The Reason(s) Why I’ve Been Away

Oh my it’s been a while since I’ve blogged.

But I have some excuses.

Of course.

I’m trying to figure out the best way to steam the wrinkles out of these.

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And the evening is being planned where these donations are transformed into stunning, or at least eye catching, silent auction baskets.

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And I’m working out my final suggestions on this video.

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What am I talking about?

Oh, come on.  I know you know.

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The Cinco de Mayo Celebration!

Even though I’ve missed 1.2 weeks of blogging, I have been writing about the kids.  You see, this evening is about The Children’s Home Project.  And The Children’s Home Project is about the kids.  It’s an evening for you to get to know and support us and more importantly, it’s an evening for you to get to know them.  If you want to know:

how much he has changed in three years,

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why he is my hero,

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or, why these two suddenly have such a tender friendship

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you’ll just need to come.

May 3rd, 6:30-9:30 at The Rosson House in downtown Phoenix.

http://www.tchp.brownpapertickets.com

Now, excuse me.  I need to see if I can figure out how to work this steamer.

 

 

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The Reluctant Trip

In theory, I love family visits.  There’s just something about meeting mini-versions of the boys in the faces of the their siblings still living at home.  And there’s often a fair amount of awkwardness between the child and his parent(s).  I’m always happy to be the show and tell object that takes the focus off the fact that they are family and yet little more than strangers.  “Hey Mom!  This is Jenny.  She’s from the United States.  Let’s listen to her speak Spanish!”

But I just wasn’t feeling this trip.  I was tired.  And I couldn’t get a straight answer about how far away the town was.

“Yoro? Oh my, that’s 4 hours…one way.”

“Yoro? Not a minute over 4 hours round trip.”

How is it possible that no one could agree on the distance?  It’s not like the town moves or goes and visits relatives on the weekends.

Come on Google Maps, do your thing.

But there was one thing that everyone agreed on.

“Yoro?  The road to get there is THE WORST!!”

When we still didn’t have a departure time the night before, I was feeling pretty ok with just letting the trip go.  It’s kinda late to plan anything.  The kids going didn’t seem all that excited.  Eh, maybe I could take them the next time I’m in the country.  But there was this nagging voice in my head.  “What’s happening to you?  Why are you being so lazy and selfish?  What happened to going the extra mile?” Ok, fine.  I will go through the motions.  I will get there early.  When the kids aren’t ready and when I find out the psychologist who’s coming with us hasn’t arrived yet, I’ll be justified in cancelling the trip.  We can’t do an eight hour trip if we don’t leave at a reasonable hour.  Feeling better about the number of emergency exits I had found to get me out of this, I headed to Proniño.

Pulling in I was welcomed by the typical gaggle of greeters gathered around (and hanging onto) the window as I slowly parked under a tree.  Along with the typical “Jenny!  Give me your coffee!  Good morning!  How did you sleep?  Did you bring me chocolate?”,  I heard some new information.  “Milton has been awake and getting ready since 4:30.”  Oh really?  Walked up the steps towards the boys’ rooms and sure enough, there was Milton.  Dress pants with a belt, shirt (that said something inappropriate about someone’s sister in English) tucked in and enough hair gel to add a few pounds to his frame.  From another room I hear “Jenny!  At my grandma’s house you’ll be able to see a picture of my dad!  He’s identical to my brother!!”  This coming from a kid who tries hard to never get excited about anything.  Stuck my head in the room to find him looking snazzy as well, with a friend trying to figure out how to roll his sleeves and tightly button them about the elbow.

And that’s when something wonderful happened.

Suddenly eight hours in the car didn’t seem THAT bad.

And really how terrible could that road be?

Much faster than is customary in Honduras, things fell into place, we piled in the car and hit the road.  The road that is more pothole than highway.  Ugh.  But I saw two teenage boys treat their grandparents with unexpected tenderness.  I got to see that famous picture.  We let the boys be our tour guides and in doing so, learned so much more about their family and their past.

