My Honduras Trip Brought Up More What-Ifs than Answers
My mind races from image to image as I mentally catalog the week in Honduras (My Global MBA experience). What an exceptional experience to come and use all our senses to learn about these, not so very, distant cousins of God’s creation in a world so removed from my daily reality.
Everyone who travels to a developing country will certainly be impacted by the contrast to our culture. My thoughts of Honduras will not only rest against the backdrop of the differences I wake to Monday morning in Brentwood, Tennessee, they will rest against extremes in life I found in the proximity of the city of Teguce itself. Yes, my memories of Tegucigalpa will come in pairs of extremes: from surplus to scarcity, from modern to ancient, from sophisticated to simplistic, from corrupt to benevolent, from whim to vision and hope to hopelessness.
As I think back on my pre-trip perceptions of Honduras, I admit I was expecting to be impressed by poverty we would encounter having experienced the culture through mission trips tales of my daughters on several occasions. I was expecting to see children whose eyes would steal your very heart because they have been so neglected and abused by conditions not of their own choosing but of hopeless circumstance. I was expecting to smell unpleasantness and taste the cruel reality of a world in malfunction. What I did not expect was to feel such a connectedness to the people we met in local businesses and the faces of mothers and children in rural locations.
We started our week with a visit to Jovenes en Camino, to tour the boy’s home and I was immediately impressed with the facility and structure and with those committed to providing for 57 boys who live in the home. I kept thinking these boys, who live in community with their playmates and share a surrogate mom and dad with 20 others, are the lucky ones. As much as I am thankful a place like Jovenes exists in Honduras, I was overwhelmed with the enormity of need for hundreds of places just like it that don’t exist. I felt a contrast of emotion, of hope for the 57 boys living within the safety and blessing of Jovenes and hopelessness for thousands who will never have a chance to be safe and blessed. I felt a connectedness with Annie Brown, our 25 year old missionary host, because I had just waved goodbye to my 18 year old daughter to begin her own missionary journey. I wondered, if in a few months she will find herself in a place that will capture her mind and heart and want to stay beyond her internship… As impressed as I am with Annie and her love for Jovenes, my soul is not settled at this thought for my middle child…and yet I know the world needs more young women and men like Annie.
Our next adventure would prove to be the most unsettling, for me at least. Just as we struggled to gain access to a community some two to three hours over nearly impassable roads, I struggle to make sense of the remote and unjust conditions of such a place. We first visited a dark room in a small house where moms, many in their teens, gathered to learn parenting skills from volunteers. Children in their arms, they sat in a circle and waited until each child was weighed and growth was recorded.
I thought to myself, this is a scene that plays out in every corner of the globe. Young moms, trying to do what is best in order to secure a sound future for their children. Do any of us really know what we are doing before we are handed such awesome responsibility in the form of our babies? Don’t we all hope someone will give us some guidance? These sweet volunteer-women were neighbors, but also pediatricians and counselors, teachers and mentors, in a community without professionals with such titles.
We then rode to the preschool and public school in the community. The preschool was run by a sweet lady, who basically worked for free because the $35 a month she was supposed to receive from government funding rarely came and never on time. Child Fund, our hosts for the visit, supported the preschool as well as many programs in the regular elementary and high school next door. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and passion in the voice of this teacher, who for 15 years had poured herself into these children so they might have a better chance.
As we walked to the high school, we could tell something exciting was happening. We would soon realize the excitement was us! The whole school and teachers were present on what was supposed to be a holiday because we were coming. We were greeted by boys on stilts and balloons and dancing and songs. Each group had projects to present and showed us their efforts. Another contrast occurred to me as I watched kids with bright faces full of excitement and potential perform for strangers. How could this be a place where most will only go to third grade? They were amazing and talented. Shouldn’t they get a chance to be just that?
In contrast to these scenes of rural life, we visited several companies and were hosted by some of Tegucigalpa’s leaders in business. What impressed me about our hosts at these companies was their willingness to speak candidly about problems and issues they faced as a nation. They spoke bluntly about crime, corruption, poverty, and perceptions of Honduras, but finished by explaining all the reasons they loved and were proud of their country. No one tried to gloss over issues we all knew existed, but all wanted to make sure we did not miss the many positives about life in such a country of beauty and history and family-culture. At University visits, we were greeted by educators eager to show us their facilities and speak of the future of Honduras through lens of educating its youth.
The remainder of our week we enjoyed some good food, local scenery, and near misses as Miguel, our guide, skillfully (though frighteningly) drove us around. One sight I will not forget will remain a symbol of challenges faced by those who wish to move the country and people of Honduras toward a new day. In the middle of the main thoroughfare is a brand new lane built for bus traffic. It was paid for with political capital and promised to provide an ease to the current traffic nightmare. Instead, it has never been opened and may not be operational for another year, if ever, due to lack of urgency in post-election time. Such a waste of effort and funds! Instead of an improvement, the infrastructure is much worse. This is a symbol in my mind of the inefficiency and lack of vision of the leaders of Honduras.
Finally, I think about the children who asked us repeatedly for money as we climbed in and out of the van. If given an opportunity for a good education, would such spunk to approach a stranger boldly translate into drive and determination in the classroom and then in the business world? I think about the men walking in-between cars at traffic stops, selling canvas prints and fruit, or the boy juggling machetes for cash. What could their lives be, in another setting? I believe at the end of the day the lesson I will hold close from this experience is how I will never know the what-ifs for those men and boys or the what-ifs for myself in their shoes. But I believe I can know for certain that I am not as smart as I am fortunate. I am not as hard-working as I am blessed with resources and opportunities. I was born into circumstances almost guaranteeing my success, if I don’t prosper in this life I have no one to blame but myself. I am so thankful, and I should be.