Hiking The AT for BECA

NOTE: This isn’t a plea for donations, or an appeal on your generosity. If you want to donate to BECA – fantastic! After all, I’m hiking to help raise awareness for them. I’m only ask that you read more about them and maybe share their story and mine with your friends and family. 

Once Upon A Time

My good friend, my Tigre Amiga, Andrea was in the seat next to me on the airplane. She saw my leg shaking up and down and she laughed. “Don’t be so nervous, Erin”. No, of course not. We were just flying all the way from Miami to San Pedro Sula in Honduras to volunteer for a week with a thriving little community that had built themselves from the ground up. No, no reason to be nervous at all – I just happened to be an awkward white girl who didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t have any skills to speak of. Packed on the plane with us were countless groups of missionaries. They were excited and singing and wearing match t-shirts and I couldn’t help but feel that even though their hearts were in the right place they expected they were going to Save the Poor Brown People. I didn’t want my trip to smack of that. I wanted to work with and for the community, Villa Soleada, and be useful and meaningful in a way that truly benefited others, not be above them looking down. That’s what I wanted from my trip.

Fast forward a week later – I learned how to make rebar. I learned how to mix a concrete/dirt mixture called mescula by hand and shovel. I made friends with a few of the children and I enjoyed $1.50 pina coladas at Tela beach. I think it was a life-affirming trip for a lot of people that went with us – by this time I was 25 and many of the kids on the trip were 18 or 19. Perhaps I was a bit jaded, or maybe I complain too much and nothing is ever good enough for me (I have a few ex-boyfriends who might agree with that statement) but I couldn’t help but just view the trip as hard work that needed to be done to make the world a better place. And the most amazing thing to me that I saw that week wasn’t the acceptance of upper middle class white kids by the people of the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere (although Hondurans are certainly accepting, loving, and gracious hosts!)…what was most amazing to me was despite cards stacked against them, every community we visited had children who wanted to learn. Despite no chairs, despite no physical building to speak of, they attended the idea of educational systems. That’s when I realized how important it is that every child, regardless of nationality or gender or background, deserves an education and a safe space in their community. Maybe it’s because I come from a family of teachers. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many students in my own life take for granted the educational opportunities afforded to them. Whatever it was, I was blown away by these students who were working hard at such young ages to make their lives so much better.

About BECA

This is where BECA (Bilingual Education for Central America) comes in. Last year when I was getting ready to announce the hike to friends and family my brother Andrew and I debated on what organizations to hike for. We knew we wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail and use it as a vehicle to raise awareness for something. We tossed around a bunch of great organizations that are near and dear to my heart: The Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri was a strong contender, for instance. Stray Rescue of St. Louis, too. And recently I found about Hike For Mental Health – all great causes that speak to something important to me. One of my friends, Leah, happens to be a volunteer teacher for BECA and Andrea (remember, my Tigre Amiga) had been as well. I reflected on how moved I was with the idea that a life, a community, a country can change if students have access to the right educational tools. BECA’s own mission statement:

Bilingual Education for Central America exists to promote cultural exchange and affordable bilingual education. Our volunteer driven bilingual school model creates an environment in which Central American students learn from dedicated volunteer teachers, and those volunteers learn from the community in which they are immersed.

However, it is their dedication to cultural understanding that strikes me most, again, in their own words: “We are not so arrogant to think that we North Americans can solve Central America’s problems unilaterally. We alone do not have answers to the region’s challenges, which is why we hold collaboration with local partners as an article of faith. Only if we work together with respect, honesty, integrity, and equality, do we believe we will accomplish our goal of achieving a sustainable educational and economic transformation.” Everyone dedicated to BECA is dedicated to seeing Honduras through as a country, starting with the poorest communities. It is naive to think things will change overnight, or even in a generation’s time. But if one community is made better because their children had an education provided then I would say it’s a worthy endeavor.

88% of the money raised and donated to BECA goes directly to the schools. The rest of the money is put back into fundraising efforts or to cover administrative and managerial costs. BECA relies on volunteer teachers. My friend Leah is a third grade teacher and I’m excited to say that I’ll be corresponding with her class on the trail! Look for those updates once my hike begins starting in March. Most importantly, BECA works with communities for them, not dictating what should be done.

A lot of people have written me off or have been critical of my choice of charity. “Why not hike for an organization in the United States?” “Why not something that benefits the environment?” To which I answer that 1) Again, every child deserves an education and I happen to have a semi-personal connection with this one and 2) I strongly believe that an educated community is an environmentally conscious community. I’m confident in my decision and I’m so proud of the work BECA is doing to empower young lives!

Excited for the Hike!

I may not speak Spanish. I may not have a lot of skills that would help a community thrive, and I certainly don’t have the answers or the right to assume I know how to solve complex political problems that aren’t even native to me. But I do have a voice and I have two working legs and a strong back and I will shout from every peak in Appalachia my belief in BECA. I can’t wait to write to the kids and hear from them as well (though with the postal system it may only be a couple letters – hopefully more – but I’m being realistic here). Knowing that if I spur someone to give BECA a chance, knowing that if I raise just a meager sum for them to continue to grow and thrive and inspire hope in students, then I’ll have no reason to give up on the trail. If I can’t do it for myself, I’ll do it because those students have worked harder than I’ll ever know and that inspires me.

BECA is a 501(c)(3) charity and all donations are tax deductable. Donations can be made through BECAschools.org or through GoFundMe.com/ATforBECA (the latter of which will help me keep track of it and allow me to thank everyone taking part in helping BECA fulfill their mission!)


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