Originally created 02/12/99

Pupils provide Honduras relief



GLOVERVILLE -- As Melissa Miller sat on the grounds of Gloverville Elementary School, the third-grader giggled for at least five minutes.

With the palms of her petite hands painted red and green, soon she would press them on the cardboard box sitting next to her. A banner on the box read "Helping Hands Across the World." In it is a bounty of No. 2 pencils, paper and folders that will be sent to the children of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where school is held in a makeshift lean-to with scant supplies.

Jennifer Cady's special-needs class kicked off its fund-raiser for the impoverished children of Central America on Thursday by collecting goods and making cards out of construction paper.

"We hope you have a happy day with these cards, and we hope you have a good time with these supplies," wrote 9-year-old Lakita Bussey. "The hurricane -- Mitch -- took their home and their school, and we want to make 'em happy."

Born as a hurricane in the wee hours of Oct. 24, Mitch grew into one of the biggest -- and deadliest -- storms of this century. By the time it broke off the Florida coast, the damage wrought by Mitch had reached biblical proportions: An estimated 10,000 were dead, thousands more were missing and billions of dollars in damage was done.

It would become known as the worst natural disaster to hit Central America this century. Although the flood waters have receded, life is still hard in the communities of northern Honduras. Mitch's rampage has sent hundreds of children to the streets to live on handouts, and they cook their meals on concrete floors.

Unrelenting rain has turned much of Honduras into a breeding ground for disease. Mosquitoes bred in the stagnant water carry malaria and dengue fever. The muddy water, where people bathe and children play, spreads hepatitis. Rats carry leptospirosis, a disease that causes liver and kidney failure and, ultimately, death.

Months after Mitch has come and gone, some of the hardest-hit towns are still ankle-deep in mud. People walk home on wooden planks.

Despite an outpouring of aid from the United States and other countries, economic analysts say it will take years for Honduras to recover.

But the country's grim outlook doesn't deter the men and women of the 122nd Engineering Battalion from lending a humanitarian hand.

Since January, companies from Edgefield, Graniteville, Batesburg-Leesville, Barnwell, McCormick and Saluda have been in Honduras setting up camp for soldiers who will build a new schoolhouse, two medical clinics and a 30-foot bridge. Troops also will repair culverts and maintain roads during Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons) '99 Joint Task Force Sula.

The mission will continue through March.

Thursday, four soldiers from the Edgefield company busily unloaded an 18-foot-long, 7-foot-wide Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck. The camouflage 8-by-8 was filled with cardboard boxes of paper towels, toilet paper, napkins and baby wipes donated from a local supplier who asked to remain nameless.

Local guard units are asking the public to donate supplies and shoes. Without shoes, children can't attend school. Supplies may be dropped off at any of the armories.

"It's always good to share," said 8-year-old Flora Hallman. "We've got to make the children smile."