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An aunt told us we should take one of her boys back with us to live in Proniño because he misbehaves and I got to watch Saint Jenny, the psychologist, explain the importance of family, education and love that a child can only receive from family in the most kind and non-condescending manner and I gained even more respect for her.  I met a little sister that is 509 funez, clarissa, judy, jeisonthe clone of one of the boys, right down to her sass and confidence.  And then listened to this boy proudly tell his mom (with his little siblings gathered around) all the things he’s learning in his workshops and school and what he’s planning on doing with this education.

Being human, there are days when I feel tired and don’t want to follow through on the rather taxing plans I made at a time when I was getting more sleep.  But there’s nothing like the nervous excitement pouring out of the kids and the memories made on a road trip to bring about my second wind.

And for the record?

Yoro is about two hours away.

Hands down, it’s the worst road I’ve ever driven in Honduras.

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Cinco de Mayo Celebration

 Do you want to get involved in The Children’s Home Project but just aren’t quite ready to quit your job, pack up and move to Honduras?

Never fear.

An opportunity is right around the corner….

I would like to cordially invite you to our first Cinco de Mayo Celebration!!

(Some of you may be thinking that cordial means courteous and gracious, which it does, but I’m more going for the stimulating and invigorating the heart type invitation.  Who knew that was also a definition of cordial?)


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Why should you come to this event?

To taste the scrumptiousness of Los Taquitos?

Perhaps to sip on one of the Latin themed beers from Tuscon’s Borderland’s Brewing Company?

Maybe you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo while tapping your foot to the Mariachi band.

Or how about because you want to walk away with two Southwest tickets, a gift basket from Apricot Lane, or a haircut from Savage Salon from the silent auction?

These things will make your Cinco de Mayo weekend festive and well-celebrated.

But there’s more.

You’ll be present for the first showing of the short film about The Children’s Home Project.

I’ll be speaking about the kid’s and the work that we do (after I untie those knots in my stomach).

And the number one reason to come?

To support the work that we’re doing. To introduce your friends, coworkers, neighbours and maybe even your dog sitter to The Children’s Home Project. To whet your appetite to become more involved. To ensure these precious kids that I’m constantly telling stories about continue to receive encouragement, direction, education and hope.

Buy your tickets now!

And don’t forget about your friends, coworker, neighbor and dog sitter.

(For real though, it will make ordering our food much easier.)

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First Anniversary

Today is an anniversary that I wish didn’t exist.  I must write about it because it feels wrong to let this day pass by without reminding everyone that something awful and earth shattering happened a year ago today.  But, it’s snowing in Ohio.  (On March 21st!  What is going on with this weather??) Currently, my ability to pick a snowflake and watch it fall until it hits the sidewalk greatly exceeds my ability to figure out what I want to communicate today.

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On this snowy Friday, I’m remembering Chon, who I loved so much and who was killed a year ago today.

(El Era Guapo.)

This morning has been spent journaling through the day that it happened.  Getting the text, then call from Laura.  Scouring the Teleprogreso website for proof that it had(n’t) happened.  Talking to his brothers and trying to figure out how I could get myself on the very next plane to Honduras.  Crying.

The journaling ended with remembering the last time I saw him.  A low security juvenile jail near Teguc.  IHNFA was on strike so I technically wasn’t allowed to visit.  But we had come all that way.  I chatted and cajoled the guard at the gate until he went to talk to the Director who agreed to let him come see us, as long as he didn’t come out and I didn’t go in.  A few minutes later, there he was.  New haircut.  In a dark green polo, the uniform for the workshop he was attending.  Gigantic smile on his face.  He looked so good.  We awkwardly hugged over the gate.  (Turns out it’s really hard to hug someone when you’re simultaneously worried about the rusty and jagged pieces of metal sticking out of said gate.)   The visit was this odd blend of rapid and excited chatter from both of us.  This detention center was a fairly good place.  He was in school.  Learning how to make belts.  He had a side job with cellphones.  (I didn’t ask too many questions about this as I’m sure that it was less than above board.) The Director liked him and was trying to get him out early.  He may even be in Progreso while I was still in the country!  But he still talked vehemently about taking revenge on the boy whose accusations landed him in jail in the first place.  I left him feeling like I always felt after times with Chon.  Thinking about how much I enjoyed and loved this child.  And overcome with feeling like he’s the most stubborn person I know who refuses to loosen his grip on his pride.

