They say that home is where the heart is. Well, my heart definitely has been in Honduras for the past few years. Ever since going there in 2009 with Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, when I fell in love with the country and its people, I just had to go back. This nation is in need in so many ways, and nothing makes me happier than doing my own little part to help. So when my friend, Isis, notified me via Facebook that there was a relatively cheap service trip available in Honduras this summer, I was stricken with the incredible desire to go. I’m sure God wants me here – I’m not sure why yet, but this place keeps on coming back into my life in full force. Now I sit by Gate 2 in San Pedro Sula International Airport, wondering how the past 8 days have gone by so fast. I’ve learned so much and experienced such an amazing yet short time that it feels like I’ve gained the knowledge of a semester in college over the span of just a few days. I want to share each of these days with you in hopes that you will get a glimpse of the situation in Honduras and be inspired by the story of SHH. However, this is a long story, so I’m going to have to split it up into several different posts that I will hopefully be able to put up on a daily basis.
I remember how incredibly naive we were going into this trip, acting like high schoolers going on a vacation. After pulling an all nighter Thursday night into Friday morning, Michelle Nguyen, Isis Lopez, and I drove toward DFW International Airport with our suitcases and boxes of donations. Upon our arrival, we discovered that we had no idea which gate we were supposed to be at and had Isis’ friend drop us off on the wrong side of Terminal E. With a couple of very heavy boxes, we couldn’t get from one side of the terminal to the other without using some sort of transportation device for the luggage. I was about to suggest renting a $5 cart, but before the words could finish leaving my lips, the girls had grabbed a wheelchair and were stacking the boxes on top and running for the elevator like escaped convicts. I claim no part in these foolish antics out of sheer embarrassment.
Congratulating themselves on their cleverness they exited the elevator and walked about 2 meters before being stopped by an airport official. I went back upstairs and grabbed us a 5-dollar cart. We had wasted about 5 to 10 minutes.
A 5-minute walk and a kind and helpful shuttle driver later, we finally found ourselves at our correct gate. Since my boarding pass had printed out correctly, I was able to jump in line to check in my bag while Michelle and Isis were left behind with the large boxes to check in at the attendant’s counter. Looking back, I probably should have helped the poor girls, but I learned pretty quickly that these girls were very resourceful. So I moved forward to what looked like an extremely long security line. It was 50 minutes before our flight was supposed to take off.
About thirty minutes later, I had made my way almost to the front of the line with no sign of Isis and Michelle. Finally I saw their heads peaking out above the long line and waved in their direction. Unfortunately, there was no way they could get to me, because I was already in the roped off section of the line and people were pretty pissed off at this point, so there was no way anyone was going to let Isis and Michelle pa… There was a tap on my shoulder and to my surprise, I turned around to see Isis and Michelle. Though they had been in a hurry, the attendant taking care of them was in no way feeling rushed, and this was why they took so long. As for cutting past a bunch of pissed off people in line at the airport, apparently Isis is very good at looking like a lost little girl trying to get to her mother and somehow Michelle must have been mistaken as her Vietnamese sister…or something. Unfortunately, I looked nothing like their mother, so we received some nice dark glares as we continued through the security line.
Making it onto our flight with minutes to spare, we were soon headed for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There we spent the entire day with some of Isis’ childhood friends, enjoying the beach in between rain showers and hanging out at the mall, all while waiting for our 14-hour layover to end.
Around 10 in the evening, we headed to the airport and met up with Jordan Price, Taylor Nguyen, and Obi Oyekwe. All 6 of us boarded the plane and were finally headed for the murder capital of the world. Honduras is a country that is economically unstable as well as socially dysfunctional. Its main airport city, San Pedro Sula, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world as far as homicide rates go. This violence is evident in the 15-20 bullet holes riddling the passenger door of this casually parked truck. This is due in part to two very large gangs that permeate the country, MS-13 and M-18 (ever seen Sin Nombre? Yeah those gangs). The most recent murder that I heard of took place right outside of the airport, but thankfully for our own peace of mind, it was an ordered hit on three specific persons. The killers actually checked the IDs of their victims before shooting them. Regardless, this is still a very dangerous country with a government balancing between some 18-or-so different political parties.
