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The Softer Side of Island Soul by Thomas Tomczyk

A Ballet School Teaches Grace and Dance Skills to Island Kids
A scene from Peter and the Wolf.

Few people thought that ballet would be such a hit on Roatan. After all, this is a "tough island." Boys and girls are taught to hunt for iguanas, fish for marlin and cut brush with machetes. There is a softer, gentler side to island soul, and Wendy Landaverde-Bauer, a Ballet school owner and instructor helped to bring it out.

Wendy's ballet school- "Bauer Dance Studio" isn't the first ballet studio to open on the island. Two years ago a ballet school in French Harbour initiated the islanders to ballet. Elizabeth McNab, who minored in ballet at Loyola University in New Orleans, had a "Classic Ballet Studio" in French Harbour. "I decided to do it for fun and it went really well," says McNab, who had over 40 girls enrolled in three classes. The students prepared a "nutcracker" performance at the Christmas festival in French Harbour.

Wendy has begun her own school, first at a tiny space in Plaza Mar. In May Wendy, 38, started her ballet studio with just ten students. Then, as news of the school began spreading, more students began coming in. "Now we grew and we want to be bigger," says Wendy who wants to put a public viewing area for the parents, more mirrors. She would like to create a performing arts center "where people could teach dance, theater in this space," says Wendy. "Music, painting, dancing, that is my idea for the future."

Educating Roatanians about ballet wasn't easy at first. "I had difficulty in explaining to the parents that ballet is a discipline, it's not just jumping or moving around. It's a discipline that requires a lot of effort on the part of the girls," says Wendy. Wendy teaches three classes: pre-primary, primary and first grade. She follows a Royal Ballet school curriculum, the same curriculum that she followed as a student and instructor.

"'You can't understand that children on the islands don't wear socks,' a mother told me. But I had to explain that socks are there to make sure the ballet shoes don't hurt the children's feet. 'If you don't want to bring her, thank you very much, but that is my uniform."

Drew Storms with his daughter Maya watches the ballet performance at Henry Morgan.

Wendy's Plaza Mar studio is simple, but has all the elements that ballet studios have: wooden floor, holding bars and mirrors. It's a seven by nine meter dancing space, with long, red curtains on one side and tall mirrors on the walls. The space cost around $4,000 to prepare and by far the most expensive element of the project was the floor. "Look at this floor. This is spring floor and dancing on it will not hurt your back," says Wendy. Three-quarters inch plywood sheets were used to create a dance floor that would cushion the dancer's jumps and falls. "Each sheet of plywood has a spring, in the middle and at the corners," explains Wendy. "Whenever a girl is jumping, the floor will give a little bit."

Wendy comes from a musical family and all her life she was associated with Royal Academy of Dance in San Pedro Sula. Wendy came to the island because she married an American living on Roatan. "Ballet is my passion and this is what I want to continue to be doing," says Wendy. Wendy has gone through the Royal Ballet certification process achieving seventh grade. She hopes to one day be an instructor accredited by Royal Ballet, but realizes that this will be a long and expensive endeavor. For five years she worked at a marketing company and took a long break from ballet. When she got back into ballet she had to refresh her knowledge.

The culmination of the ballet school's work was a performance of all the school's pupils at a theater space at Henry Morgan. The December 4 performance filled the Henry Morgan auditorium almost to the brim. The ballet at Henry Morgan was actually smaller than the practice stage that the students use at their school at Plaza Mar.

The first part of the performance was choreographed dances: belly dancing, flamenco, and a Nutcracker scene. The flamenco was performed by Wendy's niece Alexa Landaverde and the belly dance was performed by Glenda Geraldina Marquez.
The second part of the show was the "Peter and the Wolf" a 1938 Sergei Prokofiew musical symphony. The music score by Sergei Prokofiev was played under sound supervision by Kristopher Goldman. Kristopher's son Edwin Goldman played "the Grandpa", as the only two boys in the performance. "They worked so hard on the preparations," said Jennifer Serrano about her daughter Alessandra Piñeda, who played one of the Hunters in the play.

Sheryl's Galindo's two granddaughters: Isamar and Andrea were in the performance. Andrea played the bird in the performance and Isamar played the cat. "You can tell that it took a lot of discipline to put this together," said Sheryl, after seeing the Peter and the Wolf performance.

