My “wound” is slowly healing from the day we mixed and poured concrete into three rooms to create the floors for the three classrooms of the soon-to-be bilingual school. Jilli had some too, and I think Korri did a little as well. What started off as a nasty concoction of cement, blood, and some watery mucus layer in the skin is now just a few scabs and a lot of red marks. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t remember the hard work that put those marks there.
Our first day on the job was Sunday. We got up bright and early in the morning to eat breakfast and then head out the door to begin working with the local workers who were already getting started. These guys worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met to get their jobs done. They never seemed to get tired, either, working from around 7:30am to 4pm (though one day they worked all the way through till 2 in the morning). When we joined them on Sunday morning around 8am, we were all given separate jobs to do in small groups. Some people were mixing cement and working on the water tower. Others were working on building walls from (in) the ground up. Anne and I, however, were chosen to work with a man named Marco Ramos. Under his instruction, we finished off the final portion of the wall next to the entrance to the children’s home and volunteer lodge. Then we wheelbarrowed dirt into the rooms of the bilingual school. This work was relatively menial, but completely exhausting. However, while we worked, we were able to learn more about one another and also our jefe (Marco).
Anne is a super sweet girl with a passion for working and helping those who are less fortunate than us inconsiderate Americans (my words, not hers). She always puts others before herself, even when she’s not feeling well. I loved getting a chance to share and talk with her, but I’ll talk more about her later.
Marco was a very interesting character. His English dictionary was only a page long and our Spanish knowledge wasn’t much better, but he still found a way to hold us in conversation the entire day as we worked alongside him. Over the course of a week we learned bits and pieces about his life. He grew up on the streets, and at age 17 joined the militia to fight in the war against El Savador. These conditions led to an unfortunate drug and alcohol addiction. He told us once of a story in which he was in the midst of a battle in the jungles of El Savador and all of his friends were dying all around him – he was convinced that he was the only survivor. He crawled through the dirt and the grass and tried to hide away in a cave. When he came to, he was crawling around in the dust of a street, coming down off of an hallucinogenic high that made him believe he was back in the El Savadorian war. Marco realized he had hit rock bottom and that it was time to climb his way back up.
Now he tells this story to his two boys (and will soon tell the story to yet another child) in hopes that they will never touch the immense amount of drugs that pass through Honduras on a daily basis. Here is a picture of him and his oldest son, Marco Jr. Junior is an excellent kid with a good set of morals and a gentle heart – Marco should be very proud. He and his family live in a village not too far away from Villa Soleada, and he works as the Construction and Site Director, using his masonry and leadership skills to conduct timely and efficient construction projects at Villa Soleada.
For lunch, we all split into groups of three and each went to a different village home where the ladies of the village showed us how to make some delicious baleadas, and we ate until we could eat no more. We also learned that through the encouragement of SHH, many of the women of the village have been shown how to turn ordinary garbage into unique handbags, bracelets, and picture frames in an effort to help boost the economy of the village. I purchased a few of these bracelets for my sisters back home. So if you see them walking around with coins around their wrists, you know why.
Completing the work day around 4 pm, we made our way to the volunteer lodge where we cleaned up, ate some dinner, and got ready to go out on the town. Upon leaving, we went first to visit the mall in El Progreso where we were able to buy groceries and use ATMs to withdraw some lempiras (Honduran currency) to use as cash. Then we headed to a local bar, oddly connected to a gas station, but nonetheless enjoyable. After finally being able to sit down and enjoy a few moments of rest, we were ushered on stage by Shin and showed off our dance moves to the locals, who were fairly impressed with our ability to salsa along with showcasing some of our own dance moves – like Michelle’s running man during Party Rock Anthem.
The next morning, we awoke and continued with our work duties; our group had the task of taking a massive pile of dirt and wheelbarrowing it into the bilingual school in an effort to create an even earthen floor upon which we could pour concrete. This proved to at least appear to be quite an entertaining job, because as the kids from the elementary school began being let out, some of them immediately picked up shovels and wheel-barrow and helped us in our task. Others of them sat down and talked with some of the girls, while still others learned how to play red rover at Jordan’s direction. The kids just love American visitors, both new and returning. The younger ones like to climb on us like we’re jungle gyms or play physical games with us, but honestly they’re perfectly content to do whatever we might be doing at the time. Meanwhile, the older kids are slightly more mature, and although they probably have the same desire to play with Americans, it’s more so to make fun of how bad the guys are at soccer or to just walk with the girls, conversing with them as best as possible.
After a brief sandwich lunch during which I swear I ate a poisoned mango that still has me sick to this day, we were back to work, and we didn’t finish until the entire pile of dirt was gone. Again, around 4 in the afternoon, we concluded our work and returned to the lodge, where we cleaned up and ate dinner. Dinner each night was cooked by some of the men and women of the village and served straight from their pots and bowls onto our plates.
We left shortly after dinner with a bus full of happy kids. We drove a few minutes down the road into the city where an “indoor” soccer complex was. It wasn’t exactly indoor, however; rather, it was caged in to keep the ball from going out towards the street, in a way putting a new twist on the sport – no out of bounds. While everyone started getting warmed up to play, Loyda, Anne, and I walked across the street with a man named Sebastian who worked as un Bombero (firefighter) at the heart of El Progreso. Across the street from the caged soccer fields, however, was his former station, so he gave us a tour. It was nothing too extensive, but Loyda got to feel swamped by one of their uniforms when she tried it on. We did find out that of the three vehicles they have at that station, the ambulance was donated by Germany, the ladder truck by Canada, and the hose truck was donated by Japan. Japan provides an odd amount of assistance to the country of Honduras, and no one really knows why. I and some others have a theory that it might have something to do with the immense sweat shops that we saw as we drove down the highways – cheap labor has always been motivation for countries helping each other out.
