Hi everyone! This post is going to be a little different than the rest, as it is a first-hand account of my volunteer trip to Honduras in June 2014. I wrote approximately 5,000 words of a book about my experience during the summer in the months after my trip, but I never got around to finishing it. But here is a section of one of the chapters from the book, including a few photos that my friends and I took while we were there. I am not sure if I will continue to upload more sections of the book, but I figured I would give it a shot. Hope you enjoy!
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We entered the village of Fray Lazaro at around 8:30 am. After turning from the pavement onto a dirt road, we seemed to be driving slightly downhill. The terrain was not smooth and our van rocked back and forth constantly, which only added to the Survivor-esque mood. We passed structures of all kinds: small churches, small farms, small houses. Every so often, I caught a glimpse of the skinniest animals I had ever seen: cows, dogs, and goats with their ribs terribly exposed. As we drove deeper and deeper into the village, trees and structures surrounding us on either side, we began approaching the community of La Rinconada, and we were followed by a cow and her calf, both abnormally skinny. It seemed as though the calf wanted so badly to follow our van; either that, or she was terribly confused, as she soon turned around, disoriented, and found her mother.
We parked in the middle of the dirt road, and each of us eagerly and nervously entered the humid southern air. We crowded behind Armando, Lester and Joel beside him, two Honduran ejercito soldiers behind us (they were assigned to each brigade). I looked around at my surroundings: to my left, a well-structured house, run down but in stable condition. Ahead and to my right, however, stood two homes, each built from the ground up entirely of sticks. Growing up, I had conceived this notion of poverty in my head; that was nothing compared to this. I had never seen poverty, not even on TV, until visiting La Rinconada. After a few brief introductions that I honestly paid little attention to (due to even more shock), we made our way, single file, down the pathway in the direction of the community’s main water source. As we walked through the grass, past the casitas, we looked to our left and saw nothing but green in the distance, hills and valleys adorned with grass and trees, and to our right were green hills as well, only closer. Male community members had already gotten a head start on the digging process, creating a distinct pathway, 3 inches deep, for us to use as a guide when digging in the coming days. We were surprised at this, as we thought that we were to begin the project ourselves. But like we were told before, Global Brigades is not a charity, but rather a holistic model used to empower communities to improve their status of living. We work alongside community members; we do not give them clean water, we help them access water in a more efficient, hygienic, and sustainable way.
Past the hill and into the shaded, rainforest-like area, we arrived at the water source: a cement well. While the well provides the community with fresh groundwater, women typically carry five gallon buckets atop their heads all the way back to their houses, where it is stored uncovered and exposed to mosquitos and other disease-carrying insects. Children often go to sleep without bathing, and get ready to go to school, still dirty from the previous day. Mothers make at least five trips per day to fetch water from the well, time that could be spent at work or with their children and families.
|The well, the original water source.|
At the well, the women in the community introduced themselves and greeted us, and Lester and Armando translated. After they explained what the current situation was like, Joel gave us an idea of what the new water source would be. He designed a gas-powered pump to propel the water out of the new well and into a filtration system, where it would then be transported through underground pipes to the faucets outside each house. Soon, we were allowed to try getting water from the well using a bucket attached to a rope. I tried this, curiously, and I was astonished at just how difficult it was! It takes patience and the right technique, and these women were able to do it so fast! I giggled and tried my best to say that I couldn’t do it, but they insisted on teaching me how. I was amazed at how kind these women were and how willing they were to help a stranger perform an act that they do so naturally.
We walked back to the residential area, and we divided into two groups, each group to visit three houses in the community. I was in Armando’s group with about 10 others. Little did I know that the first house we approached was the home of a little boy who would grow to be a dear young friend of mine. Oscar and his mother live in a one room shack made of sticks nailed together. Oscar has lived in this house his entire life, and his mother built it herself. Inside the house was one small bed surrounded by a holey pink canopy to act as a mosquito net. On one of the “beams” hung Oscar’s kindergarten diploma, and a few toys were neatly placed on the bed. Even though it was humble and quaint, it was a home; we were welcomed inside the eight-by-eight foot structure by a smiling mother and her son, who did not smile much for us. Oscar was almost seven years old, and though he was a very shy boy, he seemed curious. He had been standing atop the well when we were examining it, and he followed our group, even when his mother was not around.
We were able to ask Oscar’s mother a few questions about her house, what she enjoyed doing in her spare time, and what she typically eats. Even though I enjoyed getting to know her, this didn’t feel like the right way to do it. It felt very forced and unnatural, like we were interrogating a woman before we helped her on this endeavor. It wasn’t until we asked her where she lived before this house when I realized the true gravity of this situation. Oscar’s mother pointed to a home twenty feet away, also made entirely of sticks. The difference, besides the size, was that this house had large hornet’s nests embedded in the roof.
|A photo of Oscar’s house in La Rinconada, Choluteca, Honduras|
Oscar’s grandmother welcomed us into her home, a structure about three times the size of the house we had just seen. It had a bedroom area, and another area with a couple of hammocks hung from the ceiling that could have been considered a living room. Towards the rear of the house was the kitchen, and the back wall was covered in soot, due to the lack of ventilation. Lester explained to us that the smoke from the kitchen causes Oscar’s grandmother, as well as other Honduran families, to have respiratory problems. This is in addition to the multitude of waterborne illnesses to which they are exposed due to inadequate water storage.
After touring the homes, the 23 members of our student team gathered some chairs in a circle and introduced ourselves, in Spanish, to the community members. A few of the women repeated our names after we said them, making sure to pronounce them correctly. Soon, they, too, introduced themselves to us. To this day, I am sorry that I did not make more of an effort to learn the names of the community members, for now I am at a loss and cannot have them here. The people of La Rinconada had much more of an impact on my life than I had expected, and I should know their names, at least. I feel as though I owe them that much more respect, after they so graciously welcomed us into their homes.
|Oscar and I when I had to say goodbye.|
We left La Rinconada on that first day feeling eager to begin working on the water project. I felt intimidated by the amount of work that lay ahead, but I felt more compelled to help these people than to simply back away. I became a part of something that would change the lives of several human beings.