By Dr. Nikos M. Spanakos
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In the middle of April, I left Brooklyn to volunteer with 19 Rotarians to endure exhausting physical labor in the mountains of Honduras, in conjunction with “Pure Water for the World” a non-profit organization.
Our herculean objectives, in the muggy, hot jungles, outside the city of Trojes, Honduras near the border of Nicaragua, was to install water filtration, build outhouses, dig latrines, instruct people in proper hygiene education, and provide disease-resisting injections to the residents for at least 200 people.
The group consisted of my roommate, a great guy, a gregarious middle-age Irishman, Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan of Hallandale Beach, Florida; Barry Poppel, leader of the expedition; co-leader Doug Hinkle; and 17 other Rotarians from across the U.S. Massachusetts. Six were women.
All the volunteers were tough, hard workers, laboring in the mosquito-infested extreme heat, laying cinder blocks and connecting metal walls for outhouses. Within our six-day stay, our tiny task force was also responsible for installing water filters in homes made of mud and stone. All this sweat and strain was conducted with much humor and laughter.
The Hondurans are a prideful, proud people but desperately in need of medicine, health, education and financial assistance. The children graduate from a one-room schoolhouse in the sixth grade. The girls at the tender age of 12 or 13 are eligible for marriage and motherhood while the boys seek whatever employment is available.
The subsistence farmers have only small plots of land to produce cash crops of coffee beans and tobacco. The Hondurans’ unbelievable unemployment rate is recorded at 69 percent, and the average monthly income is $300.
Why clean water? Without it, the Hondourans suffer from the effects of contaminated water resulting in diseases and vulnerable to intestinal parasites, dysentery, diarrhea, dehydration, and sometimes painful premature death.
My most poignant moments were the profound fellowships I shared with my roomie and my cheerful Rotarians (something I haven’t experienced since 1962 with my short stay in the Peace Corps) while driving for countless hours, up and down the mountain roads in our four-wheel drive open-bed truck . We would signal the driver to stop and pick up locals, sometimes two or three generations of a family, who were trudging along the mountain roads, generously sharing our food and drink while offering toys for the little ones, in addition to entertaining them with American songs.
At the capital city Tegucigalpa’s airport, I was delighted to see other American organizations that were also in Honduras providing humanitarian help. While waiting for our departure, a native musician was playing an instrument that serendipitously enticed the youth to rise and dance Zumba. My first impression of Zumba reminded me of shadow-boxing. Later an elderly couple joined in with a six-step dance. What a wonderful way to exit the country and to celebrate our return to Florida.
Decades earlier, I concluded that the world was divided between the “takers” and the “givers”, the former being many and the later being few. Nevertheless, I never encountered a Rotarian who was not a “giver.”
Following is a list of all the participating volunteers:
Wesley Chapel, Fla. Rotary: Erin Meyer, Eric Johnson, Ben Alexander, Dane Parilo, Pablo Rivera, Greg Lenners, James Meyer, Jannah McDonald, Dulcee Loehn, Leah Marchette.
Clear Water Filtration in Vermont: Steve Parker, Jen Fleckenstein.
Mt. Manfield Media in Vermont: Jake Cunavelis.
Trinity, Fla. Rotary: Barry Poppel.
Colonie-Guilderland, N.Y., Rotary: Douglas Hinkle.
Yarmouth, Mass., Rotary: Jim Saben, Tammy Glivinski.
HallandaleBeach-Aventura, Fla., Rotary: Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan, Nikos Spanakos.
Editor’s Note: Nikos (Nick) Spanakos, is a retired tenured academic with a doctorate in business administration, who has
trekked to all seven continents and hundreds of venues in between. He grew up in Red Hook, and In his earlier years, he boxed at 125 lbs. in the 1960 Rome Olympic Games with his teammate and roommate Cassius Clay. He and his twin brother Petros, who also later became an educator, both were Golden Gloves champions.