Instead of carving turkey, enjoying a meal and watching football with our extended family this Thanksgiving, we ate beans and rice at nearly every meal for six days. The power went out frequently. We slept on thin mattresses and took cold showers. The mosquitoes gave us welts that bled. We woke to the sound of farm trucks at 5:30 each morning.
And we loved it.
Let’s be clear: there were some inconveniences, but even the things we found inconvenient at the time reminded us of our first world privilege. Lumpy mattresses and noises that woke us up early were overpowered by the overwhelming sense of happiness each member of the family felt at the end of each day. What better way to prepare for the holiday season, a time when we will be bombarded with messages about the latest gadget that our loved ones can’t live without? We didn’t necessarily plan it to be a re-set button for the expectations of holiday excess, but it sure worked out that way.
NPH Honduras is an inspiring place to visit. Their concept is to take in children from families that are unable to care for them and provide a nurturing environment where they become educated and prepared for life after they graduate from high school. Sometimes these children arrive because their families can’t afford to feed them. Other times, they arrive because of an acute family trauma. Many of these children have seen unspeakable things. If there are siblings, they all come together.
Despite the emotional weight that many of these children bring with them, NPH is filled with smiling, happy children who range in age from less than a year to twenty-two years old. They work hard. With about 300 children on the ranch, they are all expected to participate in the chores. Laundry is a constant, and there always seems to be someone sweeping. The children learn to wield a machete to cut grass before they are four years old. As they become more mature, they participate in cooking, farming and other important requirements.
Volunteers are welcome and are invited to help. We put toddlers to sleep at bedtime, washed dishes in the kitchen, swept out the rabbit cages, raked leaves, prepared food, weeded the pepper crop, visited the nursing home residents, and held toddlers’ hands as they strolled around the ranch for exercise.
It was exhausting and energizing at the same time.
It was exhausting because so much was unfamiliar, and there were some awkward moments as we stumbled through language barriers and cultural differences. But we all learned to laugh at ourselves with our language mistakes, and these mistakes often created bonds with the kids. Inconveniences and challenges quickly felt insignificant compared to the powerful energy we received in the form of smiles, hugs, and high fives from the kids.
Here are some reminders we brought back with us from this adventure:
- We are incredibly fortunate to have so many choices in our lives
- Happiness can be as simple as having the basics covered
- It doesn’t take much more than letting a child sit in your lap to put a smile on their face
- Making mistakes and being able to laugh at them can help you connect with others
Some of these lessons may fade over time. It’s difficult to carry them forward every day. But we have lots of memories and family jokes from the trip that provide great reminders.
And perhaps the greatest confirmation for me that the adventure had an impact was when my daughter said to me on the plane ride home, “Dad, I think I’m going to re-write my Christmas list.”