Fostering Entrepreneurship in Catacamas, HondurasSeptember 15, 2017
On April 21, 2017, I boarded a Continental flight from Halifax that would deliver me to the scene of my first CESO assignment. My task was to work with the entrepreneurial committee at Universidad Nacional de Agricultura (UNA) in Catacamas, Honduras, to help them establish a student entrepreneurship program on campus. When my plane touched down in Tegucigalpa, a university driver was waiting for me. Three-and-a-half hours later, after a long drive on a winding highway over hilly terrain and farmland, I arrived in Catacamas. I was one tired volunteer when I put the key into my hotel door.
I stayed at a small Hotel-Apartment called Villa Fe, which was owned by a wonderful couple who both worked at the university. It was a great place to stay, with friendly staff, an attached restaurant and a great neighbourhood to walk in. It was easy to meet other guests as we all gathered at an outside table for breakfast in the morning and coffee in the evening. My hosts’ two young boys greeted me every evening, one of whom loved to chat–they were both in English immersion schools.
The seminars were spread over morning and afternoon topics, and participants included faculty, students, and support-staff. The University Entrepreneurial Committee was fantastic to work with, and the two weeks were well-planned with no wasted time. As per most undertakings involving many people, we had to make a few adjustments to respond to circumstances. The power went off on several occasions, but we carried on with the sessions. It’s the ol’ adult educator trick: Have a flipchart or chalkboard as a backup, and know your stuff!
I know enough Spanish to get by day-to-day, but not enough to lead seminars. Fortunately, I had an incredible translator and facilitator assigned to me for the duration of my stay. She was fantastic in all she did, translating anything from PowerPoint slides to complete documents. On a day off, she and a driver took me to visit some historic Indigenous burial caves about 30 km from Catacamas. As a history buff, this was a valuable cultural experience for me.
What I really liked about UNA is that students who come from poor families are not charged for tuition. The university philosophy is to enhance their opportunities for a good start in life. I also loved the campus! It was clean, the flora was beautiful and there were huge trees everywhere that were hundreds of years old. The buildings were a mix of original and newly-opened structures, and there were many buildings in-construction. The students who took part in our seminars were young and engaged. I hosted an ideas workshop on one of my last days on campus. In that session, approximately 45 students, in groups of 6, discussed and generated entrepreneurial ideas. Although they may have come to the session with 5-6 ideas, each group could only share one idea at the end of the workshop, a process which required sharing ideas, negotiating, agreeing and reporting back to the large group. The students had some amazing ideas, which confirmed for me once again to never discount the creativity of the human mind! At the end of the workshop the students requested there be more workshops like this in the future.
At the end of my two weeks, my closing meeting with the UNA faculty revealed that our time had been well spent. The crowning point for me came on May 18th, when I received an e-mail from a UNA colleague telling me that he had been invited to talk to a group of students about entrepreneurship–thanks to our work, he was able to do that quite easily!
On my last morning, I was up at 5:30am to drive to Tegucigalpa to meet with the CESO representative in Honduras. It turns out we have a mutual friend–small world indeed–and we had a great discussion about my time in Catacamas and the exceptional work CESO is doing in the country overall.
Words alone are unable to convey the sounds, the smells, the laughter and other wonderful things I experienced on my first CESO assignment in Catacamas. That said, I hope this reflection gives you an idea of my experience, for which I am grateful to CESO and to those in Honduras who have touched my life. Would I go back to Honduras again? You bet!