Even though we arrived in San Pedro Sula on Saturday, I didn't get my first real look at the city until Monday. It was dark when we arrived, and I spent the whole day at the hotel on Sunday! Monday we traveled to HO-409, which is about an hour and a half outside of San Pedro Sula. The first thing I noticed when we got out of the city was that the poverty in Honduras is different from the poverty in Tanzania. I think that seeing any poverty is challenging, because it's so different than what we are used to seeing and experiencing, and we worry about the people who struggle with it every day. Because of my research, I was somewhat prepared for the things I saw in Tanzania. And I think there is a sort of cultural expectation about what one will see in Africa, because of the bleak picture (and the stereotypes) the media often portrays. I know that in some cultures people live in homes made of mud. And I know that some of those cultures are in Africa. Therefore, I am not super surprised when I am in Africa and I visit a small home made of mud. I don't know that I would be able to live in that situation for very long, but my brain can make some sense of it. This was not the case with Honduras. For one, there was trash everywhere. In and out of the city, there were piles and piles of garbage. We saw some small fenced areas that were apparently set up to encourage people to leave their trash there, but those were often full, so the trash piled up around the fences. And in ditches. And by the side of the road. In the road. On the hills. In the valleys. It was everywhere. That in itself was discouraging- my brain recognized that there are no city employees paid to keep the streets clean. It recognized that if some sort of trash pick up even exists in this particular area, most families cannot afford it. And perhaps some people intentionally left their trash out, because other, less fortunate people could use it. Because next to trash, the second most common thing I saw on the road to 409 were shacks. The ones built with cinderblocks were palaces compared to those made of, well, trash. Discarded pieces of wood, old nails, "reclaimed" metal sheets....these were homes. So many of them, so close to the city containing the nice hotel in which we had spent the night. This, my brain could not comprehend. I would call it devastation. We also passed many children working; boys carrying baskets of tortillas or sacks of fruit near toll booths and traffic stops, peddling instead of going to school.
The project, though, was very nice. It was situated in a compound with a fence and barbed wire. How many churches have you visited that are protected with barbed wire? Most of the ones I saw in Honduras featured this and other security measures. The buildings were painted cheerful shades of yellow and purple, and I'm guessing they had been painted recently because I saw splashes of paint in the dirt surrounding the buildings. The church housing this project was really nice, and very interesting. We first traveled to the sanctuary area, where some teens were singing and performing praise music. They had a nice set up, with a keyboard, a drum kit, electric guitars and a bass. The music was so loud that we couldn't make out most of the words, but they were enthusiastic, and talented! There were some kids in the sanctuary as well, and more came in with the moms from the child survival program (CSP.) We heard a bit from the pastor, who seems like a really cool guy. He was so excited about our presence, and thrilled to share his plans for the church and community with us. We learned later that he funds about 40% of the church's ventures himself, and he doesn't take a salary. He uses his business ventures to fund these things for the church, and he really believes in investing in the lives of the kids. He purchased a drone with a camera for the kids of the project to use, so they could learn more about the world around them (and technology, too!) His son operated the drone while we were there, recording some of our games and our fun time together. After being introduced to the project director, who graduated from the CDC herself about five years ago, we traveled to the baby classroom to learn more about the CSP.
We were given a demonstration of some of the activities they do at the project. Some of the moms and babies sat in the play area and showed off a bit of what they are learning. The kids are learning letters, numbers, and colors, even though they were all between 18 months and 2 years old. They showed a game they play, with red and yellow construction paper. They told the kids "this is red" and "this is yellow," and later came back and asked them to identify which one was a certain color. They got it right every time! Then they did some finger painting with red paint to really drive the color thing home, and give the moms and babies something fun to do together. The woman in charge of the CSP part of the project was sharing testimonies with us at the same time, but it was hard to concentrate because the babies were running around being cute. During our time at the project, we also played some games with the moms! This was really unexpected- we would normally do this kind of thing with the kids of the project, but it was fun to play musical chairs and other games with the moms of the community. We also served them their snack, which were little fried tortillas with beans and cheese, and juice. Right before we went in for snacks, my friend Marissa thought she saw her sponsor child Evelin out the window. Evelin attended this project, and we had hoped to see her the next day when more school-aged children would be present. She wasn't supposed to be there that day, though! But there she was. So Marissa got to spend snack time with Evelin and her mom.
Our last bit of project visit that day included a trip to the project office, which was held in rented space down the road (also surrounded by fencing and barbed wire.) The office was well kept and cheery, with purple and turquoise paint, and little cubicles. We divided into family groups and rotated through stations, learning about different aspects of the project from different staffers. We covered the tutoring, baby registration, healthcare, and the project director's office. Marissa was also able to view Evelin's file, where she saw records of her check-ups and schoolwork, and copies of the letters she had sent! It was really exciting to see the other side of sponsorship in this way, particularly since we knew the child and sponsor involved. It was great learning about the project, and illuminating to learn about the challenges they face. I feel like we learned a lot. For one thing, the zika virus has hit this community especially hard. It's been bad all over Honduras, but they said that this neighborhood really struggled with it due to clean water issues and a lack of general healthcare in the community and country at large. We also learned that the CSP at this project was only about a year old, so they haven't had any babies "graduate" yet! Next year they should have 26 graduates, including Cristobal. I asked his mom if she was already getting excited about him becoming a sponsor child and receiving letters, and she said "yes!" before the translator had finished relaying what I said! I will definitely be on the lookout for him next year! Finally, we learned that parents in this community had never put much emphasis on education. Kids were expected to leave school around 5th or 6th grade, join the workforce, and start families. But now, because of the project's influence, and the fact that the pastor pushes education in his sermons, the community is looking more favorably on the idea of staying in school, and more kids than ever are going to high school and sometimes graduating! That's so exciting!
We had such a wonderful time visiting this project, and were looking forward to coming back the next day to visit with the bigger kids and have some fun!