But what do I want to communicate to you today?  I know that I want to spare you any more excerpts from today’s journaling as I suspect that this is largely interesting only to me.

Last night I was talking to Lauren about what this day might look like.  She said:

“Take time out to think through the good and the bad and how his life has impacted today and what might happen with the future he created. You can have a mostly normal day.

Just don’t let him be forgotten.”

Right there is my goal in what I’m writing.  It’s not the most profound post I’ve ever written.  (Embarrassingly so.)  But I want to put him before you today.  I want you to remember him and maybe miss him a little as well.  He was a whole mess of good mixed with bad.

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And gosh do I miss him.

So, today is an interactive blog day.  It’s your turn to do a little bit of writing.  I would love to hear stories about him today.  Did you know him?   Please tell me about him either in these comments or by emailing me (jkast@childrenshomeproject.org.)  This is actually a selfish plea as your stories would so make my day.

And together we’ll make sure that Jose Concepcion Murrillo will not be forgotten.

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Yes, but… #2

(In case you missed #1, you should click here.  Otherwise, you’ll be very confused…)

#2

“Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches.”

Let me tell you about how I got to Honduras.

As a naive 19 year old from small town Ohio, I went to the Philippines with 35 of my closest friends.  I went because…it was the thing to do. I probably had a crush on someone who was going.  I had never been on a plane.  Someone paid for my trip.  I’m a good Christian and this is what good Christians do.  I was there for some days.  We went door to door in the slums of Manila asking people if they would like a special gift from the Bible.  While on this trip, I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life.  Upon returning to the States, I was going to quit college and move to the Philippines.  I was a changed person.

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I came home.  Instead of quitting, I switched colleges and then majors.  I graduated.  Joined Americorps.  Moved to Arizona to chase after my boyfriend.

Seven years after my life-changing trip to the Philippines, I seemed like one more middle-class American who went around the world and accomplished nothing.  But you see, that trip did change me.  It changed me in ways that weren’t visible for nearly a decade.  That seed had been planted and it grew. But it wasn’t like bamboo that grows rapidly and visibly.  It was more like a potato.  A slow growing potato hidden from view. Throughout the years, I tried to shake this desire, thinking that I was too immature or selfish to learn how to be content here in the States.  And living in another country seemed so exotic.  When Sean and I got married, I had decided that I needed to give up this dream.  Until Sean suddenly became all kinds of motivated to go serve somewhere.  (Seriously, I’m still so shocked that this happened.)  We moved to Honduras for a year, I met the kids and now, well you know the rest.

But if you had revisited my transformation a few years or a few months after that first trip to the Philippines, you would not have seen much.  We need to stop judging past volunteers based on the little we can see in the months or year after they’ve returned.

IMG_1207I can’t tell you a single person’s name from my Philippines trip.  But the path that trip put me on has brought me to this place where I can name 300 Honduran kids and tell you most of their stories.  Does my lack of connection to the Philippines take away from what the Philippines led to?  Today, I have no impact on the Philippines.  Does this fact make that trip a waste?

(One little story for all of you who will never pack up and move to another country.  There’s a man I know who was angry and mean.  He went to Honduras with his wife.  It opened his eyes to the fact that there is a much bigger world out there, that the things that make him so angry are petty and fairly insignificant.  Over a year later and he has maintained his peacefulness and calm.  He has no plans to live in Honduras and he may not be supporting any organization financially, but how can we even entertain the thought that this trip was a waste for him?  His wife?  His children??)

