Operation Honduras, a group of volunteers from eastern Pennsylvania, is gearing up for its annual trip to Honduras which embarks this Thursday. The trip will be a week long effort to build an addition onto an existing school in the town of Choloma.

Towanda Area Elementary School Librarian Steve Davenport will be traveling with the group for its 17th annual trip.

Davenport is the only volunteer from Bradford County this year, and has been preparing for the physical demands of the trip by exercising at the YMCA for the last three months.

This year he will be a block layer, as buildings in Honduras are never constructed from wood because of termites. The labor intensive job requires Davenport to drink approximately two gallons of water each day, in addition to Gatorade to maintain electrolytes.

Moreover to the construction of the school addition, OH will be offering free dental surgery and cleanings to children who need it, as well as hearing exams. All dental and hearing work is done pro bono by a team of medical practitioners that volunteer each year. OH has offered dental services for over 10 years now.

Davenport noted that each volunteer pays for travel expenses out of pocket, and according to a brochure published by OH, a budget of approximately $1100 is asked of those wishing to make the trip.

With exotic vacations available for less than that amount, the question begging to be asked is, 'Why do you do it?'

"I want to help children be able to go to school. Operation Honduras is an opportunity to help kids when you can have a direct impact on their lives," he said.

Davenport noted that his motivation to work in Honduras comes from how poor the country is.

"Even the poorest children I know are living like a king compared to the majority of children in Honduras. For those children, the way we live here is like winning the lottery," he explained.

In addition to the poor living conditions volunteers must endure, there is a very real threat of violence. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world.

"We don't work on Sunday as Honduras is predominately Catholic, and usually we go out for dinner in town on that day. I can recall from one of the trips seeing a person laying in the gutter while we were on the way back to our motel. We found out later he was dead," Davenport said.

Davenport also said workers in the group never wear anything that would make them attractive to thieves, especially jewelry.

The special moments that occur while helping people are what keeps Davenport coming back year after year.

He told of a story where a small child walked up behind him and held his hand. Looking at the child, he realized that the young boy didn't want anything, just someone to bond with.

Communication with locals for the group is very tough, as none of the volunteers are able to speak Spanish, but there have been times where locals have come to help them.

Davenport joked about an experience where a young boy came to his side and offered him help by handing him tools. Each time Davenport made a slamming motion with his hand, the child passed him a hammer; and when he made a twisting motion he handed him a screwdriver. But each time he made a drinking motion, the child picked up his water bottle and drank from it for himself.

While a humorous story, it explains the situation that children are in living in the country.

For those looking to donate to Operation Honduras, Davenport noted that every penny received goes directly to the operation, generally for material goods used in building schools or clinics.

At this time, only monetary donations are accepted as tools or toys for children weigh heavily on airport baggage fees.

"We can only take so much," Davenport said.

Monetary donations can be sent to Steve Davenport, 223 North 4th St. Towanda, PA 18848.

Tim Zyla can be reached at (570) 265-1634; or email: tzyla@thedailyreview.com.