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Healing in Honduras: Massage training for a better livelihood

September 1, 2020  By Michelle Roberts

Photos: Nahun Rodriguez

A journey starts and it ends with an opportunity. On this occasion, it started with a one-month opportunity to teach massage in Los Naranjos, Honduras.

The story begins with a simple request to teach relaxation massages to the staff at D&D Brewery and Lodge. In May 2019, I was put in touch with owner of D&D Lodge, Robert Durrette. Some people say that decisions are made in the blink of an eye, before rational reasoning occurs. My decision to teach in Honduras was no exception to the rule and indeed instantaneous. I had made a commitment to D&D before fear and logical reasoning could deter me. Honduras is often misconstrued as an unsafe country. I said yes because logically, I knew that it was an opportunity I would enjoy, and that I would find satisfaction in an opportunity to teach.

Admittedly, my original motivation has long faded. The romantic and naïve image of working in tropical Central America was completely shattered by the overpowering realities of those born local to this region. My focus shifted from inward gain to a genuine outgoing concern for my Hondurian brothers and sisters. My conviction to work and teach in desolate regions of Latin America is deeply rooted in a desire to help, an understanding that education creates opportunity, and a hell of a lot of compassion. The more I know, the less I understand.

Honduras is a country that boasts extremely high unemployment rates, poverty, and like many developing countries, an extremely corrupt government. Higher education is sparse and inaccessible to the majority. How does anyone create a better future for themselves and their family when: a) education is out of reach, and b) jobs are sparse?


I selfishly enjoyed the benefit of knowing I was doing good for the staff at D&D to increase their incomes. Soon thereafter, I became acutely aware of the commitment it would take to create a one-month massage curriculum. Hours of research and legal questioning led me to learn that there was no formal massage education in Honduras, yet endless research proports the benefits of vocational skill sets. Although the economics of developing countries is a broad and controversial topic, it is a well-known fact that education is a means to alleviating poverty. A thought occurred to me: this massage training program held the potential to bring massive economic opportunities to a country like Honduras. IF I taught it again.

Let’s crunch some numbers. Numbers are extremely objective, measurable and provide non-negotiable facts.

The standard minimum wage in Honduran hospitality is $380USD per month, which amount to roughly $4,500 per year. Important factors to consider are that the cost of living is obviously lower than North America, but not enough to offset the difference in minimum wage. Further, high unemployment and desperation for income drives the upper hand into corrupt employers who often pay their staff less than the minimum wage. It is common to hear employers boast that their staff are paid minimum wage, whereas back home we know this is not only a minimum requirement, but it is a right.

Let’s look at the cost of massage in popular destination Roatan, Honduras. The average massage is $60USD. At only 10 massages a week (520 massages a year), those prices boast $10,400 – $31,200 in annual income. That is a significant increase in salary from the average minimum wage of $4,500 yearly. The financial gains of a mere 10 massages per week can significantly improve the quality of life for a Latin American family.

Needless to say, massage as a vocational skill set is a very powerful vehicle to create employment and wealth. Therein lies the opportunity to capitalize on what was originally a one-month training program, into a training program available year-round. My personal mission is to globalize accessibility to massage education. For clarity, massage is not to be misconstrued as the saving grace. The key takeaway is that massage is a skilled trade that can be effectively learned in a sheer month, has high profit margins, and is in universal demand. These are, effectively the criteria of vocational skill sets that have the power to revolutionize lives with on-the-job training, a low time-commitment and minimal barriers to entry. More commonly known vocational skills include mechanics, hairstyling and electricians. I am excited to teach massage as as a vocational skill set and believe it has an astronomical amount of potential to create brighter futures.

On our first day of massage training, the massage trainees at D&D spa received their first massages, ever. Even with limited communication and language barriers, it was clear they were excited to embark on this learning journey. A journey that would afford them the skills to offer the same experience they had just received: an immersive, full body, relaxation treatment. I am a proud 2017 graduate from the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy. My objective was to pair down my 2,200 hours of training to the “bare bones” – a rather difficult task. Taught over the course of four weeks, my massage curriculum boasts approximately 100 hours of Swedish massage training that prepares students for employment in a spa. Students are taught a full body relaxation routine, basic anatomy, palpation, hygiene, ethics, client care, and spa-specific English lessons. Class sizes are small and currently capped at six students. School days are four hours long including two hours of morning and two hours of afternoon studies, broken up with an hour for lunch. The majority of class time is hands-on, with the emphasis on palpation and techniques rather than on theory and memorization. Students begin hands-on practice day two of training and begin treating the public week three of four. After only three weeks of training at D&D Brewery & Lodge, students received top-notch feedback. One client commented, “that felt like a massage I would get in Canada.” Several clients commented that the level of professionalism superseded massage received elsewhere in the country. Others boasted that they had received the best massage of their life. I couldn’t be prouder of my first three students: Lucy, Oscar and Heidy.

My first three graduates of the program (L-R): Heidy, Oscar and Lucy.

Four months post training, Lucy, Oscar, and Heidy report an increase in earnings that is expected to continually increase. Both Lucy and Heidy are single mothers empowered by the opportunity to develop their skills and increase their incomes. Oscar is a budding entrepreneur himself, with a bright future in hospitality. If you have the chance to visit Honduras, you will no doubt enjoy the natural beauty of the rainforest and jungle that D&D Brewery is situated within, including close proximity to breathtaking waterfalls, bird watching, kayaking, and hiking.

I recognize that education is only half the equation. The other half of the equation is finding employment, or having the resources to pursue entrepreneurship. I strive to work exclusively with ethical businesses, hotels, clinics, and the like that are committed to providing dignified employment. I have a long-term vision of opening a permanent teaching facility that would increase reach and decrease travel costs. Until then, I will continue to travel to my clients and train them on-site at their premises. I am actively seking both individuals and organizations to work with.

The stories in Latin America are heartbreaking. I hear of destitute single mothers, abducted children, and organized crime. The stories are what propel me forward and cement my commitment to teaching massage.It is important for me to choose my clients wisely, and find ethical partners to create change in this world. Education creates opportunity for employment, is a vehicle for financial stability, and ultimately provides better quality of life.

Long-term solutions to poverty are controversial and complicated at best. Education creates opportunity for employment, is a vehicle for financial stability, and ultimately provides better quality of life.

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Michelle Roberts serves a global audience of massage students, and facilitates both online learning and in-person massage classes. Proud owner of Massage Student Pro, the company is at the frontierof online support for massage students. She divides her time between Latin America and North America.

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