When you go to another country for a week, it should not be expected that you drop everything and move there.  But you should go with the expectation that something should change.  It could be a shift in perspective.  It could be a shift in career.  It could be a shift in how you spend your money.

YOUR job:

Come to Honduras or Haiti or the Philippines.  Come purposefully with this question in the back of your mind: “What am I supposed to do with this experience?”

To some of you, it will mean quitting jobs and moving to other countries.

To most, it will mean working harder and being more frugal with your money so that you can support those who are working in that country.

To all, it should permanently effect the way we view suffering and entitlement.   (Mainly our own.)

Come and commit to being unselfish for the week.  This trip is not about us.  If you find yourself complaining about the work, the heat, the kids, the fact that the schedule has changed once again, take a step back.   Regroup.

MY job: 

It is very true that lots of international aid has been unproductive at best, detrimental at worst.  This absolutely does need to change.  But we can’t place all the blame on the shoulders of those who serve.  The shoulders of those who recruit for and lead these teams are the ones who should feel that weight.  Those shoulders would be mine.

It is my job to make sure that the work that you will be doing is worthwhile.

It is my job to form open relationships built on trust and mutual goals with the Directors of the homes you will work within so that s/he can communicate when our work is a hinderance instead of a help.

It is my job to find the guts to be honest with you or your team when it is clear that our work or our attitude (the white saviour attitude does creep up at time) is detrimental to the kids.

So please come.  It’s hard to truly understand when you only know the kids through pictures and stories.  Who am I kidding?  It’s hard to truly understand when they’ve been an integral part of your life for four years.  But let’s not scratch this whole culture of  short term service simply because sometimes (often?) it’s not done well.  Instead, let’s ask hard questions and accept hard answers and then make a commitment to do and be better.  I believe it’s worth it.

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Yes, but….

It had been an especially rough day in Honduras.  One in which I had been less than patient and kind with all children who pulled my arms, shirt, purse and hair in twenty-seven directions at the same time.  One in which I had a meeting with the Director of a home that showed just how much more work I have to do to gain her trust and was forced to take a few dozen steps back in order to regroup.  In those low points of days when I haven’t been the very best me, when I haven’t progressed as far down this path of running a non-profit as I think I should, there’s this little voice that creeps in and says “What are you doing here?” Sensing an impending wave of dejectedness, I hustled over to Dunkin Donuts to journal through the events of the day.  But before journaling, I did what all people do when they should be doing something important, but want to avoid this important task.  I checked Facebook.  Just real quick.

And I saw a link to this post.

The Problem with Little White Girls and Boys: Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist.

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Don’t click on it, Jenny.

This is not going to be the uplifting and recentering piece of writing you need right now.

Don’t do it!  Don’tdon’tdon’tdon

Dang it.

I clicked.  I read.  As expected, I felt discouraged.

Please read it.  (2 million people have read this, yep 6 zeros, so you probably already have.)  For those who haven’t, she talks about her trips to various countries and how she’s not going to do it anymore.  That white people going to serve in other countries for a week cause more harm than good.  And then she lists what is done wrong.

The reality is that these articles and these books are so necessary.  They can be discouraging, but they call us to be better.  They call us to look in the dark corners of our actions to find our hidden motives.  They call us to do what is necessary instead of what feels good.  So read this.  And read Toxic Charity or When Helping Hurts or The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.  (I can’t actually speak for the last one.  But it’s currently in my purse waiting to be read…)

I’ve read her post a few times and after each paragraph I say yes, but…

The ‘yes, buts’ are what I want to bring you today.  And next week.  And that’s probably it.  But I reserve the right to revisit this topic for a third week if necessary.

My first ‘yes, but’ comes from this paragraph:

“I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to – who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.”

Let’s go back to that afternoon in Dunkin.

I journaled about the day.  I journaled and prayed about what she wrote.  Still feeling slightly dejected, I packed up my stuff and headed to Pisos, where five of the oldest Proniño boys live.  My car door closed and Adonay poked his head out the front door.

