Monday, February 4, 2008
I reflect upon my expectations prior to traveling to Honduras versus the emotional impact it has had upon me. Was the trip what I expected? Well, yes and no, except the yes part is a very shallow yes. Prior to this last week I’ve seen pictures of Honduras and pictures of third world cities like the capital Tegucigalpa, and San Francisco (a dusty collection of huts, and outhouses). I’ve seen National Geographic pictures of and read about poverty, the sick, malnourished kids and third world orphanages. So yes, through a camera’s eye I mostly saw what I expected. But there is no emotional attachment to a video, magazine or photo and that is where my experience this last week vastly differed from my expectation.
I had no idea how emotionally caught up you can become spending a week in Honduras working with Honduran teens, spending three days working in an orphanage, and assisting on a medical brigade in a remote Honduran mountain site.
The eleven of us from St. Stephens accompanied a larger group from the Cleveland organization Hope for Honduran Children, http://www.hopeforhonduranchildren.org/index.php,
which supports the Honduran organization Sociedad Amigos de los Ninos http://www.saninos.org.hn/index.htm, which was established 40 some years ago by 81 year old Sister Marie Rosa to provide shelter, health care, education, training and the opportunity to live in dignity to children and families ravaged by extreme poverty. I would highly recommend you visit the two above sites to gain a better understanding of Sister Maria and the projects and work performed in Honduras.
We visited Flor Azul, a community established in 2004 for neglected or abandoned teenage boys. No photo or explanation can portray the austere life the teenage boys live in. A place in the hills with no electricity, a 30+ year old generator pumping water into a bacterially contaminated holding tank that requires the boys to travel over an hour to obtain diesel fuel to run the generator. And no explanation can accurately describe the love or maturity of the 80+ boys that live there or Gustavo, the dedicated teacher of the boys who runs the community. From the descriptions from others who have visited Flor Azul in prior years, they have made great strides forward from the single dilapidated barn that the boys first lived in. Gustavo, a man who has dedicated his life to working with homeless boys, a man known to forgo meals so his boys will have a bit more to eat, deeply spiritual and truly devoted to God and the mission of Sociedad spoke to us on a few occasions. His sincerity, passion and devotion are truly amazing as reflected in one of his closing remarks to us, that where there is love there are no boundaries.
On Sunday morning we had mass with the 50+ kids, age infant to about 14, at the orphanage Pedro Atala in the inner city of Tegucigalpa. But a couple of hours with the kids there does not convey the reality of their lives in the orphanage. I admit I really wasn’t very observant or perceptive on that Sunday morning. I knew it was an orphanage and I recognized the living conditions, but didn’t really contemplate the implications to the kids that live there. These are kids that were abandoned by their parents for mostly economic or medical (Aids) reasons.
Although the primary mission of our 50+ member group was a medical brigade, Larry, a gentleman from Cleveland, and I were presented the opportunity to spend three of our days at the Pedro Atala orphanage painting and performing other needed repairs. Pedro Atala is a small complex of four buildings, three for sleeping and one common. Although they have a great staff of caring helpers, many who “graduated” from the orphanage, these special children are so starved for attention and affection. Sonya, the “Auntie” of Pedro Atala explained how many of the newer abandoned malnourished children often ask about their mothers. They can only inform them that their mom has to be away at work or some other excuse. More than once we heard young children crying for their moms, it was so sad.
Except when we had to have Sonya instruct the kids to stay back from our painting, the kids were constantly around us asking and calling us by our names and trying to talk to us in Spanish. I, unfortunately, have a very limited knowledge of Spanish, although my English/Spanish translator did help some. But it wasn’t necessary to speak their language to communicate love and affection with them. I learned some of their names, and many more I could not pronounce or retain. A few of them became more attached than others, Angel about 7 years old, would follow me around and help move my step ladder. I’d climb up one side and Angel would clime up the other and chatter with me. At one point he called me padre, I asked porque, and he responded tu mi gringo padre. Another Senieda, a 13 year old girl was similarly craving for attention and wanting to communicate. At one point I asked her if she could escribe and she said si. I successfully explained that I have dos amigo muchachas, catorce anos in Estados Unidos (two of the girls in our St. Stephen teen life group that expressed a interest in having a pen pal in Honduras) and asker her to escribe a mi amigas. She said si, I wrote down Briana and Meagan’s names and gave it to her. She returned an hour later with a very sincere letter she had written with the help of one of the staff at Pedro Atala.
AJ had also written a pen pal letter prior to my going to Honduras, and Marie requested I find her a cute boy she could correspond to. I gave AJ’s letter to Gustavo (as did a Spanish teacher from New York – 22 letters), and asked Vicente at Flor Azul, through an interpreter if he would like to write to my daughter. By Friday, Gustavo brought back letters to Marie, AJ and the 22 kids in New York.
