 10-22.
“We started by reading the Bible because that was the only book available,” he says. “They all had to go to church, but never read the Bible.”
The students then went on to read The Old Man and the Sea, The Little Prince, and portions of Don Quixote.
“A lot of people ask me if I was teaching English,” Heimlich says. “But no, these people [in their remote locations] don’t need to learn English, they need to learn to read and write in Spanish.”
He pointed out that he often took simple things for granted, such as sending a form home to be signed by a student’s parent.
“They would return the form having signed it themselves with their parent’s name,” he says. “When I asked why, they reminded me that their parents could not write.”
Which also took away any thoughts of parents helping their students with homework.
And Heimlich did all this while overcoming other huge hurdles that we take for granted on a daily basis.
“The electricity is very sketchy, and they don’t even have electricity in Jazmines de Oriente,” he says. Water was also an issue. During the rainy season things were fine, but by the end of the year, when things got dry, Heimlich went through periods of time at his apartment without any water.
“Luckily the sea is right there,” he says, explaining that he would often jump in the ocean to bathe.
On top of all this, Heimlich explained that Honduras “is currently in upheaval with a brand new right wing, militaristic regime under Juan Orlando. The drug trafficking, gangs, extortion, general delinquency, and abject poverty have brewed an unbearable environment in the cities. Unfortunately, Honduras has the highest homicide rate of any country in the world and is the second poorest country in Latin America behind Haiti.”
All of these issues combined, plus the need for his students to work their families farms make it a less than ideal learning environment.
“All of my students had to milk cows every morning,” he explains. And losing students to work is not uncommon, although in Betulia, Heimlich says he started and ended with six students. In Jazmines de Oriente, however, he started the year with 18 students and ended with 10.
Dropout rates were also attributed to finances. The $5 per month/per student cost in Jazmines de Oriente was unaffordable for some families.
For the students who made it to the end of the year, Heimlich was able to raise funds via donations from several parties including a development agency called Honduras Living and its CEO Randy Jorgensen to take the students on a three-day field trip to Copan Ruins, the national pride and Mayan archeological mecca of Honduras. The trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity for many of the students who had never been outside of their villages before.
Heimlich will return to Trujillo in February for another school year.
“We’ve founded a library in the village of Betulia and we’re trying to stock up on its first books,” he says of next year’s plan. “Jazmines de Oriente is going to have its first ever tenth grade class and is in dire need of textbooks. Next year we’re planning a field trip to the Bay islands.”
When I asked Corey if he wanted this article to make an ask out there for more donations, he looked a bit pained, as if he was struggling with the answer, but then decidedly said yes.
“We have nothing … I have nothing,” he says. “I hated losing students because they didn’t have $5 per month.”
If you would like to help Heimlich build a library for his students, email him at email@example.com