“Jenny!  I just started making dinner and was wondering if I should make enough for you as well!”

Some of the hard things from the day rolled off my shoulders.

That day Adonay was a bike messenger.

That day Adonay was a bike messenger.

Upon arrival in the cramped kitchen, I start helping Adonay and Cristian flip tajadas and shred cabbage.  Adonay tells stories from his school day.  Stories about all the ways he’s excelling in class, helping students that don’t understand and receiving public praise from his teachers.  Cristian talks about the car he fixed at his internship.  And as I listen to their happy chatter, I realize something.

I am part of their lives.

We are bonded by something that is good and healthy and encouraging.

Sometimes awkward hugs are the most tender.

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It has very little to do with the color of our skin or the amount of money or resources I have brought with me.

It has everything to do with time spent getting to know each other.  Time spent laughing, listening, cutting cabbage.

And the fact that I, a white person, am adamant that education is important or that they should be honest with their girlfriends doesn’t minimize their cultural pride or identity when they agree with me.

These boys are growing, maturing and learning and even though I am a gringa in their kitchen, they know that THEY are the ones that have accomplished this.  And they’re proud of it.  Even if it’s a gringa encouraging or funding it, it’s a Honduran accomplishing it.  And these kids are well aware of that fact.

There is no single person, influence or donation that brought these boys to where they’re at today.  It has been a number of Hondurans, North Americans and Dutch(ians?) that have worked together to provide discipline, structure, encouragement, opportunities, food, a place to sleep, too many three liters of Big Cola to count and direction that have brought them to this point.

“Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to – who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language.”

Me too.  But.

Should all North Americans and Dutch-ians pull out of their lives because it may skew their idea which skin color = good.  Heck no!  I can reiterate your sense of worth even if your culture is different than mine.  Can we boil this down to relationship over skin color or culture?  If a Honduran child watches TV shows in which all Hondurans are bad, lazy or stupid and all Americans are good, kind and smart they may develop a negative idea of their culture.  If a Honduran child has a strong, positive and encouraging friendship with an American who encourages him to reach his full potential as a human being, I’m pretty sure his cultural identity will remain intact.

“OK, but what about the people that come for just a week?  I think she’s writing more about them.”  Great question! Don’t you worry, that’s next weeks ‘yes, but’.  Stay tuned!

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Mi sobrina

People often talk about how much they dislike it when their worlds collide.  As in they don’t want to hang out with their work friends AND old high school friends at the same time.  Me?  I’ve never understood this. If I love them all, my assumption is that they will also love each other.  And if a person has enriched my life, I’d love for others to have this opportunity as well.

This is why I planned this trip to fall on February 15th.

Why February 15th?

Because of this chica.

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Meet Kate.  She is the smartest and most adorable two year old in the world.  I’m very sorry, but I speak the truth.  And she happens to be my niece.

And where was she on February 15th?

IMG_0646With these guys in Proniño.

AND MY WORLDS COLLIDE!!!

What could be better than having the boys that I love meet Kate??  I may have printed out pictures of some of the kids in the weeks before the trip for her to get used to seeing their faces before she arrived.  It was a slightly overwhelming experience, but just as magical as I had hoped.

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Edgar patiently sat with her and followed her around until she felt comfortable enough to declare to Allison that she’s going to go outside and play with him.  He absolutely ate it up.

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Juan Carlos, who left his friend’s house early specifically to be able to meet Kate on this day, also put in some time to win her over.  All it took was a rousing game of catch with some wiffle balls.

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This must be printed and framed.

Of course, Rodolfo just showed up and Kate was immediately all smiles and ready to play.  What is it about this kid?

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Last year, in the picture above, she took to him in seconds as well.

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He arrived this year and it was the same.

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If anyone needs proof of Rodolfo’s tender nature, here it is.

It didn’t work out as well as I had hoped with all of them.

IMG_0375This one really was more of a collision than than the joining together of those I love that I had hoped for.  Maybe next year, Man??

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