When Larry and I finally had to leave on the third day, the kids at Pedro Atala gave us each a thank you card signed by each of them. The kids all gather around us proudly pointing out with pride each of their signatures explaining that was them. Leaving was very emotional for Larry and I, the kids were holding on to us refusing to let us leave, wonderful kids, so well behaved with no mother or father to hold them as their own.
Friday was the only day I went out on one of the medical brigades. It was an hour and half drive into the Honduras mountains over dusty rocky roads, forging river beds and climbing impossibly steep rocky roads. Typical of the other days, the brigade saw about 400 locals who walked to the site from up to three hours away. The brigade had about 8 doctors and an equal number of nurses and interpreters, along with a couple of pharmacists and the remaining non medical personnel that assisted in making the operation run as smoothly as possible. The dentist’s task was what I though was the most gruesome. His primary objective was to inspect patients with decayed inflamed teeth, give them a shot of nocacaine and pull the tooth as humanly as possible. Dozens of teeth were pulled each day. The most prevalent issue in rural Honduras was parasites due to lack of potable water. A large percentage of kids walked around with distended stomachs due to the parasites. An easily treated malady, but of course without potable water or a consistent source of the drugs, the issues will remain along with the many other hardships the people endure.
On our last night in Honduras, after mass we shared many of the experiences we encountered. A very emotional couple of hours. Maria, one of our members who translated for our brigade doctors, told us of a 13 year old who was carrying an infant and accompanied by two younger siblings. They had traveled alone about an hour to the brigade site without any parent(s?). Maria was emotionally upset as she was unable to assure the boy could comprehend the instructions the doctors were giving regarding the medication his siblings needed. We had one of our trucks give them a ride back up the road to a trail that lead to their home with extra food and clothing.
During Larry’s and my 3 days at Pedro Atala, we spent the nights at the Sociedad headquarters, 2 blocks from Pedro Atala (the rest of the brigade stayed at Neuvo Paraiso, too inconvenient to commute back and forth from). We were very blessed and fortunate to share a number of meals with Sister Maria and were very honored to be in her presence and converse with her. She has been called the Mother Teresa of Honduras. Along with many national and international humanitarian awards she has received, one of the Honduras postage stamps honors her with her picture on it (read more on the web site). She has incredible vision and fortitude to assist the poor and homeless of Honduras which she attests are visions she receives from God. Thru our meal conversations and other stories told to us about sister I have no doubt she is in direct communication with God, and all while remaining incredibly humble.
Thank you all for your donations, you have no idea how needed they are and how far the funds will go for use in acquiring drugs on the medical brigades and assisting the projects Sister Maria Rosa has established in Honduras. Again, I would highly recommend you visit the web sites and read more about Sister Maria and the Sociedad, it’s an incredible organization that Sister established and manages. And if the opportunity ever arose for you to work on a mission such as I was able to participate on, I’d highly recommend it, it will change your outlook on life.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
peace in Christ,
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Honduras Mission and Beyond
This week 11 of us, including myself, will be in Honduras by the grace of God, seeking to serve the people of Honduras as well as the other missionaries with us. What began as a simple call from my brother (who is a doctor in Cleveland) three years ago, asking if I would be interested in serving as priest/chaplain to a medical mission, has evolved into a group of 25 people from the Seattle area going to engage those who are most in need of our help. As the focus of the group from Cleveland remains on medical provision, the northwest teams are evaluating the water quality needs and power generation needs of the Boy’s Ranch attached to our mission. It seems like a fitting gift from the wet northwest, where we tend to have clean water in abundance.
In addition to any material aid we give to the people we will meet, our hope is to also be a source of encouragement to them. There is a moral strength that comes from visitors who have invested time and energy in helping someone whose options can be so limited. There is a realization with the children of Sr. Maria Rosa, who runs Sociedad de Los Amigos de Los Ninos, that they are not alone in the world, as difficult as it may be. Aloneness is perhaps the most debilitating cross of any suffering. While we won’t be able to solve all their problems, we can be with them in those circumstances, if only for a short time.
This encounter of course is not one-sided. Far from it, as anyone involved in charitable work realizes, it’s the giver who actually receives more than the receiver. As St. Francis prayed: It is in giving that we receive. How true, the poor enrich our lives through contact with them. In this exchange, we come to realize our own poverty and short-sightedness. The struggles of these persons to make it through the day can make the ‘hang-nails’ that we call problems rather trivial. Somehow the poor whom Jesus called ‘Blessed’ give us a blessing that endures longer than the pills and potable water that we might give.
I say ‘we’ above as if we are all rich, but I know there are people in our own community who struggle to afford humane housing, medicine and other necessities. Some have suffered loss of home and job. Still others know the pain of other devastating loss. Poverty comes to all our doorsteps in one form or another. The Christian task is to greet it with faith, hope and love. May love meet our own poverty that we might comfort our neighbor, whether they are in Honduras, across the street, or in our own home.