"I am doing that because I want to give what I've learned from my teachers," says Wendy who believes that her greatest mentor was Jorge "Giorgino" Orellana, a journalist and a ballet instructor who was gunned down and killed in April in San Pedro Sula. "He was my mentor for 26 years. He was a great dancer and a teacher," says Wendy about Orellana. "He was going to get me a scholarship in Argentina, but my family decided I was too young and I couldn't go," says Wendy. "He gave me my heritage and I need to pass it on."

At her ballet school, Wendy watches the student's every move, jump and gesture. "Skip, skip, pony gallop, pony gallop," says Wendy to her group of primary class students during practice. While some girls are athletic, doing wheel carts, some other girls are shyer and just beginning to learn how to walk with grace. Wendy leans over a girl to explain how to place her hands to do a proper cartwheel. Wendy encourages the girls that are doing well, or just trying their best. The lessons have an order and structure as Wendy follows the curriculum of classes prepared by the Royal Ballet.

While some girls just wear socks, others wear ballet shoes. "You have to be on top of your toes… and feet together," instructs Wendy. Discipline is key to the class. Learning about grace; keeping concentration and precision in movement. In 2011 some girls will take an exam with the instructors coming from San Pedro Sula to perform the exam.

Many people do things before they have to. A few do things because they feel a passion for that something. Wendy belongs to the latter group. "This is not going to make me rich financially, but make me rich in another way," says Wendy. "When my students are smiling and they are happy, that is making me proud and rich."

Wendy Landaverde-Bauer with her primary students at her studio in Coxen Hole.
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Two-Wheel Solutions in Zambia by Thomas Tomczyk

Two American Students turn a Class Trip into a Business

To create a high end product - a Zambikes bamboo bike, the company teamed up with California bike designer Craig Calfee. They produced a low-tech method of creating different size bamboo bike frames with simple adjustable rectangular jig. The entire process begins with choosing two-three year old bamboos for straightness and circumference. Different pieces of bamboo, grown locally, are categorized based on width and cut to size. Seven pieces make a bamboo bike from that is then tied with sisal and glued. The bamboo is soaked for a day then dried several weeks. Then a two day long process of sanding the frame begins.
"If you have passion in your heart you will be able see what others don't. Its amazing to see that when looking at bamboo some people were able to see a bicycle or a cupboard," says Chikamba.

The US waiting list for the bamboo bikes frames, meant to retail for between $700 and $800, is just getting longer. A bamboo bicycle frame weighs about as much as does an aluminum frame and is more absorbent of vibrations. What is even more impressive is that Zambikes produces low-impact, high-end, green product exported from a Third World country to a first world country.

In a way, Zambikes has reinvented the current Chinese model of aid to Africa. While the Chinese focus their aid on the continent on building roads and government building infrastructure, the Zambikes took the Chinese ideas of a bicycles for everyone, bamboo and provided a model that rewards the productivity of its employees is reflected not in bonuses to its shareholders, but that gives financial rewards to employees. "It is only a matter of time before someone else will bet into the business. Maybe even Chinese themselves," says about the bamboo bike initiative McBride. "We hope to have a few years out of this."
There is a fair amount of pride when you speak to Zambian owners of the bike.

In a country that used to export only raw materials, and relay on imports for all its transportation needs, Zambikes has already created a shift in thinking.

The success of Zambikes didn't just come from finding several market niches. In Africa, a company has to also take care of its employee's spiritual, social and intellectual needs. It does it to fill the vacuum left behind by a society and families decimated by AIDS and lack of male models. "Many if our [workshop] employees used to drunkards. Now they are getting married, building houses not out of mud but with brick," says Chikamba. In two years a village where Zambikes bought land and from where most of its emploees come from is beginning to look way different.

Once a week, a pastor, or motivational speaker speaks to the 25-or-so employees of Zambikes. In case of emergency and in crisis, the employees can count on assistance and assistance in learning professions and life skills, like health and savings techniques.

The Zambikes partners are looking at other countries where to expand. The idea is to have ineventually 10 projects going around Africa and Uganda is seen as the next country.

A university trip to Zambia led two California students on a path that resulted in establishing Zambikes, a company that is an example of how an African country can solve its own transportation needs and create high-end product with a waiting list in US.

Vaughn Spethmann and Dustin McBride, class 2007 business students at the Azusa Pacific University in California teemed up with two Zambian partners to create an unusual and edgy project of making Zambian bicycles for Zambian riders. The idealistic, Christian men answered a question weather a bicycle be any more green and ecological… then a concept of a self propelled two-wheel propulsion already is. Their project went from being a sample study in a University business class to a reality within just a couple years.

