There are no words or pictures that will capture the past 5 weeks of student programs here in Guanaja, but I will try my best. Our goal is to use fly fishing as a platform to make a positive change in the world and that we did. High school and college students with a shared passion for fly fishing came to Honduras for week-long fishing and service work-based trips. 

We ask students to discuss their interpretation of Fish for Change on the first and last night of the week and it is so beautiful to watch it transform in 7 short days. Many show up to camp very fish focused and within 24 hours the fish become the least of their worries. We plant some mangroves and rebuild the forest and help tutor students in school and connect with the community, but above all else, we are changing character.

I could feel and see a tangible change within each and every student that stepped foot in our program this summer. Their understanding of the world altered, their priorities completely realigned, their hearts grew, and the energy and passion they will continue to live their lives with has forever been changed. And I am so damn proud. 

A word I struggled with a lot during evening discussions was poor. Poor is a word up for many meanings and interpretations. We come from a land that is monetarily “rich”. We have been given this opportunity to live out this American dream of success along with hard work.

Guanaja is the richest place I have ever experienced in my life. They may only eat tortillas, shower with hoses in the backyard, and sleep in a bed on the floor with four other people sometimes, but they are rich in what matters. Family, community, love, and each other.

One of our 14 year old students, Jack Mabley, said it best. “Looking at what they have rather than what they don’t have. Looking at the glass half full rather than half empty. That is something these people have mastered or maybe it’s just all this town has ever known. That is something I would like to take back home to the states and I think we should all try and take back home. Besides the fishing and the amazing aspects of nature. Perspective is what I took away most from my journey to Guanaja, Honduras with some buddies to try and make an impact on the community but thinking back I think they have made a bigger impact on me this week.” 

Guanaja is a small Bay Island off of mainland Honduras. The population is about 10,000 people and the majority speak English. The beauty in that is the opportunity to experience the latino flair but not have a language barrier standing in the way when you travel. Do you know what this means? You have the opportunity to ask the staff (our family) tons of questions and really dig deep.

Through my years fly fishing I have noticed that people are so fish focused. They travel to the other side of the world with one objective in mind – catch fish. But there is SO MUCH more than fish. There are people you’ve never met and cultures you never experienced and guides that have a life they go home to outside of poling you around on the flats all day.

My goal is to learn it all. Ask a million questions and gain a stronger understanding. What is it that makes these people tick? How has fly fishing helped to change this island for the better? What role is it playing on both the environment and the people? These are all questions that are answered and discovered throughout the course of our student programs. We encourage our students to learn as much as they possibly can and ask questions unapologetically. 

Honduras is currently in the state of major civil unrest. The President has banned all funding on public schools and hospitals and the majority of the population can not afford having everything privatized. For a month while I was there, the students on the island were out of school and spent the days meandering the streets bored out of their minds. Many people from the mainland have moved over to the safe haven of Guanaja’s island so there is a fairly big spanish speaking population in the town of the Mitch.

During student programs, we went to one of the public schools in the Mitch to help the students prepare for their upcoming English exams. The classrooms have no doors, dusty concrete floors, no fans or AC to hide from the brutal heat of the tropics, and way too many students per class. The bathrooms have no sinks and the water supply is shooting out of a dirty old pipe in the ground that every student puts there mouth up to after soccer matches. It is no way to effectively live or learn. Sometimes when I go to school I feel as though these highly qualified teachers are stuck playing babysitter to all of these kids because the situation is out of their control.

Ivan is 20 years old. He has been forced to grow up quick living in Guanaja. He has 60 kids in his class and lives a dream of being a computer teacher. The island of Guanaja lives off of the sea. One problem – the population is growing and resources are depleting. How is one supposed to find a job outside of the island without even knowing how to turn a computer on? Ivan is our solution. He is a highly qualified IT teacher with a passion for making this island and these people succeed, he just lacks funding. 

One of my favorite moments this summer was when Ivan explained to our students what I stated above. He explained that it would take $2,000 to build a computer lab and that we did. In the course of three days, our 12 Fish for Change Students of the week managed to raise $6,000 and one of their fathers works for Dell and will be helping to donate computers. There will now be an opportunity to further education, find strong careers, wash your hands at school, have a door on the classrooms to actually focus, and drink purified water!! This trip just started off for many kids with a goal to catch a permit and they left with not just their permit, but tangible CHANGE!

Oh, and did I mention that we also squeezed in a 40 hour week of fishing and Permit, Tarpon, and Bonefish were caught. Sorry I forgot to mention that. You guys get to hear enough fishing stories and fishing stories we have, but I just have enough of your attention span to read about all this positive goodness. 

As well, this year we made our programs a no phone zone and it added so much to the dynamic. Dinner table conversations were lively. To sit at a table with 14 teenage boys and have them all be engaged and laughing and fully into the conversation is unfortunately something that is not experienced in today’s world.

There are a few hours of free time each day. Last year during free time, students would sit on their phone and catch up with the world rather than conquering the present moment. This year all they did was explore. It was so refreshing. You would find kids shooting lionfish under the dock, hanging out with their new friends in the community, practicing their cast, collecting mangos, and one time I even saw a kid reading his book in a hammock for fun. These students had a chance to disconnect to reconnect and create powerful, lifelong, friendships around a sport, community, and connection with nature that engulfs their humanity. This is called being human and living life and I am so thankful that all 50 kids who ran through Guanaja this summer got to experience this to its fullest potential. 

On a final note, I encourage each one of you to Fish for Change each and every day in your lives. Whether you have the opportunity to participate in one of our programs or not, it is possible. Here are some tips! 

  • Ask a lot of questions 
  • Realize that you can learn MORE from the people and places you travel to than they can learn from you 
  • Fish karma is oh so real 
  • We are the luckiest people in the world to have a sport and community like this to go through life with and the least we can do is give back along the way. Be a go-giver rather than a go-getter
  • Budget. Spend your money on experiences, not things to find fulfillment
  • Check out our website and find out how you can donate to our organization or sign up for a program today! www.fishforchange.org 

Article from Heather Harkavy, Director of Student Programs of Fish For Change. If you are interested in donating or participating in one of our programs check out www.fishforchange.org or throw us a follow at @fishforchange.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Fish For Change