[private] Most expatriates who escape to Roatan are searching for “paradise” or running away from problems or pressures back home. Mike and Kerry Tichi came looking to lift up those “paradise” had left behind.
The Tichis were living the good life in Colorado three years ago, with a house and three kids – one of them adopted from China – and a good income selling medical devices. But something was missing.
“We had too much of the American Dream,” said Mike Tichi. “We were being left empty. We wanted a life more fulfilling.”
The Tichis’ Christian faith drove them to want to do something to help those less fortunate than themselves. “Our faith got us thinking about it,” Mike Tichi explained. “We wanted to just do it; not just talk about it and think about it.”
For reasons he said were too complicated to go into, but apparently having something to do with a conversation with a former Peace Corps volunteer, Mike Tichi decided to make an exploratory trip to Roatan in 2009. “We felt like there were opportunities here,” he said. “We saw endless needs.”
After he returned from his trip, the Tichis determined to rent their house, pack up the kids and move to Roatan to establish a school and community center for the island’s underprivileged youth.
“Our friends were like, ‘Mike and Kerry are off their rocker,’” said Kerry Tichi, who had been a stay-at-home mom in Colorado but had a background in speech therapy and teaching English as a second language. “When we came down, we didn’t know anything,” Mike Tichi now admits. “We just knew we were coming to Roatan.”
The couple found a dilapidated house in Colonia Policarpo Galindo, a Sandy Bay community populated largely by low-income migrants from the Honduran mainland. They renovated it and converted it into a school, constructing a playground across the street for after-school sports programs. Local children dubbed the school “Escuela Marzapan,” because it had a large marzapan tree in the yard and was painted the color of a marzapan (bread fruit). The Tichis named the project “Care 4 Communities.”
The objective was to “discover people’s talents and passions and empower them,” said Mike Tichi. They attracted youth to the center at first by offering English classes and sports programs. Once they brought them in, they sought to identify their needs and potentials, asking “What are you good at?” They coined the motto: “Discover, Develop, Deploy,” now painted on the front of the school.
One talent the Tichis discovered and developed early on was living right next door. Desmy Anderson was studying marketing at UTH in La Ceiba and looking for work. She told Kerry Tichi one day that she had a job interview the next day, and Kerry told her that by coincidence she needed someone to teach English. Anderson never went to the other interview. “She got me right there,” she recalled.
“She’s a natural teacher,” said Kerry Tichi of Anderson. “The kids love her.”
Escuela Marzapan now offers five different courses to 25-50 students aged 7-18. All are taught by Anderson, with help from volunteer tutors. Classes are held either before or after regular school hours. English classes remain the cornerstone, as that’s what most students want. But the school focusses on “finding and developing talents,” as well as empowering young people, especially girls, and instilling values such as “being patient” and “being kind” so that students can be examples for their communities.
Support comes from friends and churches back home, as well as from some local sources, such as Cervecería Hondureña, which has contributed materials and volunteers for the playground. Mike describes the project as “faith-based,” but volunteer groups who travel down to help come from a variety of religious backgrounds.
“Most of our supporters aren’t necessarily Christians,” said Kerry. “They just want to help.”
Two of those who want to help are Jamie and Ron McDonald of Arizona, who have been working at the center since February and will soon relieve the Tichis as full-time operators. The Tichis plan to return to Colorado in August.
“We knew when we came down we weren’t coming forever,” said the Tichis of their decision to leave. Their children’s education was also a factor. But they plan to return three to four times a year to check up on things and in the meantime coordinate fund-raising and volunteer recruitment from the US.
“We can only do so much,” they said, “not being from this culture.” But they have left something behind for others to build on. [/private]