In 2008 Zambikes first entered the market with Amakasana- a right yellow metal bike with a snazzy logo. "We created a bike that is specifically made for Zambian terrain," says Mwewa Chikamba, one of Zambikes two Zambian founders, about a bike that has a stronger carrier, reinforced pedals and simple six gears. Amakasane, is assembled from parts shipped from Taiwan and China, and assembled at Zambikes plant 16 kilometers outside Zambias capital Lusaka.

Amakasane is winning individual customers and companies all over Zambia. "Some people will come in and say: 'I am buying this because it was made in Zambia'," says Chikamba.

After Amakasane, Zambikes came out with its Zambulance- an invention that uses a bike with a ball attachment and a two-meter-long fabric covered cart. Before Zambulance local communities relied on wheelbarrows with welded grates to transport their severely sick and immobile patients to the clinics. Chikamba says, that a live is saved by a Zambuklance every 10 days.

One of dozens of clinics that use Zambulances is Chipata Health Clinic on thee outskirts of Lusaka. Mijohn Mwanza, the clinic's accountant, does double duty as the Zam-driver. Several times a week he is called to bring his Zambulance to a Chiapta, known as "Little Bombay" and pedal them in to get help.

Company's third product, the metal Zamcart, is meant to haul up to 250 kilos of goods and pulled by a bicycle tied to it with a simple ball-attachment. Zamcart is sold for $250 to small Zambian entrepreneurs hauling goods from their stores and farms. "It [Zamcart] looks like something a six grader could design," says McBride "but it actually took a long process to get there."

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Poaching in the Park by Thomas Tomczyk

Several Foreign Boats are Caught Spear Fishing in the Roatan Marine Park

"It's infuriating. They told us all these lies," said Bach about the nine Polish nationals that according to Marine park officials repeatedly lied and hid evidence of their spear fishing in Roatan Marine Park. "It felt I was dealing with a Polish mafia," said Bach about how a "6'-2" crew delivered his gear to the port captain. Bach hopes that in 2011 new management plan and new bylaws should be instituted that would address the arbitrary nature of fines placed on poachers.

Each person caught poaching in the Roatan Marine Park can be fined at least Lps. 500 of a municipal fine and sentenced to an overnight in jail or community service. According to Bach, each poaching case is different, and some foreigners are allowed to do community service, while most locals sent to spend 24 hours in jail. According to Roatan Marine Park, in 2010, there have been 46 incidents resulting in 25 people going to jail and 11 doing community service. "If they are too old, too young, or just desperately trying to feed their families and not their crack habit, we recommend community service. It is more of a benefit to Roatan to have someone spend a day removing trash," said Bach.

Bay Islands Voice was contacted a day after the incident by Captain Biernacki, and told by him that while there was a spear gun on board, no fish or lobster were speared.

This incident is a third one in a November week involving foreign registered vessels that come to Bay Islands temporarily. "Two incidents with French people and one involving Polish nationals," said Bach.

While Marine park allows, even encourages using a spear to fish for lionfish, it enforces laws protecting all other marine life on Roatan. Since September 2009 Marne Park has sold around 100 Hawaiian swings that can be used only to hunt Lionfish, an invasive fish that is a growing threat to the Roatan reef. The yellow swing costs Lps. 500 and includes a one-year license to hunt Lionfish in the park water.

When a person is caught illegally hunting in the waters of Roatan Marine Park they are not only fined, but their gear is confiscated. The Roatan Marine Park 2010 records show a long list of Police confiscated gear: 32 masks, 15 sets of fins, 9 spears, 6 spear guns, 6 lobster gaffs, 6 knives, 2 fish/lobster traps, a net and one set of dive gear. According to Marine Park 110 live conch were confiscated and relocated. Around 80 dead lobster, 60 dead conch, 45 dead fish and 10 dead seahorses.

The dead snapper killed by divers of "Quo Vadis," a 41 foot Belize based catamaran.

A community effort of West End dive shops, Roatan Marine Park, Tourist police and Port Captain strengthens effort to protect the island reef from poachers and visiting boats and divers. One of the more damaging recent poaching incidents took place on Sunday, December 5, with a Belize based catamaran "Quo Vadis".

