Service Trip to Honduras
Written Summer of 2006
Early this year, my 17-year-old son, Patrick, decided that he wanted to go on a service project to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. I remember how excited he was, telling me he would help build a daycare center in Honduras’ second largest city. I was less than enamored by the prospect, but admired his sense of service and certainly didn’t want to discourage his humanitarian efforts. My husband, Ken, and I waited a few weeks to see if the idea would be fleeting, but whenever we mentioned it, Patrick would confidently say, “Yea, I’m going.” Finally, we stopped making plans for our trip out West and started to think about the realities of his decision. Would it be okay for him to go alone with the other MAMA team members from our church? And what if he got sick, as many of our church’s team members had on earlier service trips? Would others take care of him? And how would we pay for the airfare and expenses of such a trip? We told Patrick that if he was really serious about going, he would need to draft a letter asking family and friends for financial support for his endeavor. And he did.
Then a funny thing happened. Before I put too much thought into the decision (or the Spirit’s nudging, if you prefer), I found myself volunteering to accompany Patrick on the week-long service trip to Honduras. So, on July 15 of this year, Patrick and I flew to San Pedro Sula with eight other members of Ambler Mennonite Church. We struggled to remember the proper conjugation of Spanish verbs that teachers had drilled into us. We ate gourmet food, with every meal feeling like a savory feast prepared by knowledgeable Spanish cooks. We also experienced the polluted air, the energetic street vendors, and the vagabond boys of San Pedro Sula. Each morning we walked to the MAMA center, a few blocks from our hotel, to board a van for construction work and distribution of de-worming medicine in the village of El Progresso, but along the way we had to pass young boys, aged 10-to-18, living on the crowded streets, hoping against hope of providing an income for their families living in the village. It was a hard dose of reality for the 8 o’clock hour.
When we arrived in El Progresso, there was more reality. The school had not been started yet, and we needed to dig out the foundation walls before we could begin. This was the first day. On the second day, we learned what cement mixing is like in El Progresso. It meant using the street to mix 14 wheelbarrow loads of rocky sand with 4 bags of cement mix. Then we began the arduous process of hollowing out the center for water, filling it by bucketfuls from a neighbor’s cistern, and walking around the circle, gradually making the walls of the fortress higher.
At times the walls would spring a leak and then there would be a mad dash to blend the water and sand quickly. But on a good day, we gradually poured water from the center concave down the sides, till it all became a concrete mixture. By buckets this mixture was taken to the building site and poured by hand into the dug out dirt walls. Little by little we saw the foundation of the escuela emerge, till on the last day we put down the first two rows of cement blocks on the firm concrete foundation. It didn’t seem like we had accomplished much, but the community people were excited by the future prospects, and were so grateful for our efforts.
I’m still processing this trip to Honduras, but I know for sure that it was worthwhile—perhaps more for me than for the people of El Progresso. An extra benefit was watching my son interact with the Honduran kids, playing soccer at noontime when all of us were tired, and then later taking a leadership role among our team members. I had to wonder when he grew up and turned into such a terrific guy. It’s strange to see your son as a fellow team member with wisdom that you never noticed before. I felt like our roles were suddenly reversed, and he had more to teach me than I could ever teach him. That must have been the theme for the trip because I felt the same way about the Honduran people. Their graciousness and generosity, despite their lack of running water and adequate medical care, put all my “service efforts” to shame. So, I say thank you to the people of Honduras and the MAMA team in San Pedro Sula for teaching my son and I the true meaning of service and community. — BBM