Upon landing in San Pedro Sula and passing through a nice, long customs checkpoint, we were greeted by Luis and Kelly. Kelly serves as the trip coordinator for each volunteer service trip. She and Luis, our official bus driver, picked us up from the airport and drove us the 20-25 minutes to the outskirts of El Progresso, Yoro, right up to the brand new volunteer lodge built into the heart of Villa Soleada, the village funded and built by Students Helping Honduras.
The following day, we woke up and enjoyed a day of walking around the village, checking out the agricultural garden next to the two children’s homes along with the school, the up-and-coming bilingual school, and the soccer fields. We then enjoyed playing with some of the kids in the village and children’s home and getting to know them. We got schooled in soccer and taught some of them how to throw a football. Then we ate lunch in the children’s home where we got to spend some more time learning more about it’s inhabitants. We were also given the chance to talk to the SHH founder, Shin Fujiyama, and met our trip leader, Whitney.
It was at this lunch that we met a boy named Julio Cesar. In his blog, Shin Fujiyama calls Julio “The Next Picasso”, and rightly so. This young man of only 12 years old has a blatantly incredible skill of drawing, coloring, painting, etc. According to Shin, this artwork serves as a sort of therapy for young Julio who found himself at IHNFA (a government sanctioned orphanage) at a very young age. “He can’t remember why his parents left him on the streets to fend for himself,” Shin writes, “and we have very little information about his past.”
IHNFA burned to the ground in November 2011. The hundreds of kids it housed and the handful of workers it employed were all spared, but the government had nowhere to put all these children who no longer had a home. By this time, the Children’s Home in Villa Soleada was nearing completion after being in the works for several years, and by “sheer luck,” Julio was one of the few children from the orphanage chosen to stay at this brand new children’s home. Over time, Julio’s skills improved and he appeared to become a little happier each day. Now through Shin’s nonstop efforts and his passion for the people of Villa Soleada, Julio is enrolled in one of the best art schools in Honduras.
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t think this was sheer luck. This was God’s grace. The Villa Soleada Children’s Home currently is a home to around ten boys, and when Julio was first there, it had thirteen children. All of them come from a rough background, like my friend here, Christian, who has visible scars on his face from fights he got into when he was on the streets. Some of them have already experienced gangs, and sometimes carry out that violence that they grew up with on other children in the Home. Some of these kids, like Julio Cesar, came from IHNFA when it burned down. Out of the hundreds of children who were left without a home, most of them went straight back to the streets, where they began to fend for themselves once again. A few others were sent to other orphanages where they reside in conditions that are just as bad if not worse than IHNFA. It is no question that Julio was sent to Villa out of God’s grace and now, not even a year later, is at a prestigious arts school.
Shin is hoping to be receiving another group of about 10 children soon to fill a recently completed second building to the children’s home. Obviously, Shin is doing great things for the kids in Honduras, but he has reasonable expectations. “I am fully aware that our children’s home might only improve the lives of a couple hundred kids at the most here in Honduras. That’s just a tiny drop in the ocean in a country where 180,000 kids have been orphaned.” The children’s home is in constant need of donations to help provide for food and supplies along with raising money for possible future expansions. If you are interested in helping the lives of children like Julio and Christian, please join a monthly giving campaign set up solely to help fund the children’s home – The One Cup of Coffee Campaign. It’s only $4 dollars a month – the cost of one Grande at Starbucks. You can read more about it here.
Later on that same day, we were joined by a group of wonderful girls. Jilli, Jenny, Gill, Elise, Sarah, Jackie, Loyda, Anne, Gracie, and Korri. These girls later showed remarkable character and class throughout the week in their hard work and obvious love for serving and playing with the kids. We received orientation from Whitney and then hit the hay in order to rest up for the upcoming week of hard work and intense heat.