On Tuesday, day four, we went back to HO-409 to see the school aged kids (the day before, we had seen the Child Survival Program in action, and visited with the moms and babies.) The plan was to have an improvised, loosely-structured vacation Bible school type day with the kids. We made the journey back to the project. There were a lot more kids there on this day! The kids were waiting for us with cut-out letters spelling out a welcome.
We sang some worship songs, and the kids did testimonials and some songs for us. I didn't get any good photos, unfortunately, but they were super cute. At the end, we all got up and danced with them! They didn't know what to think. Then it was time to introduce them to Sabina. Sabina is not a person, but a puppet. Yvonne, who was part of our group, brought her puppet with her. She reminded me of VBS and church presentations in the 1990s. Sabina was VERY popular with the kids. Yvonne went to the front of the sanctuary with two of our translators, and a bunch of the kids gathered around and listened to Yvonne tell them about England and her life there. The kids also asked Sabina questions, and they practiced Spanish and English together! It was fun to see the kids so excited.
Then it was time for our fun activities! We had brought sports equipment, games, crafts, and all sorts of stuff to the project to have fun with the kids (and the staff!) We had bubbles and sports outside, and crafts and games inside. Marissa and I also set up a nail polish station. Most of our "customers" were staff at first, and then the pastor's daughter, and then a few of the kids. It was really fun! Someone had also brought a few boxes of children's Bibles to hand out to the kids. Most of the kids got one!
It started to rain during our playtime, just in time for our home visits. Many of the groups would be walking, but ours would be taking two of the pastor's vehicles. Our home visit was very special- we would be visiting the home of Marissa's sponsored girl Evelin!! I know Marissa was hoping we'd be able to visit her house (as I would, too) and I think we were both a little worried about what it might be like, after our visit the day before. Every sponsor hopes that their kids live in sturdy, safe homes, in good neighborhoods, with clean water and electricity and all that. We had quite a little trip to Evelin's home, as she lived a bit of a distance away. Marissa told me that she had originally attended another project, which had closed. Then our group leaders mentioned that when that project closed, the pastor of this one was open and enthusiastic about accepting "transfers" of the kids to their projects! Evelin can't walk to the project, as it's too far away. Instead, she takes a bus.
Evelin's house, much to our relief, was lovely. It had several rooms, electricity, even a washing machine out back that was hooked up to a little reservoir! It was sweetly decorated- I noticed little knick knacks like a ceramic rabbit (Marissa and I both have pet rabbits!) We all sat down in the little living room area and got to know Evelin. I had Marissa's phone and took tons of photos throughout the whole visit- so I didn't get many of my own! But it was so special. We asked Evelin lots of questions and worked to get her to open up. She was really shy, but folded right into Marissa, sitting close to her during the whole visit. She told us about her favorite things, her friends, and her daily life. She sang a little song, recited her ABCs, and then Marissa asked her if she knew "Jesus Loves Me" and we all sang to her! It was really precious! Evelin also brought out her favorite toy, her Barbie doll, and showed her off. Evelin's mom was there, as was Evelin's little cousin, who lives with them. Her cousin was so cute!! She had apparently just had a bath when we got there and kept coming out in a towel, confused about where her clothes were. :) We then had a little tour of the home and got to see where Evelin sleeps. Marissa also brought a family gift. She had bought sheet sets and some family things for both her girls, and then brought the sheet set with her to the home visit to give as a gift. I love these sheets- they had ice cream cones printed on them. Evelin seemed to ADORE them. She was hugging them and holding on to them like a stuffed animal! :) And as we had with the other home visits, we brought a bag of food and basic supplies, and candy. Then we prayed over the family (I held little cousin's hand!) and went back to the project for lunch. I am so happy for my friend; she got to see her sponsor kids on almost every day of the trip!! We had our Manna day, her surprise snack with Evelin Monday, we went to her home Tuesday, and then later in the week we had some more surprises and our child visit day. It was really wonderful to share in Marissa's excitement!
