While sitting in the modest lounge of San Pedro Sula Airport last Monday, my fellow traveler confessed a common feeling I’d been carrying with me all week.
“I thought I’d be able to come down here for a week, do some work, spend time with the girls and then return to my normal life,” said Kelly Carter. “But I can’t let it go. I just keep wondering… what do we do now?”
Fifteen parishioners from St. Columba Episcopal Church in Marathon embarked on a weeklong journey to meet 56 of Honduras’ most precious examples of bravery and survival. The time we spent cleaning, painting and gardening or doing puzzles, making bracelets and playing basketball with the girls paled in comparison to what we received during this trip.
The group departed Marathon for Miami International Airport on Monday, April 12 before the sun broke through the morning sky. Two hours later, we were descending over the Honduran mountains and the thick groves of banana trees interspersed with swirls of smoke from the burning sugar cane fields.
After clearing customs and several bag checks later, our air-conditioned bus was waiting for us at the curb. We bumped and bounded away from the airport along a rutted road with familiar fast food chains and one man automobile shops advertising world famous brands like Goodyear and Firestone. Forty-five minutes later, our bus driver honked the horn – an all-too-common sound on the streets of Honduras – and a security guard rolled back the metal gate from the concrete wall that surrounds Our Little Roses and Holy Family School.
After unloading our suitcases into the dormitory style rooms located just above the school, we received an introductory presentation from the home’s director and head of administration.
Twenty-five years ago, Our Little Roses (OLR) ministry began in a small rented home with more than two dozen girls. The facility quickly gained notoriety with the local government officials, as well as the judicial system through which the girls come to OLR.
Honduras is one of the poorest Spanish-speaking countries in the Western Hemisphere. Eighty two percent of the nearly six million people in the country live in poverty. More than half of the population is under the age of 15, and less than two percent of girls have an education.
Graduation from the sixth grade in Honduras is cause for a huge celebration and comparable to high school graduation in the United States.
The OLR houses 50 girls, but had 56 living there as of two weeks ago. There is also a transition home where girls who opt to attend university can live while in school. The home is also open to young women taking a vocational path towards a better life.
“I think the first thing that struck me was the difference between ‘the haves’ and ‘have nots’,” said Sandy Saylor. “I realize that this is not the only country in the world that has this problem, but it certainly makes you appreciate the advantages we have in this country – even with all of our problems. I think when you look at the situations and conditions the girls came from, it is amazing that they are so well adjusted.”
Board member Jim Ellis of Jupiter, Fl. makes frequent trips to San Pedro Sula to deliver food, clothing, materials and donations from the Diocese of Southeast Florida. Over breakfast Saturday morning – a typical breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried black beans, fresh papaya and warm tortillas – he relayed to us a common message to visitors from OLR Founder and Director Diana Frade.
“Don’t feel sorry for the girls here,” he implored. “They are the ones that have been saved from horrific situations and now have a safe and loving home.”
What do we do now?
Carter has continued to ponder the trip’s impact on her life long after our arrival back home in Marathon.
“It’s hard to explain how those girls could have such an impact on us,” she mused. “Maybe it wasn’t the girls as much as the structure of the home. The incredible support and the foundation that was laid before our arrival…Diana and her team have made OLR so successful and are truly miracle workers. The girls are so loving and sharing and willing to play and learn. Something has kept them from being angry, sad and withdrawn.”
I know several young teachers across the country and am amazed (and not the least bit envious) at how they handle a crowded classroom of nearly often three dozen students.
At OLR, there are only four women or tias in charge of the girls for 24 hours a day. All the girls of school age attend either the bilingual school on property or a nearby public school in the neighborhood. In fact, one university graduate and OLR alumnus is planning to open a dental clinic to help serve not only the girls of OLR but the underserved neighbors and families in the area as well.
During our last organizational meeting before our departure, we each shared our individual reasons for deciding to participate in the trip. I just thought it would be exciting to visit a new land while making a positive impact on another’s life, but master gardener Linnea Cunningham, who graciously contributed her skills and knowledge to the mission’s country retreat center (slated for completion two years ago after breaking ground in 1988) said the mission’s focus on providing an education for girls was the impetus for her trip participation.
Kirk Maconaughey said he’s sponsored children through World Vision for more than 40 years, but after an initial trip to OLR last October and his recent return in April, he now has a very real connection with one special young lady.
He first established the relationship with the shy, snaggle-toothed 9-year-old girl who spoke only three words of English over a game of Go Fish.
“When we arrived this time, and Elizabeth heard I was part of the group, she came racing out of her dormitory and made a beeline for me,” he remembered. “She was smiling as she ran to greet and hug me. Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure she would remember me. The quiet little girl I first met was no longer there. We played together the entire trip, and her English vocabulary has improved significantly.”
Kirk and his wife, Rev. Debra Andrew Maconaughey, who led the group both physically and spiritually through the all too short weeklong journey, plan to sponsor Elizabeth through her high school education and help her attend the bilingual school as soon as possible.
“We’re hoping she can visit us this summer and that she’ll be able to continue improving her English skills while attending summer camp,” he confessed.
“You cannot solve all the problems of this world, but you can help one little rose.”
To learn more about Our Little Roses Ministries, an oasis of hope and love for the girl child at risk in Honduras, http://www.ourlittleroses.org.
Debra kirk Elizabeth
Rev. Debra and Kirk Maconaughey with their special little rose, Elizabeth.
The girls of Our Little Roses home in Honduras often spend their weekend evenings dancing in the courtyard of their home to songs emanating from a tiny radio.
“Don’t feel sorry for the girls here,” implored board member Jim Ellis of Jupiter, Fl. “They are the ones that now have a safe and loving home.”
Girls on gate
The tiniest of roses, often cared for by the tender hands of their older “sisters” in the home, never fail to offer an endless supply of smiles with their happy giggles and endless antics.
Wood shop 2
Shop teacher Jose works closely with many of the girls at OLR to teach them the valuable skill of woodcarving. Intricately, hand-carved boxes, frames and wall hangings are available for sale in local markets for three times the price they are sold from the home’s workshop. All monies from sale of carvings or paintings made by the girls go directly back to the artist.
The St. Columba mission to Our Little Roses in San Pedro Sula, Honduras included, front row (l-r) Kelly Carter, Deb Ryan, Sandy Saylor, Linnea Cunningham and Bill Hall; back row (l-r) Rev. Debra Maconaughey, Nasan, Kirk Maconaughey, Danillo, Mario, Tara, Juan Pablo, Nancy Lorimer, Bill Lorimer and Holly Hall.