Six Days That Changed My Life

I came across some photos yesterday from a mission trip that James and I took to Honduras a while ago.  I also found an article that I had written about the trip and thought with Thanksgiving being just around the corner, that it would be nice to share it with you all… 

Last year our company, Dazzle Creative Event Producers, was honored to help with the planning, designing, and coordination of the JustWorld International annual fundraiser in Wellington, Florida.  What started as just another job soon brought us into a remarkable family — the JustWorld International family.  After learning about their great work and efforts, we asked founder Jessica Newman to let us know when we might be able to join her and the others on one of their trips to help them in their fine work.  We were given just such an opportunity last week.  We accompanied Jessica, Astrid Corvin-Brittin, and Marie Lesterps to Honduras to assist where needed and see firsthand the work that JustWorld International is accomplishing there.  Although our trip was not a long one — only six days — they will forever remain the six days that changed my life. 

I suppose that somewhere in our heads we all have our own vision of what we think poverty and those in desperate need will look like, but once we actually saw for ourselves the conditions that these people are living in and the faces of the children, we became inspired to do whatever we can to make a difference in the lives of these unfortunate individuals.  My story is two-fold.  First, there was the suffering and despair.  Then, there were the inspiring projects being spirited by JustWorld International that help to change the lives of these children and offer them opportunities for a better future. 

Upon our arrival in Tegucigalpa, one of the first places we visited with JustWorld was the municipal garbage dump.  Here we saw children and entire families that live in the dumpsite amongst the garbage, dirt, insects, and foul stench of the location.  They live here so that they can be first to retrieve recyclables that they can bring to local businesses for small amounts of cash, as well as scavenge for whatever food might still be fit for consumption.  We arrived with what they considered a rare luxury:  hamburgers from McDonalds and bottles of cold beverages.  Although the people were many and it had most likely been a while since their last meal, they formed a long, organized, and peaceful line in which to receive their meal.  There was no pushing, shoving, or violence — just grateful people offering a smile and a “muchas gracias” for our help.  One small little girl stands out in my head.  She was not even waist-high to us and was covered from head to toe in black dirt and soot.  Once she was handed her burger she beamed a smile from ear to ear revealing the whitest teeth and dearest twinkling eyes.  She was beautiful! 

A Makeshift Home in the Dumps

 

A Grateful Smile

With all that we saw, I believe that the place that touched me most of all was the IHNFA, an orphanage housing children from age 0 to 17.  I have been around children most of my life.  I come from a family of six children.  My mother, plagued by serious illness throughout her life, needed a hand in the rearing of my much younger sisters, and I can actually say that helping to raise those fine girls was the high point of my fifty plus years.  I have remained emotionally connected to children all of my life.  So, when we reached the IHNFA project, it tugged at my heart when, just as I stepped out of the car, a young boy no more than eight years old ran over and immediately hugged me.  He was starved for love and attention, and he stayed by my side holding onto me for most, if not all, of the afternoon.  In fact, he even helped me to carry in the pizzas and soda that we had brought with us as a lunch treat.  “Como te llama niño?” I asked him.  “Daniel,” he replied with a happy grin.  I winced within; this dear little boy shared the name of my only brother who, sadly, had passed away at the age of seventeen.  Was it a sign?  Were we being sent here by a force far stronger than we knew? 

Daniel and Another Lad – How I Longed to Take Them Home

We spent the afternoon feeding, laughing, playing games with, and giving piggyback rides to the boys and girls in the project.  We interviewed many of the children through Astrid, our guide and translator.  The stories we heard of suffering and abuse would bring even the toughest and worldliest men to tears.  There were stories of rape, incest, and abandonment.  The very adults that had brought these children into the world had turned against them.  I met one little girl named Isabella.  Her story broke my heart, and I will never be the same again because I was blessed to have met her. 

