NYAP’s Legal Counsel for Care Management looks back on his recent Peace Leave experience

David Colley, Legal Counsel for Care Management, took Peace Leave April 18-20. David’s story follows:

Honduras Huts

On April 18th, I traveled with a group of eleven others via Tegucigalpa to Choluteca to complete the construction of a building in the settlement of Limon. Limon is an enclave created after Hurricane Mitch, which in 1998 dumped three feet of rain in the area, killed 15,000 Hondurans, and effectively let 20% of the country homeless.

Limon is about ten miles from the city of Choluteca and about 25 miles from the Pacific coast. Parenting practices driven by the abject poverty in this area have produced serious degrees of child malnutrition. It is common for parents to leave their infants and toddlers unattended by suitable caretakers during the day so that adults may work to provide for their families. The result has been improper feeding and nourishment. Further, for lack of understanding, parents frequently fail to properly dispense nutritional supplements and formula. Nutritional deficiencies in the area are of epidemic proportions, especially considering that of the 7,000 inhabitants of Limon about 4,000 are children.

In response, the Great Commission, an international church organization, built a compound in Limon which includes a children’s malnutrition clinic and daycare center. The clinic ministers to about 15-24 malnourished infants and toddlers at a time who after treatment matriculate to the daycare. The daycare serves about 100 infants, toddlers and small children including at-risk children from the village. (In addition, at a different site the Great Commission operates a separate compound for housing and services to women who suffer from HIV and AIDS, and their children, as well as a group home for children orphaned by AIDS.)

The clinic/daycare compound was in need of a dining hall to service the children. Learning of the need, the Westerville Morning Rotary, led by my friend Dr. Doug Fosselman, make arrangements to finance and build the dining hall. Doug asked me to come along to work on the project.

While the erection and masonry of the structure (closely resembling a shelter house) had been completed by local workers, we completed the project with some finishing of the masonry, assistance in landscaping, painting the structure and the painting of a 12 ft x 35 ft mural depicting cartoonish animals. During some of the time, the two physicians in our party held a medical clinic for the children and some villagers. We brought with us about 600 pounds of donated medical and dental supplies, books, toys, and sports equipment for the children.

The wonder of the experience defies description, but looking at it on paper one might be dissuaded from such a trip:

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. The Peace Corps pulled out in January of 2012 owing to safety concerns. Our hotel was encircled by an eight foot high wall, topped with concertina wire like U.S. prisons – complete with observation/gun turrets on the front and the back of the property. Everywhere we went were security guards with cutoff-stock shotguns – even sandwich shops and grocery stores. We frequently passed horse and mule-drawn carts hauling gathered sticks which are peddled to the masses for fuel – a flashback to a different century. We flew into and out of Teguicigalpa airport which has one of the shortest international runways and most difficult approaches in the world.

Most compelling was the incredible gratitude and joy on the faces of the children. They live in homes without windows or doors – just openings in the wall – and are bereft of electricity and running water. Yet each day I was met by one hundred beaming faces, ready to critically review my (lack of) craftsmanship and eager to point out where I missed a spot when painting. The children were always clean, neat and well-mannered. And despite their unenviable circumstances, they were full of joy.

I appreciate NYAP assisting me in this journey. It was truly paying forward.

Note: Don’t drink the water.