Question—have you ever been school supply shopping for 40 kids the week before school starts? As someone who has, let me tell you… it’s not actually as crazy as it might sound. But it was still pretty crazy.
There’s really a lot of back story here that I should tell you about the Honduran school year, our scholarship program , etc. but really, I just want to tell you about Miguel, his sister Digna, and his brother José.
Three weeks ago, one of our extended Honduran missionaries, Cesar, was waiting for me after Mass. He wanted to ask if we’d be able to help a family who lives in his aldea. The three youngest kids would be going to school this year and they didn’t have any shoes to wear. Cesar was telling me how he’d been able to get a nice pair of sandals for the oldest boy (who’s about 14 years old) a few weeks back, but the next time he saw the boy, he didn’t have them anymore. When Cesar questioned him as to where the shoes were… the boy had given them to his mom.
My heart was pretty much broken right then and there.
That said, we can’t just give things out to everyone who comes to our door. One, there’s too much need, and two, that can create a dangerous dependency.
That’s why our scholarship program places a minimal emphasis on the actual supplies that we give the kids. That’s really the smallest part. The real work is in the daily after school tutoring, the Saturday morning service projects, and the mother’s group that we have. The goal is to transform the families by forming real relationships with the children and offering a more authentic support to the mothers. All of this is based upon the dependency that all of us, Hondurans, gringos, rich and poor alike, have on Christ.
My point is, before we could just give out shoes to this family, we needed to know them and their situation a little more. As such, two weeks ago, Katy, Cesar, and I made a visit to the family’s house. Like most Honduran children, they were ridiculously cute, pretty shy, but incredibly sweet. That was what I walked away from the visit with. I’m a teacher. I’m all about the interactions with the kids. Katy on the other hand, is studying to be a social worker. She’s seen a wide variety of poverty and is literally in training on how to assess it. When we left she had decided that we wouldn’t just give the family shoes, but all of the other supplies that we normally give to our kids in Becas (which means scholarship, in case you were wondering). These kids, because they live farther away, wouldn’t be able to participate in our program, but Cesar has been working with the family for a while and is going to do regular follow-ups when he’s home on weekends from the university (he’s getting his degree in Psychology).
Slight interlude here about school supply shopping:
Because of people’s schedules we were WAYYYYYYYY super behind on our school supply shopping. Wednesday morning we collected all of the sizes from all of the thirty-six kids in our program. FYI: All the public school kids in the country of Honduras have the same uniform. White button down shirt, blue skirt for the girls, blue slacks for the boys, and black shoes. For the shirts and pants and skirts the sizing wasn’t so hard… it’s fairly easy to judge which kid is a 6, an 8, a 10, etc. and they have a pretty good idea themselves. But the shoes! Hahaha, so no one knew their shoe sizes and we had to trace most of the kids’ feet out on sheets of paper.
Then that afternoon, we ran downtown to do some intense shopping. Actually, that’s one of the really nice parts about shopping down here. You tell the workers what you need, and they get it all together for you. So those poor workers at the shoe store… we handed them our twenty pairs of cut out feet and then waited for… well, a really long time, while they went upstairs to their gigantic supply of shoes and found matches.
As this was taking forever, Karen and I (have I talked about Karen before? I must have… about my age, works for us doing all the day-to-day work in Becas, one of my favorite people ever) went down to the giant department store like place to start buying the uniforms. I also felt bad for the fifteen-year-old boy helping us. I mean… this place… it’s not like a Target where you go in, and here are all the shirts hanging up or folded by size… it’s more like… here are the socks, in bags from the floor to the ceiling. Not even kidding. Good luck finding the sizes you need. Or here the skirts and undershirts which have all just been thrown together in an enormous pile and you have to dig to find the ten size 8s and the four size 12s and the whatever else it is you might need. Ha, that was funny too, when we realized the skirts were not actually labeled by 6, 8, 10, etc. but by 30, 32, 34, etc. Thankfully, between Karen and myself we did a great job guessing the sizes of the skirts for the girls. When we passed all of this out on Saturday morning, everybody’s fit! Or close enough that with a small stitch you won’t be able to tell the difference.
So yes, after spending alllllll of Thursday then at the mall in Tegucigalpa buying the thirty-five backpacks and the ninety notebooks and the sixteen compasses and eight dictionaries and goodness knows what else, we packed everything up for the kids in their backpacks and were done that same night! We actually spent our Friday day of silence, well, in silence. It was truly miraculous.
Anyways. Saturday morning comes, and we’d told all the families to be there at 8am to receive their supplies, try on their uniforms, etc. Well, walking back from the Poor Clares at 7:30, I see the aldea family walking up! To be fair, they were on the bus schedule. So I take them to our library and pull out the kids’ backpacks so we can start trying on their uniforms.
I can’t even tell you how big their eyes where when they saw their backpacks. It was like Christmas. But José’s shoes were too small, and poor, sweet Miguel. Oh, to complete this picture, you need to imagine Miguel in this little red hat winter cap with earflaps. He’s going into kindergarten and I guessed his size based on the smallest kid we have in the Becas, who was getting a size 6 of everything. Miguel, turns out, is smaller still. The pants went up to his chin. So cute. But clearly not practical.
We had a few other misfits too, so that afternoon we went out again to make the exchanges and then drove back out to the family’s house to drop off the shoes and uniform. When we pulled up to the house, we very much caught them in the moment… One of the boys is sitting in the doorway, looking at the first grade reading book, the little girl, Digna, is still wearing the pink backpack that we gave here, and the notebooks and pencils and all of the other supplies that we had given them completely covered the one bed that they have. When we came in, Miguel couldn’t stop giggling. He was so excited about his new shirt and his pants… which, even though they were the smallest size that they make, were still a smidge big. I think he’s my new favorite kid. Before we left I told them I’d be asking Cesar for updates on their grades, and hopefully, I’ll be able to go back and visit now and then. They’re not too far away from the seminary (where classes start again on Thursday! Hooray!).
Moral of the story… well… I’m not really sure yet. But I know that Saturday was one of the most powerful days I’ve had down here. I mean, I’ve always believed in the importance of education but it became very real for me to see some of these families that we were helping. See education in Honduras is free, but if you can’t afford the supplies, you don’t go to school and that’s just how it is. And what we were giving them, was really so simple. Pants. Pencils. But at the same time… that’s giving them so much more… the opportunity to learn how to read and write. I… yeah…
Anyways! We’re currently updating our Becas’ website but we have ten new kids this year who need sponsors!! Think about it, pray about it, and let me know!