Soccer went on well into mosquito hours. First the boys played a series of first-to-score-wins games. Then the girls took the field and I must admit, our volunteer team gave the local girls a nice run, but in the end, they still lost. On our way back, all of the kids were laughing and cheering and signing and chanting “Olimpia! Olimpia!” which is apparently their favorite club soccer team, one that hails from Tegucigalpa. Obviously, everyone had an awesome time playing futbol for hours on end and wearing Obi out by climbing all over him. Once again, we headed back to the lodge where we all rested up for our longest and hardest day of work.
The next morning, everything was moved a little bit earlier; breakfast was at 6:30 and work started at 7. All of the volunteers worked together this time and we all found ourselves in the same spot Anne and I had been working in for the past two days – right in front of the bilingual school. It was here that we spent our entire day, mixing concrete (making them volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens) and carrying it in buckets to each of the three classrooms where we dumped the concrete onto the floor. The recipe was simple – 5 parts dirt and gravel to two parts cement mix to 3-4 parts H2O. It was not too difficult of a task, but it became rapidly exhausting; shovels and buckets quickly become heavy when they’re filled with wet concrete. Some of the girls worked themselves too hard, like Taylor who didn’t stop for a break for hours. We had to instruct her to take an extended break because she was shaking uncontrollably and was slightly dizzy. This is how several of us, Jilli, Korri, and myself included, received our work wounds, carrying buckets filled with cement on our shoulders until all three rooms were complete. Upon the completion of this task in the afternoon, some of us went out to the soccer field to help with soccer practice for the kids, while the lazy ones (like me) went back to the lodge, tried our hardest to shower the concrete off of our bodies, and then passed out
That evening, after another delicious dinner provided by the people of Villa Soleada, we all decided to enjoy our own fun tasks. Several of us sat down in the main room of the lodge and watched Sin Nombre and Footloose, while several others went to the children’s home to play card games and build card houses with the kids. Regardless of the activity chosen, this was the day that we all became closer friends. Having worked so hard together on filling in all three classroom floors with concrete, we learned a lot about each other, forever cementing ourselves as friends.
Jenny and Jilli, the two sisters who had been to Villa several times by now, are two super-sweet girls who are totally in love with the kids at Villa Soleada. They were constantly playing with them, loving on them, and taking pictures with them. It seemed like there was someone by their side or in their arms at all times
Elise and Jordan had never done something like this before were really passionate about teaching the kids English. Later in the week, Elise was constantly outside with her iPad, showing different videos to whoever wanted to watch. When she wasn’t doing that, she was right alongside Jordan, helping him teach phrases like “How are you doing today?” and “How old are you?”, rewarding obvious progress by buying homemade items from them.
We nicknamed Obi “Michael Oher” (ya know, from “The Blind Side”?) because of his incredibly huge heart. Everything he did seemed to have the children’s safety and well being in mind, whether it was telling them to be careful running around a bonfire or saving them food from a restaurant we visited. However, his most popular role was that of a human jungle gym.
Loyda and Korri were the hardest workers I think I’ve ever seen. They were relentless, and barely ever took breaks. Korri was in beast mode, carrying buckets of cement to the bilingual school’s classrooms while Loyda was an unrelenting force of determination, sometimes the only volunteer shoveling cement while the rest of us gringos took a water break in the shade. Additionally, Korri has a passion for helping people in need around the globe. She has recently been to South Africa for an extended stay and has a tour with the Peace Corps in the works.
Smiling Sara, a nickname she kind of gave herself on our first day together, played her role to the details. She was never not smiling or laughing, even when she wasn’t feeling up to par. Her unrelenting joy was highly contagious to the rest of us and kept us going when we didn’t want to.
Michelle and Taylor, the two Vietnamese sisters who are in no way related, were the class clowns. Not that they tried to be silly, but that everything got them excited – being with the kids, working, dancing, eating, watching a movie. Their excitement over every facet of the trip could not be quelled. In fact, it was rather inspiring.
Whitney and Gracie were two wonderful girls who not only loved the children in the home on Villa Soleada, but were also passionate about the rest of the people of the village. They were the only two volunteers who hung out on a regular basis with the workers. The night that they were working on the bilingual school until 2 am, Whitney and Gracie were keeping them company most of the night playing cards with them and just holding general conversation.
Jackie was an all around kind of person. Looking back I can’t think of one aspect in particular which makes her stand out, because she was constantly doing everything. She was always doing something on the job site, she was always with one of the kids, playing with them, she was a great friend to the rest of the volunteer girls, always holding conversations with them and learning more about their lives. I can’t pinpoint one exact trait that Jacqueline exhibited, because she just seemed to be doing everything.
Gill was very ill at the beginning of the week, so her strength took a little bit of time in returning, but she worked her hardest in spite of this obstacle. Her greatest talent, though, was loving the kids (while moonlighting as a fantastic photographer. Most of the photos I’m using are hers). Like Jilli and Jenny, she devoted all of her time into loving and playing with the children of Villa Soleada and the children’s home.
Finally, as I said before, Anne was a super sweet girl, though relatively quiet. Despite this, I found out about her passion for all sorts of people in need. She has not only visited Honduras and Villa Soleada on multiple occasions, but on this trip, she was just recently back from teaching English in China. Like Korri, she has dreams of taking part in organizations around the globe, teaching and helping people where it is needed most. Her attitude is most admirable.