After lunch at the project, we had more fun time with the kids, and didn't quite get to spend any fun time with the second busload of children that were brought over. We had to return to the sanctuary for some closing ceremonies. During that time, we heard the testimony of my new friend Sandeep. Sandeep is originally from India. He was a sponsor child there! He went on to graduate from the LDP program, and now he lives in Arizona with his wife. Sandeep recently started working for Compassion's tour department, so this was sort of like on-the-job training for him. Sandeep's testimony was very moving. I think it was great for the kids to hear from someone who, in a way, shares a similar background with them, and can encourage them from the other side of that. And it made me cry, honestly. I cried because we heard about the tough stuff, things we see in movies and hear about in news stories but probably have never heard anyone describe from personal experience. But I also cried because of hope! So many people- millions and millions- have hope because of Compassion. Not just from an economic standpoint, but because so many kids have received that extra encouragement from sponsors who love them and believe in them. And that impacts their families, their classmates, their neighborhoods....it has a ripple effect! I'm so glad that Sandeep shared with us and I got to meet him on this trip! And as a side note, I found out later that he had two LDP sponsors and got to visit with both of them. One came to him, and then he came to visit the other one. Out of all the places that sponsor could live....they were from Kentucky! Yeah! I thought that was so cool! So Sandeep got to visit Lexington and the home of the Wildcats. So cool.
We presented a gift to the project director and pastor, and prepared to depart. Before we left, the kids came outside and brought us presents. They had been working on some arts and crafts projects for us. Some people got little foam pillows that had been lovingly decorated, and some of us (me!) got ink pens that had been covered in glittery pipe cleaners, stickers, and foam shapes. I loved it. We got on the bus and waved goodbye to our new friends!
The following day would be our cross-country trek to Tegucigalpa. We'd be spending most of the day on the bus. Fortunately we were able to get a schoolbus, rather than our airport-style shuttle, for this trip. I was expecting it to be 3.5 hours or so. It was 5, I think. But since we had the schoolbus, we had more room to spread out. Some members of our group weren't feeling so great, but thankfully we only made to make one emergency stop. Midway through the trip, we stopped at a little restaurant/shop that also had a strawberry farm! We used the restrooms and then took a look around the shop. They had some pretty cute stuff- a few carved items (Marissa got some pretty cutting boards!) and keychains, but it was mostly edible stuff. There were jars of honey and preserves, bags of coffee and cocoa nibs, lots of chocolate, and some cornmeal. I got my Mammaw a bag of cornmeal because we would always get her some when we'd travel by a mill on vacation. So I figured she could make some Honduran cornbread. :) They also had some succulents for sale, which I would have loved to get, but I couldn't take plants back home with me! After we left the strawberry farm, we made the rest of the trip to Tegucigalpa. It's certainly an interesting place. Lots of homes and businesses are built into the hills and mountains (we passed the water park we would be visiting on our fun day- plans changed because the hotel was having some renovations, so we were leaving the property and going to this park!) It reminded me of movies I've seen depicting Brazil. The mountains are crowded and filled with colorful buildings. Some were sturdy and well built, others were more like shacks. There was a lot of economic disparity. We also drove by the football stadium. And there is graffiti everywhere! Some of the soda cans at the project were actually special edition Pepsi cans featuring Honduran street art. It's a regular thing there. I saw at least five pieces of street art featuring slain environmental activist Berta Cáceres, I admit I was a little proud of myself for knowing who she was, because of the research I do into news stories from our kids' hometowns. It was interesting to talk to our hosts about how the movement has gained even more followers in the wake of her death, because she is viewed as a sort of martyr.
We had a quick lunch at our hotel (very late) and then went out shopping. The plan was originally to go to the market, but it seemed to me that many businesses in Tegucigalpa closed rather early, maybe because of how early the sun sets in Honduras. So we went to a small souvenir shop instead. I think we overwhelmed the two older ladies who ran the place. I got some souvenirs for my family, and was very excited to find a pair of earrings myself- carved to look like sloths!! I freaked out a little. I was so happy. Many members of our group also wanted to get coffee and vanilla, so we went to the local mall, which had a Walmart. We were allowed about 45 minutes in the mall, which gave us time to swarm the coffee aisle (while people were just trying to do their shopping- the look on one man's face was so funny! I'm sure he didn't expect to see all these random white people speaking English in the middle of his grocery trip.) I also got some candy for friends and coworkers, and a couple of bottles of vanilla (big bottles for about a dollar!) I didn't go shopping anywhere else because I didn't have any more money, so I just waited with the other people who were finished. Then we went back to the hotel to have dinner, and get some rest! The next day we would be visiting the field office and another project- and it was a very eventful day indeed. More to come on that later!