On Thursday, we were splitting our day between the field office and another project. I was interested to see how this would work since our field office visit in Tanzania was rather lengthy (I think they were excited about our visit and overprepared) therefore cutting short our time with the LDP students. But we had a strict schedule at the field office! We loaded up the bus and drove to the little office building in Tegucigalpa, where the field office is located. It's a shared space, with some rented rooms, like many of the other Compassion field offices. We started in a big room with mailboxes and cubicles. I took photos of each of the mailboxes representing my kids' projects, but I didn't see anything in there from me. :) We split into two groups and traveled around the room, visiting each station and meeting various members of the field office staff. We saw the new scanners that process the letters (packed in bundles of about 200-300.) They are capable of processing a letter a second! When they are in the computer, they are translated (always to English; if the letters are traveling to another country besides the UK, Canada, or the US, they are sent to those partner country offices and re-translated there.) And then sent on to where they need to go. We visited with the lady who is in charge of updating child info, and the lady who does intake for newly registered kids. The cubicle housing the staff member who handles exits from the program (graduations or leaving early) was interesting because there was a pile of graduation booklets there. I had just received one of those from Eduardo's project the week before! He graduated back in May, and they asked him some questions about his testimony and his time at the project. There was a little note about how his time in the program had impacted his family, and they included a couple of photos from when he was younger, taken at project special events! It was neat to see that they try to do these for most of the Honduran kids who graduate from the program. We talked a lot about the new letter system and asked how we can pray for the staff, and the challenges they face. The new method of processing letters is going over really well with the centers that are fully hooked up, but the biggest problem seemed to be connectivity at the projects. So that took longer to get off the ground than they expected. However, apparently the project directors and pastors at those centers that are fully online absolutely love the new system and have said they don't want to go back! After finishing up in that room, we traveled down the hall to another section of the office where finances are handled. Several people were out of the office for meetings that day, so there were just a few folks there. We met the lady who facilitates the LDP program and heard about what they are doing to expand that and move to a more inclusive program, where more kids can stay at the project for a longer time even if they don't qualify for the LDP program (which is harder to fund because the monthly cost for sponsors is higher.) It was nice to meet everyone and hear about all the aspects of the program! This is also where we dropped off our gifts that we brought for other sponsors. There were six little plastic bags on the table and then my giant duffel, which felt very conspicuous to me.
An "intake" form for a newly registered sponsor child
After our trip to the field office, we went to Power Chicken for lunch! It's a fast food place with a really great reputation. I thought it was pretty tasty. They put us in a party room away from the rest of the restaurant. Apparently we had ordered ahead, and got several platters of food, intended for 20 people. There were ribs, chicken pieces, fried plantains, yucca fries, and "Chinese chicken" which was really tasty fried rice with chicken pieces. We had more than the recommended number of people for those platters, but we still had TONS of leftovers and filled up several bags of food. I don't know what they did with it, though. They might have taken it to the project!
And after lunch, it was time to head to HO-229. This project was more urban, situated in the hills. We arrived and made our way into the church, which was a big concrete building. There was a bit of a winding hallway leading to the sanctuary area. In the first portion of the hallway, the kids threw rice at us. In the next part, they were waving flags. And I don't remember what happened in the third part, but they were so welcoming and excited! It was adorable. I wish I had video. There might have been balloons. We sat around the edge of the sanctuary and the pastor was introduced to us. Many of the kids were dressed in martial arts uniforms. A large part of our introduction to this project included a tae kwon do demonstration! They had kids of all ages come up and show off their form, and even did a bit of sparring. Apparently a young man from the project went on to become a great tae kwon do fighter and even competed on the international level. He came back to teach it at the project and invest in the lives of the kids. It's really neat! After that, the kids disappeared and came back with snacks for us- banana splits! It was so adorable! And really tasty. We also had a bit of free time with the kids. Many of us just sat on the floor with them while they asked us questions about our lives and our home countries. They also wanted to take photos with us. They were so smiley and adorable. I was having a really good feeling about this project- I really wanted to be involved with it somehow, but I wasn't sure how just yet. It was just so full of love and hope- the feeling was vastly different inside the church compared to just standing on the road right outside the building.
These cuties kept appearing in my photos for some reason...
