His UC Classroom Was in Honduras
Roderick Williams will graduate from the university this August with a Master of Community Planning. And thanks to a special UC program, he’ll graduate with experience he gained in Honduras while a UC student.
Date: 4/21/2006Master of Community Planning student Roderick Williams, 35, of Lexington, Ky., pioneered a special program after he entered the University of Cincinnati as a graduate student in 2002.
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by Rod Williams
In the new program which began in 2003, graduate planning students in UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning are able to sandwich a stint of Peace Corps service between their first and last years of study. And that’s just what Rod (accompanied by his wife Devona) did, spending two years working and living in Honduras in order to better prepare for a career in international development.
“I was able to weave the opportunity to live and work abroad into my master’s thesis, which I’m now completing. It relates to levels of trust, social capital and social networks and how they affect community members’ desires to participate in their community,” explains Rod, who just returned in February 2006 from his Peace Corps service in Santa Fe, Honduras. And because of extra classes he took before leaving and this quarter as well as the academic credit he received because of his service via the Peace Corps/School of Planning partnership, he’ll be set to graduate in August 2006.
Next stop for Rod and his wife will be Washington, D.C., where he wants to use his community planning degree and his international experience in the field of international development, specializing in promoting democracy and good governance at the grass-roots level in Latin America.
“I know I can take on anything now,” Rod affirms. “For me, the best part about working and living abroad is knowing that I did it, that I can go into situations where I don’t understand the language, the culture, the rhythms of life, but that I can certainly learn. I think all U.S. citizens should live and work abroad for whatever time they’re able to, two weeks, a month, a summer, a year.”
Rod and Devona spent two years – from February 2004 to February 2006 – in Honduras. He worked in the area of community/municipal development while Devona, a pharmacist, worked in the area of health education.
“It’s really a find-your-own way kind of situation,” explains Rod. “At first, I really didn’t know what to do in a practical sense – focus on technical skills and computer-related training, work on grants or conduct workshops related to the environment and small business or just do various projects that came up, like starting a library.”
Rod laughs at himself now, recalling that before he arrived in Honduras, he had “grand ideas” regarding all he’d accomplish in relation to development. “What I learned is that development is a process, a slow one, and that change takes years.”
But slowly, Rod did find his way, even so far as trying to learn to fish with just a line and a hook (no pole) and making himself understood in another language.
He recalls that his accent, at first, was a source of great amusement to the children in Santa Fe, which is located on Honduras’ northeastern coast. “For a while, the kids in the community liked to climb onto the tin roof of the house where Devona and I lived. They were trying to pick marmonas (a large grape-like fruit) from a tree that grew adjacent to the house. I’d yell at them to get down, and the kids decided they really liked to hear the funny guy and his funny way of talking. So, once marmona season was over, they threw rocks up onto the roof to get me to yell at them. They thought my accent was hilarious,” Rod says.
When he wasn’t trying to get the local children to stop throwing rocks on the roof, Rod would partner with them on projects. For instance, in order to foster environmental awareness and to build an asset for the community, Rod paid the local children to collect empty bottles which were then used as material in constructing a community shelter.
Normally, the bottles littered the community because there is trash-collection service in the area. However, by using the bottles for construction, they came to be seen as having economic value, which also fostered environmental improvement.
“For a while we had bags of bottles and cans in the house. There were still some there when Devona and I left, ones I couldn’t use in the construction project.”
Far better than the construction, environmental or education projects that Rod and Devona built in Honduras are the relationships and friendships they similarly founded. Says Rod, “When it came time to leave, we were going to ride to the capital in the back of a pick-up truck. We were ready to go, and suddenly, so many people piled into the bed of the truck with us to accompany us on our trip. They wanted to ride with us to see us off, to spend every possible moment with us.”
“I don’t think I realized until then what an impact our presence had had.”