Other than my week in Honduras in July I have spent a great deal of time this summer caring for my profoundly disabled 16 year old stepson Jim. My St. Andrew family knows and loves him but I know that some readers of this blog series don't know him so here is a very brief description. Jim is non verbal, totally gastric tube fed, diapered and will always function at about a 9 month old level. He loves to snuggle, enjoys hearing the voices and laughter of other children, and is happiest when he has his favorite spinning toy. Jim makes his needs known with grunts and squeals and shares his delight with hearty belly laughs. Before heading off to NPH, I wondered what life in Honduras would be like for Jim. This is what I found.
At the NPH ranch there are children with varying levels of disabilities. There are hogares equipped especially for their needs. I visited both the girls' and the boys' special needs homes and was impressed by how involved the kids are. Their Tias and Tios have high but realistic expectations of what the kids can do. The other kids on the ranch include the kids in activities. I saw no evidence of exclusion or segregation but rather compassion, acceptance and friendship. Given Jim's profound disabilities he would not live on the ranch but would live in the capital city, Tegucigalpa, at Casa de los Ángeles which provides 24-hour care for over fifteen children with severe disabilities. Our group visited and had the chance to meet and play with the kids living there. I was truly moved by the outstanding level of love and care the children received. We learned that in addition to the loving care provided by staff, the children also receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy. When I shared a picture of Jim with the head caregiver she knew right away that I understood what it takes to provide that level of care. I can say with complete sincerity that Jim would be well loved and cared for were he to live in Casa de los Ángeles. Praise be to God!
By Roger and Judy
Wow, where did that week go?? We're home now - unpacking, catching up with laundry, and reflecting on many memories of the past 8 days. High on our list is the way our group engaged in activities, and sought to get the most out of this perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - especially our Youth.
Our mornings were dedicated to chores around the Ranch (many of which you'll see described in other posts), and none of those chores were easy -- yet everyone chipped in and helped. There were few complaints, and only a few blisters. While working in the garden Barb shared the observation that "we worked at home pulling weeds for the privilege of coming to Honduras to pull weeds" - and boy, did she pull weeds :)
By Kelly Rossnagel
So today is June 17th, three days before my birthday. I woke up around 7, but lay in bed for awhile, reluctant to get the day started. Eventually, I got up and let me tell you I had no idea what kind of day lay ahead of me.
I decided to skip the shower, and headed straight for the coffee. I opened the door, surprised to see a birthday sign and two origami cranes hanging in my doorway. Startled, I thought what a sweet gesture, but I have to admit I was a little confused. "It's not my birthday yet, is it?" I walked down the hallway to read the schedule and saw that the date read "July 20th, Happy Birthday Kelly!" Oh my gosh, I forgot my own birthday!! I walked in the kitchen and was greeted with a couple more Happy Birthdays. Still confused, I decided to go along with it. Then finally someone said, "we all decided to skip a couple days and make today your birthday, so Happy Birthday!" How cool! Not only did people remember, but they moved it ahead to make sure they didn't forget to wish me a happy birthday. I went on with the day, looking forward to exploring the new library and helping out at school.
By Elise Sickinger
So, it was the seventh day of the mission trip, sometime around 7 AM, and I was heading up the dusty, dirt-and-gravel road to the farm with the others. The air was crisp and clean (at least 'til we reached the cowpats), the birds and crickets were chirping, and i was sure that the day would be perfectly normal.
After reaching the chicken coops, we partnered up to collect the eggs, and as usual, each group managed to swipe a decent amount of smooth (if not covered in sawdust) white eggs out from the chickens' unsuspecting beaks. Soon we had filled all the egg cartons (after petting the bunnies), and we trooped up to the barn to sort the eggs.
As we crowded into the dark, musty-smelling barn, we realized that a small group of the Ranch's orphans were waiting for us in the shadows; they offered to sort the eggs. Gladly, we accepted.