Sabina the puppet made another appearance
We were going to do quick home visits for this project, and we split into two groups again. We were told to leave absolutely everything on the bus- we could carry a phone in our pockets or hands, but no cameras, no backpacks or purses, no nothing. They were very serious. We went around the back of the building and hiked down a hill, then back up a hill. It was very daunting. In my head I had already nicknamed it murder hill because it kind of felt like it was trying to kill us. I was really struggling with my allergies and a cough during the end of the trip, and ended up staying with the other group at the first house (halfway up the hill) instead of going all the way up with my group. I'm not kidding- this hill was intense. Like, a 55 degree angle. Or steeper. So we stopped at a little house that held a mom and 12 year old son. The mom makes party decorations for a living and some of them were strung up from the ceiling. We squeezed into the little living room area and listened to the mom's testimony. It was sad because she had two sons, and one died three years ago. He had kidney troubles and was unable to secure a transplant in time. This was her older son. He was 12 when he died. Now her younger son was 12. The younger son received a sponsor around the time that his brother passed away, which the mom feels (and I agree) was timing orchestrated by God. This sponsor is really great, frequently writing letters and encouraging this boy (and in turn, his mother.) While she was talking, a married couple that was on the trip with us realized that they had a special connection with this family. They have a niece who also had kidney trouble and other organ failures, and who would be the same age as the older boy. And three years ago, she got her transplant. I think that that sort of situation is something that you really only get if your family has been through it, and it was just perfect that this was the house that they ended up visiting, and they could have this special connection with this mom. Meanwhile, one member of our little group (who was having some serious breathing issues) was resting on a chair outside the home. Some little girls from the project had followed us up the hill, and had stopped to chat with our friend as she sat outside. She understood a little bit of Spanish, but asked for translation help for clarity when we left the home. The little girl had been casually chatting about the violence in her neighborhood. Part of that story involved sharing that a neighbor had either killed someone or himself recently. Little kids, no matter where they live, should not have stories like that to share when they're describing their neighborhoods. And then I decided not to call that hill "murder hill." And I got sad.
While we were visiting this house, the other team was hiking ever onward with their bag of gifts (food and essentials, the same stuff we delivered to the other home visits.) They apparently hiked a little too far and had to turn around and come back down in order to visit the right home. One of my friends from the group later described feeling frustrated and tired from the hike, especially since he was carrying the bag of gifts. At the end of their home visit, they presented the bag of gifts to the mom. She cried. When they asked why, she said she hadn't eaten that day. They had run out of food and had nothing in their home. The kids would have food at the project, but she didn't have anything. Our team came at just the right time. Our whole trip was filled with little moments like that. I wondered for a while what my purpose for this trip was. Seeing my kids was amazing (and you will hear more about that later) but God brought something extra out of my trip to Tanzania. It gave me tools I needed to conquer a lot of the anxiety I experience, and it showed me that my mission, at least for now, is to write to as many kids as possible so that fewer kids go without letters. I think that our purpose for this trip was to witness these interpersonal moments and be a part of them. Identifying with the mom who had lost a son. Bringing food on the first day of hunger. Praying for the young mother at 409 and sharing with her that I understand her anxiety about her son.
While all this was going on, wheels were turning and things were being put in motion. Before we left the project to do our home visits, I noticed Marissa spending some one on one time with a really adorable, smiley little girl. She stayed behind during the visits because she was going to sponsor this kiddo (named Andrea.) When we got back, they were coloring and having fun together. Andrea's mom was there, I think, as was her cousin, who is the same age. They were like sisters! I sat with Marissa as we ate our second snack of the day, watching these cute kids and hearing about her new sponsorship. Now, I had been asking every kid I personally interacted with if they had a sponsor. I really felt like I was meant to be connected to 229 in some way, and felt confused every time I connected with a kid and heard "yes, I have a sponsor!" That's great news, but what am I supposed to be doing?? I had been praying throughout the day and trying to keep an eye out for opportunities. And then I asked about Andrea's cousin. What's her name? How old is she? Does she come to the project, too? I wasn't sure since they were family. Maybe she was just visiting. And then...does she have a sponsor? Of course not. Boom. There it was. We had like, 15 minutes left at the project. I asked if we had her information- her packet had been one we'd carried around since the beginning of the trip. I had kind of skimmed over them but no one jumped out at me. Little Sofia, running around the project in her Sunday dress and curly hair, had caught my eye when we first came in because I have a thing about hair. I love curly, fluffy, big hair. I even asked our translators how to say "I love your hair, it's so pretty" because one of the teen girls who did the tae kwon do demonstration had GORGEOUS hair and I really wanted to touch it (I didn't because that's weird and you should only do that with friends.) And I loved Sofia's curly hair, too. But in her packet photo, she had it pulled back in a pony tail! So I skipped right over her! I don't know why, but I think this is very funny. While we were running around trying to round up her info, Sofia's dad came in- he had been outside! I got to meet him and he sat with the rest of the family while I got Sofia's packet. .And then I got to tell her in person, with her dad there, that I was going to sponsor her. She was very giggly and a little shy, like "this is really cool and all but what am I supposed to be doing." She's only six, after all. Andrea, on the other hand, was like "best day ever!" and joined right in the hug at the end. She must have thought it was a pretty fun day- she was just coming to meet these random visitors, got a sponsor, spent some time playing and coloring with her, and then her cousin got a sponsor, too! It was so much fun to be a part of all that happiness. I loved it. We just had a few more minutes at the project, and we hugged the kids and took lots of photos, then started heading toward the bus. We got another project gift- they had mugs made with a photo of the kids on there! It was so sweet! And they put some Honduran candy in there, too. I love my mug and am currently using it to hold some sparkly pens and pencils on my desk. I like looking at it and thinking of Sofia and this amazing project in the hills, that's bringing love and hope to a neighborhood that desperately needs it.
My next post will be about the end of our trip, which means our fun day with the sponsor kids! I hope to get it posted soon, and I can't wait to share it with you!