I’m so sorry I haven’t written about Honduras yet!!
The top two things I learned: I need to learn how to speak Spanish for real and I need to start working out.
So, as a refresher, I traveled to Honduras two weeks ago with a group of students from my school. We went to help an organization called Students Helping Honduras. Their main purpose is to better the lives of children. They do this by running children’s homes for orphans, building schools and improving the quality of their education. The village we stayed in – Villa Soleada, was entirely built by this organization with the help of the residents.
My group traveled to another village called Bella Aurora to work on a school being
built there. The first day, Sunday, we took a tour and saw the current “school”. I put that in quotes because it consists of random classrooms scattered throughout the village. Additionally, these classrooms double as bars at night.
On Sunday we also had a chance to be immersed in the culture. We were split up into small groups of 3 or 4 and assigned
a family. We scattered to their houses and helped make Baleadas. Baleadas are the traditional Honduran food. They consist of a tortilla filled with eggs, refried beans and avacodo. Sometimes other things are added like chicken, but that is the basic baleada. My first experience of this national favorite was in the airport and let me tell you, the real thing is 100x better. I was with the Ramirez-Ortiz family who had numerous adorable children and were very welcoming. They also made us fresh pineapple juice(delicious!) and plantains.
After eating ourselves into a near coma, someone decided it was time to put us to work. The task of the day was mixing cement and carrying endless buckets to be poured into the cinder block frame of the school (I think that’s how it works – I know nothing about construction). Tired after only a few hours of work, we wondered what the next day would hold.
Monday brought 100 degree weather, more cement and salsa dancing. After a long day of work, we were told the night would hold dance lessons. Not knowing what we were getting into, we all climbed onto the school bus that was our transportation for the week. Our driver Geo blasted the obligatory mix of American and Spanish music. Soon we pulled up to the sketchiest looking bar ever. It was portable and currently attached to a gas station. Yup, that sounds even sketchier when I put it into words…
Anyway a couple of the country’s top dancers met us there. We watched dumbfounded as they moved in ways not entirely humanly possible and then laughed when we were invited try the moves ourselves. They simplified it though and we got the hang of it (some more than others). They showed us the basic steps for the merengue, salsa and a few other dances.
Most of the week consisted of working on the school by doing various tasks. We built a porch for the front, built rebar one day and spent an entire afternoon passing buckets of sand down an assembly line. There was rain to contend with around Tuesday and then there was mud all over the place after that. My sneakers are never going to be the same color again.
As I mentioned above, SHH also runs a children’s home. Currently in Honduras all orphans live at state orphanages, unless they are lucky enough to be private homes, like this organization’s. There are strict laws against adoption and kids get kicked out at 13, which leads many of them to join gangs. One morning we went to visit the state orphanage and it was the most heart wrenching experience of the week. The living conditions were obviously sub par. The kids begged to be held and played with, because they probably don’t get much attention. There was one physically and mentally handicapped child crawling on the floor pinching our legs to get attention. The worst part was finding out that this orphanage is in better condition than the “old” one(which burned down).
On Thursday, we visited the other schools that SHH is in the process of building. Students were having class at all of the
sites so we got to see the current classroom conditions. One school consisted of makeshift rooms of tarp and wood. At another, 600 students were crammed into about 6 “classrooms”. Visiting these schools literally made me sick and I was cranky all day over the thought of conditions these children are forced to live and learn in.
As with most Hispanic countries, the Honduran people have a love affair with soccer, or football as it is properly called. Or course, we couldn’t leave without playing a game of soccer. Apparently this requirement couldn’t be fulfilled by kicking a ball around with some kids. No, on Thursday afternoon, we participated in “cage soccer”, which as you might have guessed, consists of playing soccer in a cage. Now I have zero athletic ability and some of the people I was playing with were way more invested in the game than I was. My team played against some local girls, which was unfair from the beginning. These people have soccer in their blood and could play in their sleep! We lasted for a surprising amount of time though and it turned out to be fun.
The chaplain of my school was one of the chaperones and he managed to make friends with the president and spiritual leader of Bella Aurora, Don Jose. One day we were invited over his house. He said that he wanted to play some music for us and I was expecting a guitar but he came out with…an accordian. We had a grand time listening to him. He wanted to play a song we knew but we realized that the only Spanish song we might all know is Feliz Navidad. At the risk of being labeled “crazy americans” we broke out into this well known Christmas tune.
On our last day at the work site, Don Jose revealed that he wanted to have a prayer service to thank God for bringing us all together. What we thought was going to be a quick prayer turned into an hour of bible readings, reflections from both our priest and Don Jose, and of course singing accompanied by the accordion. The connection between all of us was tangible and I’m not afraid to admit that I teared up a little. Simply having a common faith in God makes us all an intimately bonded family, even across borders.
The name Bella Aurora means beautiful dawn. Honduras has been getting much media attention lately and as usual, the news focuses on the negative events that are occuring. My brief interactions with the people and glimpse into this country shows me that there is great hope. I think that through the work of organizations like SHH, Honduras is going to get a chance at a new beginning and the dawn of a beautiful future.