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North Hills Monthly

Burchfield Students Connect With Hondurans through Art

Sep 30, 2015 02:41PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
For the second year in a row, Burchfield Elementary School students in Shaler Township have been reaching out to less fortunate people in poverty-stricken countries to try to make a positive difference in their lives. Dubbed “Connecting Hearts through the Arts” in 2014 by Burchfield art teacher Jennie O’Dell and music teacher Susan Randall, the students began their first cultural exchange with the Jireh Foster Home in Malaysia.

This year, the teachers decided to focus their students’ efforts on helping the Honduran people in the town of San Jose del Negrito with help from the nonprofit organization Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh. Located in the El Negrito District of Yoro Province in Honduras, San Jose del Negrito is a remote mountain village. The approximately 1,600 people who live there are farmers who rely on coffee as their principal cash crop, but most homes have no electricity and their water is often contaminated. As a result of living a poor quality of life, childhood malnutrition was typically one of the outstanding medical and social concerns for these people, until Shoulder to Shoulder began improving the villagers’ access to medical care.

According to Dr. Mark Meyer, president of Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh, the organization has been trying to improve the health of the residents of San Jose and the surrounding area with an annual budget of about $65,000. “Most of this money comes from Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh,” he said, adding that the nonprofit relies on financial support from a group of donors and also must solicit funds from other groups and individuals. “Over the years, a number of area churches have also been significant donors.”

Hurricane Mitch devastated San Jose del Negrito in 1998, and in 2001, the organization started supplying medical and humanitarian aid. In 2007, they helped the villagers build a new medical clinic, now staffed by a Honduran doctor, nurse and dentist, that is large enough to serve the residents of San Jose Del Negrito as well as those who live in 13 neighboring villages.

Twice a year, two medical teams from Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh travel down to the clinic in order to provide additional support to the region’s public health and medical services, but the Honduran medical staff’s hard work and dedication has already made a meaningful impact on the health of those who live in this poor, hurricane-ravaged community.

Meyer introduced O’Dell to a UPMC intern, Jennifer Hwang, who made her first trip to San Jose in March 2015. Serving as the school’s goodwill ambassador, Hwang brought donated art supplies from Burchfield to the first, second and third-grade students of Central San Jose. She spoke to the Honduran students in Spanish and also shared a video of Burchfield students saying hello. Then she helped them make art trading cards to give back to the Burchfield students.

Using fabric from their previous art exchange with Malaysia, O’Dell’s third-graders sewed miniature pillows for the Honduran students and ended up giving Hwang a total of 56 pillows. Burchfield second-graders also made art trading cards for the Honduran students that included Spanish and English. Students of both countries were able to communicate as well as sing in their native languages and got to see each other making the art on video. “We hope to make a meaningful connection among students through the arts,” said O’Dell, “even to places 9,000 miles away.” In addition to the art exchange, Burchfield families and friends helped raise $1,200 for the local community of San Jose during the school’s Spring 2015 Art Show.