"I saw a diver with a spear, sticking it into the reef," says Marco Alvarado, a dive instructor from Coconut Tree dive shop, who first spotted the spear fishing divers underwater. "Then I saw that he [a diver] had a bag with fish already in it. So I swam up to him and said 'No! No spear fishing!' but he just swam away." Alvarado surfaced and quickly contacted the authorities on shore. "We contacted Reef Gliders [dive shop], the boat captain came in and boarded the [suspected] boat. The tourist police helped out. It was a community effort to stop these poachers," says Alvarado. Some of the fun divers on board Coconut Tree dive boat videoed the poachers and provided evidence that allowed the Port Captain to board the boat.

"They hid the bag with three large snappers near a mooring," explained Nick Bach, of the Roatan Marine Park. The incident took place at "El Aquarium," one of the most dived dive sites on Roatan. "It wasn't exactly in front of the offices of the Marine Park, but not far off," says Bach.

Eight divers involved in the poaching and captain Rafal Biernacki were on-board of "Quo Vadis," a 41 foot Belize based catamaran that does regular charters between Belize and Bay Islands. "They damaged the spear gun on purpose, hid it and told us they found it in the water. They all wore gloves, which is already illegal," said Bach.

One spear gun was confiscated and a full set of dive gear was also taken away. "Originally they were to pay a fine $5,000 to the Port Captain, but the process would involve Tegucigalpa and likely to take months to settle if it ever happened at all. Instead they were made to pay a smaller amount in financial compensation towards Marine Park improvements," said Bach. In the end, the boat was made to pay a "financial compensation" towards Marine Park improvements in the amount of $1,000.

Parents Helping Parents by Thomas Tomczyk
A Grass Roots Organization Helps Parents in Helping their Children

The clinic helps children as young as one-year-old that are treated for meningitis and hyperactivity disorder. The oldest patients are in their 70s, and an eighty-one-year-old Doña Indiana came all the way from Santa Elena (St. Helene) for rehabilitation work. Many of the adults are diabetic sufferers who had their legs amputated. To help them in getting prosthesis and teaching them how to walk again the RBC Clinic hosts twice-a-year visits from Santa Rosa de Copan CAMO organization that provides custom made prosthesis.

For the patients without their own transportation a seven person bus, donated by the Roatan Municipality, picks-up patients twice-a-day from West End to French Harbour, then two days a week, they go to pick up patients as far as Oak Ridge.

Dr. Dominguez at the Roatan public hospital makes the determination if a patient can benefit from the therapy. If they are, RBC asks them to make small contribution to the clinic: adults pay Lps. 100 per session; children pay Lps. 50 per month. "If they don't have the money they can still come, we just don't charge them," says Reyna Rodriguez, the RBC office manager.

A year ago in December the RBC moved from a tiny space in French Harbour. Now the center occupies a two room space at the French Cay's VOM Clinic - a clinic that functions every few months accommodating medical volunteers from US. The VOM are permitted to use the space free of charge paying only the electric bill.

In their July 31 Maraton, RBC raised around Lps. 100,000 for operational costs. Anacaribe, a Coxen Hole customs broker agency, is the most ardent supporter of the group donating monthly Lps. 8,000 for the clinic salaries and upkeep expenses.

Kevin Moralez, 2, a boy with hearing and foot deformation problems receives one of his three weekly physical rehabilitation sessions.

In a small, two-room space in French Cay, they are mostly mothers, women whose children were born with a disability and are in need of treatment, constant exercise and behavioral therapy. There are also adults, most often amputees and diabetic sufferers.

It all started in 2007 with a blind three-year-old boy from Mud Hole. Wilson Mejia had travelled to Tegucigalpa for eye treatment, but his family soon realized that travel to receive his periodical treatment would be too expensive for them to handle. As no help could be found on Roatan, INFRANCNOVI (Franciscan Institute for Teaching of Blind) got involved and helped to organize a community based organization RBC (Rehabilitación Basada en la Comunidad - Rehabilitation based in Community). The RBC clinic has been helping parents help their own children to get better.

"It is similar to CRILA [a rehabilitation center in La Ceiba]," said Vania Gonzalez, an UNAH student who volunteered doing her professional internship at RBC. Gonzales uses exercise technique to help children regain mobility and improve concentration skills.

Grand Eclipse's Grand Visit by Thomas Tomczyk
Roatan Hosts a Third Solstice Class Ship to Date on Her Maiden Voyage to Western Caribbean

"Many destinations 'would kill' to have a ship of this caliber visit. We are lucky to have all three Solstice class cruise ships visiting us on Roatan," said Alvaro Duron, the general manager of Port of Roatan. According to Captain Skylogiannis two more Solstice class ships are due to be built and put into service by July 2011 and November 2012.

