Little Honduran Dukes

Take away the designer jeans, personal cars, and JMU’s amazing recreational facilities. Take away meals in a new dining hall. Take away indoor plumbing. Take away a first-class education and even take away the solid Bluestone buildings, floors and sometimes roofs. What do you have?

You have people. You have relationships. You have life in Honduras.

Few understand this better than JMU junior Morgan Leary who spent six weeks last summer in Honduras. What she learned is a lesson for life.

Working for Honduras Outreach Inc., Morgan taught English to elementary school students in grades one through six. She had worked with HOI before on a mission trip.

“All my friends were getting internships for the summer and I wanted one too” she says. “I went to their website and didn’t find anything, so I got in touch with them.”

“Would you like to teach English? They asked.

So every morning, Morgan taught six classes, each 40 minutes long with a single 30-minute break. The curriculum, she explains, is based on students’ needs, not on their chronological age or grade level. “Often they would have to drop out of school for a year.” That meant that her 120 students ranged from age 5 to 16. Not one of children’s Honduran teachers speaks English; they too would sit in on Morgan’s classes to learn.

“I was there to teach and have fun with them.”

Morgan Leary (’14) and her Honduran class

At first the children were shy, she says, but gradually she watched their personalities emerge.

“Every time I entered or left the classroom, they would surround me with a group hug. I’d lean up against the board so I wouldn’t fall over and hurt one of them! It was the coolest feeling, seeing how excited they were to see me and learn, It was so touching and motivating at the same time.”

“Teaching in Honduras isn’t very interactive,” Morgan says. “I tried to do a lot of hands-on things,” like writing English and Spanish words on the board and have students get up and match them together. “I’d do goofy things in class to keep their interest.”

Morgan used a spikey rubber ball as a teaching tool, not realizing at first what a novelty that was to the children. When she asked a question and tossed it to one student, immediately another student tackled him for the ball. Soon she had a pile up.

Morgan also found a clever way to teach the alphabet, teaching them JMU’s favorite chant: JMU…DUUUUUKES. (Do not miss the link to this video on JMU’s YouTube.)

Mornings were for school and afternoons for recreation. At 4:30 life stops in Honduras for soccer, they played soccer for two hours every night. The Hondurans were impressed with Morgan, who played high school soccer and plays on JMU intermural teams.

“What is so fascinating is that there are so many children in Honduras with no childhoods.” But Morgan is quick to qualify that while these children have more responsibility and much more to deal with, they are happy. “You see them having fun, laughing and playing.”

The focus of their lives, Morgan realized quickly, is on families, parents, cousins, friends. “It’s not on who’s dressed in the latest fashions. It’s about relationships.”

“Some of these kids have next to nothing,” Morgan says. Yet they brought Morgan presents. In her room now, she has two huge bags filled with love notes to her. She also has eight handmade clay pottery vases and a little pig sculpture! “Some wrote out their life stories for me. I am amazed how giving they were when they have so little materially.”

HOI has two bases, one in Atlanta and one in El Rancho Paraiso, Honduras. Of the 60 paid employees of HOI in Honduras, all are Honduran. The organization regularly sends volunteers to the country, who might install flooring in the mud huts, build latrines or add on to overcrowded houses. Or they might build chimneys since many Hondurans cook inside with little or no ventilation.

HOI works alongside Hondurans. That way, Morgan says, “They have more of an investment in the work.”

This trip was Morgan’s third to Honduras. When she graduated from high school, she was going to take a trip to the Bahamas with friends. Instead, she asked her parents if she could go to Honduras. She took a second trip with JMU’s campus chapter of Students Helping Honduras. She’s also vice-president of the club this year.

For Morgan, it has become more than a summer vacation. It has been life changing, “like a reset button, and makes me realize what is truly important in life,” she says. The junior from Poquoson, Va., is majoring in International Affairs with a concentration and minor in Latin American Studies and a minor in non-profit studies. After she graduates, she would like to work overseas, possibly for a non-profit, the state department or an embassy somewhere along the pipeline of aid to Central America.

More than anything else, Morgan was moved by the people of Honduras and especially their sense of community.  The doctor who works for HOI in Honduras is a man named German (pronounced “heir-mon”) Jimenez. He lives with his family in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, miles from The Ranch. But every Monday morning, he boards a bus and rides six hours to the HOI clinic. From Monday through Friday, he works with people who otherwise would not have such easy access to health care. On Friday, he boards the bus again and makes the six-hour journey back home to be with his family. Every week.

After all, it’s Honduras. It’s about relationships and caring for those around you.

To learn more about JMU’s chapter of SHH, go to

And to learn more about HOI, visit


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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