When I was packing my bags for Honduras back in October of last year, I had a hard time getting my check bag under 50lbs because of the tools I had in it. I didn’t know what exactly I would be doing with them, but I knew I wanted to have them because I wanted to get involved in some type of building or construction project. The Porvenir Construction Project was something I ended up starting because of a direct need we saw for many families and an overwhelming interest from other volunteers. We found that many of the kids who take part in our programs return to “houses” at the end of the day where they have no access to adequate hygiene or facilities. After talking with a few other volunteers, it was decided that the best thing we could do was build bathrooms and showers for families. Right away, tons of other volunteers expressed interest in the project and money starting coming in from different family members and friends. Things took off so much faster than I imagined, and before I knew it, I was drawing out pictures of what our bathrooms would look like and putting in large orders for tools, wood, blocks, and cement.
Our goal from the beginning was to work with the families to accomplish our goals, and not work for them. We didn’t want to show up as a group, and just build something. We wanted to involve the families in any way possible and work together with them.
Our first project consisted of a couple families who we chose based off a recommendation from Oscar Funez. He owns one of the small shops in town and does so much for El Porvenir. He is like the town elder or something. Everyone knows Mr Funez. He speaks at graduations, teaches classes at the high school, and always has some part in big town happenings. He has always been so great with the volunteers, and he is really one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. He suggested a group of families who all live together in one spot and are extremely poor. In the past, many of the volunteers had worked with these families and the place they live became known as “Grandma’s Place.” There was an old woman who lived there and many of the adults were her children and many of the kids her grandchildren. She passed away a few years ago, but the name still sticks for many people. There are at least 5 families living there at a giving time, and over 30 people. They didn’t have any access to a working bathroom, and the idea of a shower was foreign to them. Only one of the houses is made of cement and blocks. The others are made from bamboo, patched together wood, and mud. It became extremely evident the minute I walked onto Grandma’s Place that there was extreme poverty.
As soon as I came back to Honduras after a short stay at home for the holidays, we got started. On the first weekend, I was so impressed by the hard work of my fellow volunteers and the families. People were digging like crazy, hauling large stones and cinder blocks, and doing plenty of other back breaking tasks all day in the Honduran sun. Dads were going to the supplier to load trucks of rocks and sand, moms were carrying blocks from the road to the building site, and even kids were trying to carry whatever rocks they could closer to where we needed them. All of the construction was done in our free time, so it meant even more to me that people set aside some of their Saturdays and Sundays to help out. It was dirty, the work was tough, it was hot, and there were a couple days where it poured on us, but it seemed like everyone managed to have some fun and really enjoyed helping. It was a true testament to the quality of people I am working with down here.
As expected, we ran into plenty of problems too since it was our first project. Even in the first day, we dug the whole too big and our building went from an 8×20 floor to a 12×21 floor. Lotta lessons learned throughout the project, and the next one is going to be so much easier. We were also a bit unsure about many of the processes we did and how they would be done differently here, but we worked through everything.
The families we worked with really have a special place in my heart now. I worked there a total of 15 days I believe, and I really got to know some of them well. I was so impressed with some of the parents who despite their circumstances still worked to provide better lives for their children. I love the kids. They were so much fun to work around and seeing them happy with the end result of the project is the most satisfying feeling.
We decided that when the project was done, we wanted to do a “Charla” for the kids where we would go over hand washing, tooth brushing, showering, and how to use the toilets. We did it this past Thursday, and I have to say it was one of the best moments I have had in Honduras.
We showed up in a large group. We were down a few volunteers who had been there for the start of the project, but we had plenty more new people who helped towards the end and even newer people who wanted to see what we had done. As usual, as soon as one of the kids saw us walking towards their houses they yell out our names and start running towards us. The other kids hear and they will take off running to. After hugs and high fives all around, we entered into Grandma’s Place and started saying hi to everyone.
Iris, one of the Moms who had been so great and hard working throughout the whole project, was actually just walking back into her house in a towel after taking a fresh shower! She had a huge smile on her face as she waved and walked inside. She later mentioned that she had been taking a shower every day since we finished and loved every minute of it.
At first glance walking into Grandma’s Place, I didn’t notice some things they had been working on, but soon I was very impressed. Before we could get a chance to build a step to get onto the floor for the bathrooms and showers, they had built a step with some left over blocks, dirt and gravel. They leveled out a lot of their land with the dirt we dug up, they took down all of the wood on the old, non-working bathroom they had to be used for house repairs, and they capped off the old toilet. The entire place had such a different feel to it, and things just felt so different form the first time I had walked in back in December. A lot of it was because we came in a built the bathrooms and showers (with much of their help of course), but a lot of it was because they were doing work too to improve things too. They even bought trashcans and other supplies for inside the bathrooms.
We gathered all of the kids up and began talking to them about hygiene. We covered hand washing and even have this fine video to show for it:
This little guy is the same one who almost every day we saw him, he would be running around naked. We would always ask “¿Dónde están los pantalones?” to which he usually responded to by laughing and running away lacking any form of pants. Of course the first time he gets into the shower, a zone which supports the anti-pantalones movement, he is actually wearing something. It was pretty funny that the kid never wears anything but the first time he gets in the shower he has something on. Still working on the conceptual idea behind the utilization of pants I guess. You’ll get there some day little guy.
We also went into how to properly brush teeth and why it’s important. I also showed them how it’s really important to fill a bucket and pour water into the toilets after each use. It was a lot of fun.
The best part by far though, was when opened up the showers to show them that. Lubin, one of the funniest little kids I’ve ever met, took his shirt off and jumped into the shower in his shorts and start soaping up right in front of everyone. He was so funny because he was kind of hamming it up too.
We opened up the next shower door and the only way I can describe what happened is to show this video. He was a bit nervous at first as you can see in the picture, but the video says it all:
This was the first time he had ever been in a shower before. His reaction is so funny and it really is priceless. While building the showers, the kids kept asking us what they were. I said we are building “duchas” which are showers, and they didn’t even know the word. You can imagine how much fun it is for them now to have them, and it really gives them a chance to have better hygiene and stay healthier.
There are a couple teenage girls who live at Grandma’s place too. I don’t think we can imagine what it would be like to be a teenager and not have a bathroom or shower. They weren’t running around like the little kids, but they had smiles from ear to ear. I asked them what they thought, and they said, “Thank you so much. Now I have privacy.” I know that having proper access to facilities now will really go a long way for them.
I knew that what we were doing would be a good thing, but the sense of how much of an impact this would have on their day to day lives really kicked in while we were there. If seeing the direct impact of your work isn’t enough to keep you working and give you a reason to work, I don’t know what is. This was by far one of the best days I’ve ever had. There was such a different look and feel to everything in Grandma’s Place, and to know we had a part in making it that way really was special.
Standing there looking at our finished product was one of the most satisfying feels in the world. I really can’t describe it. We put so much hard work, time, and effort into it and it turned out better than I ever expected. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live without access to bathrooms or showers, and I am pleased and proud to say that now, there’s over 30 more people who can share that same thought with me.
Now some pictures from our last day there. To see more of the entire project, check out the Public albums on Facebook.