"Maybe Roatan shouldn't become too similar to other Caribbean destinations," said Federico Gonzalez-Denton, director of Government & Community Relations for Caribbean and Latin America. Gonzalez-Denton praised uniqueness of Roatan as a tourist destination and experience in an increasingly homogenized region.

Eclipse is scheduled to come to Roatan every two weeks until April, when she will sail across the Atlantic and begin cruising the Mediterranean. Celebrity Eclipse was floated in February 2010 as the third Solstice-class ship. Along side Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox, all three ships have already visited Roatan.

Eclipse, a high end cruiser, has no shortage of restaurants to choose from: Moonlight Sonata, Cafe al Bacio, the Oceanview Cafe, the Mast Grill and the Continental and European-inspired Murano. Also onboard the ship is the Aquaspa, Solarium and Lawn Club; an area of real grass that is cut nearly everyday and where activities are held, such as Boules, Miniature Golf and giant Jenga. There are pools, a casino, a theatre, bars and on the top deck surrounded by manicured grass lawns, a glass workshop of the Corning Museum of Glass holds exhibitions of glass blowing. The pieces created during the voyage are auctioned off at the end of each voyage.

Eclipse has participated in a good-will effort and evacuated 2,000 British tourists from Spain during the Islandic Eyjafjallajökull volcano explosion in April.

The view of the dop deck of Eclipse towards Coxen Hole.

Roatan is becoming one of the most visited destinations in the Caribbean. Its strategic location, a perfect turn-around place for seven-day-cruises originating in Florida or Texas, good harbors and positive reviews by cruise ship passengers is attracting more and more ships.

The island is quickly getting into a weekly rhythm: three, sometimes four cruise ships on Tuesday and Wednesday and then time for souvenir store owners and taxi drivers to catch their breath over the weekend and Monday. The latest new ship to visit Roatan was Eclipse, a 122,000 ton, 2,852 passenger ship that is a pride of the Celebrity cruise lines and launched in February 2010.

On December 2, Eclipse visited Port of Roatan on her maiden voyage. To mark the occasion, invited local government guests, Honduras minister of Tourism and media came on board to meet the captain, enjoy lunch and receive a guided tour.

Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis, the most important man on the ship welcomed the Roatan guests on board of the 1,033 foot long passenger ship. "We have automatic water purification, solar panels and silicon paint that reduce drag and increases fuel efficiency," told about the top-of-the-line ship Captain Skylogiannis. With an optimized hull design and 30% more energy efficient lights Solstice ships are considered to be some of the most environment-friendly ships in the world.

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ACE Hardware Opens Doors by Thomas Tomczyk

The French Harbour Store Aims at Being one-stop Shopping for Home Owners

According to Yvette Hyde, store's manager, there are around 8,000 items that are showcased on the showroom floor, but the assortment of items will change and adjust to match the client demand. The entire 60,000 Ace items that are showcased on the Ace hardware website can be ordered at the store and, according to Hyde, should arrive at the store in about 10 days. The once-a-week supply boat from Miami will be bringing the items to a French Harbour dock just 50 meters from the store.

The floor of the store is divided into several departments: there is a paint store and several thousand feet of shelf space displaying anything from BBQ sets to ladders and lamps. "You can bring a photo of your home and we can show you how it would look painted with a new color," says Shawn Hyde. "We'll even store the info so when you'll come a few years later we can match the color you originally purchased."

There are six Ace Hardware stores on Honduras' mainland, but according to Hyde, this is the only store that was designed as an actual Ace Hardware store in the US. The 10,700 square foot store employs 15 people on the floor and another four outside the building.

The Ace hardware and its employees: Ada Herrera, Sherlla Dilbert, Vany Mencias, Emiliano Bolan, Jessica Mejia, Luis Zapata, Fany Sanders, Jenis Jackson, Carol Dixon, Santos Montes, Jose Tabora, Evelin Almendarez, Zonia Vargas, Hayanti Morales, Jose Arias, Bency Bolan, Jeff Dixon, Devron Bodden, Enia Burgos.

December 2 ACE Hardware store opened its doors to the public. "My wife was the first customer. She bought a mop and a bucket," said Shawn Hyde, the ACE's general manger. Hyde purchased the Ace Hardware franchise rights to Bay Islands in 2009, but delayed opening the store that year due to unstable economic outlook in the country and Bay Islands. "[Now] we feel that Roatan is on the rebound," says Hyde.

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