Isabella’s mother had taken to beating her severely on her head — so badly in fact that she damaged her brain leaving young Isabella mentally retarded and physically crippled.  The poor child could only get around by pulling herself across the floor with her hands like a crab.  She pulled herself over to me and hugged me around my ankles.  Isabella ached for love.  I got down on the floor and embraced her while we rocked back and forth together.  She smiled with such joy.  You see, Isabella understands love, and, like all of us, she needs it.  She has so much of it to give back.  This young child’s life can be changed with a wheelchair.  She can be brought outside into the sunshine with the other children and wheeled to the table when meals are served.  For now, she spends most of her day alone on a small bed in a tiny, corner room.  I am making it my personal mission to get this angel a wheelchair if it’s the last thing I do.  

I could go on and on for hours with individual stories, but there is more than sadness and grief in Honduras.  Thanks to JustWorld International, there is inspiration, joy, and hope for a better tomorrow.  Allow me to tell you about the good works I witnessed.  First, there was the Mobile Library.  There is so much more to this project than the name indicates.  Yes, it’s true that the children can pick out books from the truck to read and enjoy, but there are also interactive games, arts and crafts, and storytelling.  All of these help to encourage the children to read on their own, opening them up to a world of endless possibilities.  We had a blast painting with the children, and Marie even went so far as to be painted herself, which brought loud laughter and joy to the children and adults alike! 

At Angelworks, we met honor students in grades 1 through 5 who, by keeping their grades at the 90 percent and above mark, have earned themselves scholarships that provide them with uniforms (that they wear proudly), shoes, and backpacks filled with all the school supplies that they will need to get them through the school year.  These beneficiaries work very hard to keep up their grades.  As long as they earn their scholarships, then school will not become a financial burden on their families, which might otherwise cause them to drop out. 

Another fun afternoon was at a project called “Classic Honduran Painting”.  Here children from the most underprivileged areas are encouraged to try their hand at painting.  They are taught by a local man who was, at one time, a student himself.  He teaches from his wheelchair, and the respect and loyalty he has earned from the boys is most evident.

Because of the neighborhoods that these children come from, they are at risk of becoming members of gangs or, at the very least, delinquent.  So the goal here is to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.  Through the “Classic Honduran Painting” project, they learn to tap into their natural talent and master their painting skills to develop a craft that will one day earn them a living.  The works of art that we saw on our visit were as beautiful as they were inspirational.  We were amazed at the degree of talent and the well-deserved pride that these children have in their art. 

For our last two days in Honduras, we traveled to Tornabe.  Here we met with the Garifuna community.  These people are descendants of African slaves from the Caribbean.  We were treated to the most amazing Garifuna dance show.  There were drums and costumes and an artful dance that dates all the way back to their slave day heritage.  The energy, excitement, and showmanship will never be forgotten! 

 

Playing with the Children After Lunch

The following day we went to the school where we helped to feed the children lunch and had a little time for some afternoon play with the kids.  Then we headed off to the classrooms to meet with the teachers.  As an added treat, the children sang us their national anthem in their native Garifuna language.  Our final two stops on this whirlwind mission was to visit the new construction site where JustWorld is building new facilities to better accomplish their community work in this area.  Then, we got to see the soccer team at play before it was back to our hotel to pack our bags for the trip back to the United States. 

We as Americans take so much for granted each and every day.  We often forget that there is a whole world out there where even the most basic commodities are impossible to come by.  For every child who sulks because they can’t be the first to own the newest video game, there are a dozens of Isabella’s in need of a wheelchair.  For every kid who pushes his meatloaf away, there are hundreds of others living in municipal garbage dumps trying to beat the rats to the food scraps.  I am not saying that we should feel guilty for what we have, but let’s be grateful for our blessings and reach into our own hearts and pockets to help those in need.  Take it from me, it will be the most rewarding thing you can do.

The Children of the OrphanageAnother Cutie-Patootie That Stoled my Heart

 

Another Cutie-Patootie that Stole My Heart

 

Update:  Thanks to the efforts of Bonnie from Southern Self Storage, we were able to secure a beautiful wheelchair for Isabella donated by man whom I only know as David.  Bonnie had been so touched by the story that she went out on her own and purchased Isabella a lovely plush teddy bear and a soft blanket, which she had embroidered with Isabella’s name.  A few weeks later, Jessica Newman was able to fly down to Honduras and present dear Isabella with her new wheelchair.  I am happy to report that Isabella loves her time outdoors with the other children!

Isabella feeling the sunshine on her face at last!

Until next time,

Don

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