Friend United, a small Independence nonprofit created to support Honduran schoolchildren, released a shipment of educational materials last week. The 11,000 pounds of school supplies the group collected left for Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras.
One morning last week, the small staff that makes up a share of Friends United’s executive staff — retired teachers Charlotte Ruoff, Bennie Eubanks and his wife Paulette Eubanks — met in Carefree Industrial Park to load a 12-pallet shipment of educational materials to a FedEx trailer. The Independence School District was a major donor in the supply roundup. The materials were bound for Whiteman Air Force Base where they would be couriered by U.S. military aircraft to Honduras.
Speaking in a phone interview after the shipment was released, Bennie Eubanks said the group was formally organized in 1987 after teachers visiting Honduras found a need for material support within the schools.
Eubanks and his wife’s interest in Honduras predates Friends United. In 1959, the couple went to the Central American country to help with a medical facility. Shortly the pair became founding members of Friends United, they hosted Suyapa Ulloa, a 16-year-old Honduran foreign exchange student who helped coordinate a pen pal partnership between grade school children in Independence and Honduras.
“It started as pen pals and went to an exchange of materials,” Bennie Eubanks said describing the pen pal program, which called on translation services from Truman High School’s Spanish club.
Then in the summer of 1987, the group traveled to Honduras to visit the teachers and saw the derelict rooms they were teaching in.
“The schools were barren,” Eubanks remembered. “We asked them ‘How do you teach?’”
Friends United was subsequently organized later that year under the mission of enhancing educational access for Honduran sixth graders and those younger. The group later became a registered nonprofit. The group sends large shipments of educational materials and also started seven professional development resource centers. Each one supports teaching staff at 10 schools. The group also flies a group of Honduran teachers in to Independence annually to train them professionally. An estimated 50 teachers have been brought in from Honduras for training locally, Eubanks said.
Though the success of program isn’t formally measured, Eubanks noted that many of the grade school students who begin school make it through sixth grade, an accomplishment that was once rare before Friends United began their work in the region.