By Derona Burkholder
The bell rings, the kids race to class, and the teachers are there to greet them. This sounds like normal school in the States, but this is a school (escuela) at NPH Honduras. Today, we were lucky enough to attend school with the pequenos. As we walked to school, I thought about what school is like for me as a teacher and wondered how similar or different the school at NPH is.
I received my first sense of how different the school setting was as we walked through the entrance. Most days my students and I are greeted by staff and friends (amigos). In our case today, we were greeted by a herd of cows. Yes, I did just say cows. This was not the only time we encountered a herd of cows. As we sat on the steps during recess, we were met by the same cows as they came down the hallway, off the ledge, and into the courtyard. Very different, but this is one part of the kids' school life.
By Barb Anderson
On Saturday night, we went to a special activity with the girls from the hogares where girls age (approximately) 10-15 live. The plan was to have dinner with them and then have activity stations they could rotate between. The previous weekend, the boys had their special activity, organized by the previous visiting group.
The evening started out with dinner outside. We gathered with a prayer and then lined up with our plates and forks we brought from our rooms and received our dinner from the big coolers that are delivered from the kitchen for each meal. Dinner was yummy: two pancakes and honey and cinnamon tea. After dinner we went in their big meeting room and watched them perform a few dances that they had prepared. Then we set up the activities: string bracelet making, bingo, books, beads, coloring, painting.
By Amber Oakes
I grew up going to camp every summer, so I love making bracelets and learning new styles. Before we left Seattle, I saw Judy with a beautiful bracelet that I hadn't seen before and didn't know how to make, so I asked her where she got it. She told me that a boy at the ranch had made it for her, and I forgot about it until this Saturday. We were sitting at our house just hanging out and Judy came and found me and told me that the boy who made her bracelet was on our porch! I went over and was introduced to Chele, a university student who was at the ranch for a weekend to do chores. I told him how much I loved his bracelet with my broken Spanish, and he offered to teach me in his broken English. We had trouble communicating when our interpreter left, but we sat down with some string and got to work. I picked out some colors and he started a bracelet for me, showing me how and making sure I understood what he was doing. He was really happy to teach me, and we didn't have to talk too much because we both understood bracelets. When he was sure I got it, he handed me the string and I kept going. I got the hang of it and I was so happy when he called it perfect! It was such a great experience because even though we didn't speak the same language, we were talking and he was able to teach me something new and exciting.
We refuse to believe we can be more generous than God.
Maggie wrote the other day about generosity and the stance of faith that Father Wasson, the founder of NPH, consistently took. As Stefan, the national director of NPH Honduras put it: "We refuse to believe we can be more generous than God."
This faith plays itself out in many stunning ways. For example, the practice of NPH is to never set a cut-off for the number of kids the home will take. Of course they screen for suitability, for the sense of whether they will be able to serve this particular child or family or grandparent in a suitable way, but they never ask if there is enough money or enough housing or enough room. Ross, the assistant director, illustrated this point with another Father Wasson phrase in a different meeting: "There is always room for one more."
NPH has been hit by the same financial struggles that most charity organizations have suffered in the financial downturn of the Great Recession. Other factors having to do with local Honduran politics have also played a role in making finances tighter for the 9 homes of NPH International spread throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. The night that we met with Stefan, he had been busy with budget meetings that resulted in the decision to let go of three more employees. This task, which he has to do the next day, was on his mind as he met with us.
Mass was on Saturday afternoon, in an outdoor chapel. The entire Ranch attended, hundreds of kids and adults, and many grandparents (abuelos), who we hadn't met yet. The abuelos appreciated us greeting them. We all dressed up, so did the kids from the Ranch.
Not being Catholic, we didn't know what to expect in the service. And everything was in espanol, so when it was over, we still didn't exactly know. But that was ok. The service was somewhat like ours with 3 scriptures, a sermon, communion. We split up and sat in ones and twos scattered among the hundreds of kids. I sat by myself in the middle of high school boys who didn't seem to speak any English. So I just copied what they did. Pattie had a girl next to her who pointed out words in the songbook for her.