Go Ape

As part of their overseas placement and Foundation Year in Global Volunteering and Citizenship, Project Trust Volunteers complete a Community Report. Community Reports can take any form – an essay, fictional writing, visual art – as long as it shows analysis of the community and culture the Volunteer has been living in during their placement. Creating a Community Report is a chance for Volunteers to create a lasting memory of their year and gain a unique insight into their host community.

Project Trust’s Community Report prize winner for 2015/16 is Esme Pringle, who volunteered in Yamaranguila in Honduras. Yamaranguila is a very small village, twenty minutes from the town of La Esperanza. Volunteers at Yamaranguila support the teachers and provide additional tutoring for the students who may be struggling, taking small groups for tutoring or individuals for one to one sessions.

Esme’s Community Report provides an insight into life in Honduras in the form of a board game. Below, Esme has told us why she chose a board game to represent her time in Honduras and why board games were an integral part of life in Yamaranguila.

Many quiet evenings during my year were spent together with colleagues, working our way through our School director’s extensive collection of board games. In this way game playing acted as an ice breaker, a unifying aspect of culture that everyone was able to understand and enjoy together. Games Night was a great excuse for everyone to come together, share stories, eat snacks and have a good time. I couldn’t think of a better way to organise my thoughts and feelings towards my year than following this theme and creating my own.

The first thing I did was sit down with a notebook and, off the top of my head, write down all the incredible endeavours I had undertaken and all the noteworthy people I had met during my year. It struck me immediately how wide-ranging my experiences and interactions had been; handwashing clothes, watching a church congregation speak in tongues, hosting parent-teacher conferences with illiterate parents, meeting the President of Honduras, sweating in the sweltering Honduran sun then barely one month later wrapped up in hat and scarf trying to teach a class over the sound of hailstones.

After coming up with this vague idea it took a long time to actually plan and design a workable layout – it’s a lot more difficult to make a board game than it might seem! Being a foreign newcomer in this intimate village community on the other side of the world, I didn’t want to misrepresent the Honduran people that I’d met or turn their stories into a novelty. I decided early-on that the game would be played from the perspective of a Project Trust volunteer. Ultimately, I left Honduras with a year’s worth of experiences, events and conversations that I had to try and make sense of; it wouldn’t feel right, for me, to create a Community Report from any other perspective but my own.

I decided to name the game “La Esperanza” after the city where most of our students lived. Translated from Spanish, it means “hope” which I also thought was a very fitting title for a game set in the amazingly resilient, spirited community where I spent my year living.

The aim of the game is, essentially, to have the most varied and broad experience during your time in Honduras, reflected by the Aim Cards:

Transition: To transition into rural Honduran life in the mountains as smoothly as possible. This includes getting to know the local people and traditions, and taking a full part in every new aspect of life.

Teaching: To do as much as possible for the school. Be keen, be enthusiastic and be willing to do even the less glamourous work.

Travel: To travel around Central America as cheaply as possible: around the C4 (Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras), up to Belize and Mexico and down to Costa Rica. Travelling to the cities was often a culture shock in itself from the quiet in the mountains, which helped me to appreciate the slow paced life back at home.

Each card is worth a certain number of points to represent the value of the experience, or rather its relative impact on the volunteer. Big cultural shocks, difficult children and far away countries tend to score the player more points, whilst the everyday drudgery, angelic classes, and day trips to the city score fewer. However, it’s more difficult to “experience” and win the higher valued cards, as becomes apparent when you play. You must have enough cards from each Aim category to be able to finish the game and “fly home”.

As any board game connoisseur knows, trying to explain how to play a game is one of the most difficult, frustrating things to do! To better understand, you’d have to play it yourself. Luckily, there’s a copy up at the Hebridean Centre on the Isle of Coll for anyone who’s interested. If there’s not enough time to play the whole thing, even just flicking through the Question Cards gives you a sense of Honduras; an immediate insight into the rich and varied life of the country. My year, in brief is summed up through them.

I didn’t leave myself much time to get the board game finished so I ended up spending the two weeks before Debriefing completely frantic, fine-tuning all the details. I was very insecure about my Community Report when I went up to Coll. The nature of the game makes it quite an intimate thing, and I still feel a bit uncomfortable at the thought of people playing it. Although the game deals with the highs – buying a motorscooter, teaching a kid to read – and the lows – extreme weather, witnessing violence – I wanted to keep humour at its core. I think most returned Project Trust volunteers will agree that being able to laugh at yourself is a vital life skill. I certainly had my fair share of hilariously humiliating moments – creating my community report made me appreciate the lasting effects of being exposed to the Honduran’s carefree and pragmatic attitude. It was a combination of the good, the bad, and the downright embarrassing that made my time in Honduras so integral to my growth as a person.  Learning to laugh at my mishaps is what got me through that year and will, undoubtedly, get me through many years to come.

Living in Honduras has been every shade of rewarding/eye opening/life affirming/incredible and a whole host of other clichés. As part of Project Trust’s Global Citizenship Project, I was recently giving a school presentation where I was asked to sum up my experience of Honduras and their people in three words. Trying to describe something that means so much to you is never easy but I think “selfless, unrelenting optimism” almost does it justice. If my board game was able to convey even a hint of this, then it will have been worth it.