Bay Islanders are facing a dilemma: how to advance the skills and education of the island’s children within a failing school system. As in other parts of Honduras, people living on the Bay islands are illiterate or semi-literate; and with the steady influx of poor mainland Hondurans, the literacy situation is not getting better. Only around 25% of school-aged island children are enrolled in classes. Only 50% of children finish sixth grade and even fewer, 10%, graduate from high school. These numbers are approximate, as no statistics exist regarding the exact number of people living on Roatan.
Camilla O’Brien, an American expat on Roatan since the early 1990s, has her solution: Build a learning center and they will come. She has attracted a steady trickle of island children who want to learn and to improve reading, to learn about computers.
The site of her new learning center used to be one of the more popular resorts ont eh island–old Bay Islands Beach Resort. It lies on the beach and rolling hills of Sandy Bay, reminiscent of a university campus. While O’Brien foresees a vocational school on the site, she is starting small with a learning center and a library. “The vocational school still will happen, but the economy has to come back,” says O’Brien.
On January 11 the Sand Castle Library & Education Center officially opened its doors. This is the center’s second location after a move from French Harbour’s Jared Hynds Community Center where it opened doors in 2009.
O’Brien’s relationship with Roatan began in the mid 1990s, when she and her husband Ted purchased property to build and managed a resort. Now her priorities have changed. Instead of business, she focuses on how to improve the local community. “We live on our social security checks,” says O’Brien about herself and her husband. “The needs of the children of our old staff are our priority.”
While there are two aid staff, the program encourages volunteerism amongst locals and expats. According to O’Brien the entire program is run by around $8,000 a year. “This is enough to pay for salaries, utility bills, cleaning, computer maintenance,” says O’Brien. There are 150 children involved in the program, with the number of progams continuing to grow. The weekly schedule at the library is filled with opportunities for children who want to study–Science Fun, Arts and Crafts, Reading Challenge and Math Superstars. “I feel successful if I go to the [Roatan] airport and see someone reading, not just standing around,” says O’Brien. [/private]