Vocational Learning Comes to Roatan
A Transformation for One of Roatan’s Oldest Resorts

June 1st, 2010
by John Morris Illustrated by Barbara Morris

[private]

The E-Leanring Center in Sandy Bay

The E-Leanring Center in Sandy Bay

Twenty five years ago, Ted and Cam O’Brien bought 44 acres of beach front property which included one of the oldest houses on the island, the Casa Blanca. Their dream of opening a resort was realized in the Bay Islands Beach Resort, which thrived and made memories for so many visitors over the years. What became evident to Ted and Cam was the lack of Hondurans in higher positions of responsibility in the resorts on the island and though they tried to change this in their own employment structure, it quickly became clear that most potential managers lacked the educational skills necessary “to move up the ladder.” With Cam’s past experience in education, Ted and Cam decided to change that and continue to this day with the newest project for the education of Hondurans on the island, a vocational school.

For those who have been on the island for some time, most know the previous work that Ted and Cam have done for the education system on Roatan. For the past five years, they have formed PIER (Partners In Education Roatan- a Honduran NGO which has certified 510c3 status in the USA), which now operates two e-learning centers in Sandy Bay and French Harbor.

PIER supplements all facets of education, from reading to math thanks to a generous donation from Learning Today out of Plantation, Florida. They provided a specialized computer software that automatically adjusts learning programs according to the student’s current level of learning. The programs have been so successful, that there has been a 10-15% improvement in grades for participating students and there is now a waiting list for the Sandy Bay location.

With tourism and investment on the rise in Roatan, the need for skilled positions such as plumbers, carpenters and electricians was growing and once again Ted and Cam stepped in. Prior to the economic and government problems, the project to start the vocational school was on the verge of receiving a 1.5 million dollar grant from the EU. Unfortunately, due to a variety of problems, the grant was lost. However, all this has changed with the new government.

With cruise ships the king of tourism in the future, Mayor Julio Galindo wants more taxi drivers to speak English, as well as have an increased level of tourism skills. With construction starting again, contractors need skilled workers to ensure quality.

Finally, and most importantly, The Ministry of Education in Tegucigalpa has asked for PIER’s help in educating teachers for both the mainland and Roatan. The project is back on. With a little hard work, Ted and Cam believe they can raise the money to fund the project along with the help of the community businesses who desperately need skilled labor. The only problem was, where to put the school?

After 25 years, the Bay Island Beach Resort was barely breaking even. Ted and Cam had always planned to eventually sell the resort and “retire”. Having already missed the real estate crest, the decision was simple. The resort would be closed and the school moved in. And so on February 1st , the resort closed its doors and plans for the school accelerated. Plans for education include plumbing, electrical installation and repair, carpentry, diesel engine mechanics and a cooking school. Some will be taught at the resort, some will learn at the island’s actual businesses which will then have the first shot at employing the students. The school will have several levels of skill that can be obtained, if so desired. In other words, a student may stop after level one is accomplished or may continue all the way to level five to then be considered a master of the profession. When asked the criteria for a student who wants to enroll, the simple answer was “desire.”

PIER recently met with several other NGO’s on the island in an effort to create a consortium to avoid overlap in efforts to find and import necessary supplies and assist each other, which, though still in its infancy is a real possibility. One thing is for sure, Ted and Cam have never been so busy and so appreciated. [/private]

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