12-month volunteering in Honduras
During my twelve months volunteering at a charity clinic in rural Honduras, I was blessed by many quiet hours without electricity or distractions allowing me ample time to process and digest my experience. Honduras is a country that is plagued with gang violence and poverty, so as soon as the sunset each night and the streets became dark, my neighbors barred their windows and locked metal doors. The nightlife was as we know it in the United States was nonexistent—the few restaurants in the area closed promptly at 7 pm, and bars functioned primarily to entertain criminals and drug addicts. The lights would often go out in the evening for hours at a time, leaving me with nothing else to do besides reading and journal, the papers illuminated by my battery-powered headlamp.
The lessons that entered my mind over and over those nights were of privilege and humility. I remember often comparing my life experiences with other young women in my neighborhood. To finance nursing school, I was able to sign student loans without issue. After graduation, I found a well-paying job with benefits and saved enough to pay for my volunteer year abroad. The young assistants at the clinic also dreamed of becoming nurses but couldn’t navigate the endemic corruption and disorganization of the Honduran educational system. They once arrived to take the entrance exam at the national university, and the instructor never showed. Another time they attempted to register for classes only to discover that the entire nursing semester had been canceled for undisclosed reasons. Violence also impeded their journey to education: schoolmates were often robbed at gunpoint while taking the public bus making the commute to class a traumatizing experience. Even with their dedication and grit, the greater context of corruption and disarray made their graduation almost impossible.
My volunteer contract allowed four weeks of vacation, and I used the time to travel to nearby Guatemala and Nicaragua. Each trip provoked deep feelings of guilt. None of my Honduran friends had traveled or seen the ocean though the coast was only six hours away by car. A friend’s daughter, desperate after enduring years of violence and unemployment, decided to escape to the United States. The woman’s first journey outside of Honduras would involve months of riding on top of trains illegally, walking through arid climates, and sleeping exposed to the elements and criminals. All for the chance of a safe and healthy life.
I remember spending hours thinking about teeth. I had truly taken dental care and oral health for granted my entire life. The clinic hosted volunteer dental brigades from the United States to provide basic services to the town. One teenage boy arrived at the clinic and was found to have massive decay of his two front teeth. The visiting dentists had no choice but to remove the teeth permanently. For days after the boy’s visit, I felt unexpectedly cold and anxious. I imagined him going to school, as vulnerable and self-conscious as any teenager, without his front teeth. He would undoubtedly feel some dread and probably be the recipient of cruelty from peers. Eating and speech would be affected forever. The son of a farmer from a remote village, it is unlikely that he will be able to afford any implants or alternatives.
During the year volunteering abroad, I attended the local church, and it was the place where I felt most connected to the community. The amazing part about the Church is that it gives us a safe space to pray and hope and hurt in communion with others. In the church, we are siblings and equals. In Honduras, I spent a lot of time wondering why the world allows such terrifying contrasts in resources. I don’t have an answer, but I know that God blesses the poor and asks the privilege to uplift the less fortunate. I know that Jesus gives us all an example of how to lead and work for good. The road to justice is not straight or simple, and we need help from our savior to improve the world. Jesus is key.
A note from Jesus is Key
Mackenzie Riggs is the daughter of a very good friend of mine. I can’t imagine how proud my friend Jane must be of her. It takes a special person to be able to go off to a foreign country that is unsettled without knowing anyone. My hat goes off to her! I wish I could have been that brave at that age. Keep making a difference Miss Mackenzie Riggs!