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An American in Honduras: Ep 4

Tommy Rea is a graduate of St. Louis University High School and Boston College who

currently resides in the St. Louis area. He has been a member of NutriFund’s

Governance and Internal Affairs Committee since 2021.

I was 17 years old, had landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras hours earlier, and just arrived in a mountain town outside of Yoro after spending hours in the bed of a maroon Toyota 4x4 pick-up truck. It was almost dusk, the sun making its way toward the horizon. And so began the most impactful experience of my life -- intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. Almost 30 years later to the day, I was presented with the unique opportunity to go back to the place that left this indelible mark on me.

I first made the trip to Yoro in 1993 while a student at St. Louis University High School (SLUH). I volunteered at the nutrition center and had the opportunity to work in remote mountainside villages throughout the area. I returned a second time three months later to continue the work. Those trips had a deep impact on me, and I was equally moved by the kindness and generosity of the Honduran people.

In 2021, I began formally volunteering with NutriFund as a member of the Governance and Internal Affairs Committee. But, I didn’t make the trip back to Yoro until March 2024, when I was asked to accompany seven SLUH student volunteers and one teacher who would be working at San Yves for eight days. During the trip, we worked long days interacting with the 15 children, feeding and changing them, doing laundry, mopping, cleaning, and finding ways to assist the hardworking, dedicated staff with its daily routine, which was never routine.

So, what have the people of Honduras and San Yves taught me so far?

San Yves is a place of joy. Despite all of the difficulties faced by the people of Honduras and the crushing circumstances that result in the need for San Yves and NutriFund to exist, “joy” was the word most repeated during the March trip and the expression most commonly seen on the faces of the staff, the kids and their mothers. And, if you do not know what pure joy looks like, spend a few minutes in a room with two-and-a-half year old, Elgar. His smile literally makes everything better.

A gringo is not a "savior," nor should one try to be. Be a friend to others and, more importantly, be useful. Lend a hand when it is time to wash the dishes or do laundry, and do the job well.

Laughter isn't the best medicine, but it helps. It bridges every language barrier, particularly if you are a malnourished child working hard to recover and return to your family or the recipient of a surprise birthday celebration.

Be ready. You never know when kindness and compassion will be needed most. Alexandra and Elena made that clear as they quickly and gently administered antibiotics to my gluteus maximus over two days after a sinus infection began to wreak havoc.

Everyone deserves to feel special. I would like to think that Seidy and Kevin felt special as the center of attention when they arrived at school each day with more and more gringos by their sides which, in Yoro, Honduras, is the rough equivalent of a rare circus attraction walking into a schoolyard, let alone more than one attraction at the same time.

Music speaks. It can serve as an immediate connection any time, any place, like the song “La Bamba,” which allowed new friendships to be forged through song and dance.

Time is a gift. If you embrace the moment and are fully present in it, there is time for more, like another conversation with Patrick and Nahin on a mountainside while the sun is setting.

Allow people to be their authentic selves. If you do, you will get the best from them, like my friend, Dinora, whose iron-fist during meal preparation was outmatched at all other times by her pirate’s smile, huge heart, and patience with the world’s worst tortilla-maker.

And last, but not least, faith is a journey, maybe even a radical one. As Eileen Markey described in A Radical Faith, faith is "a dedication to God in others, a seeking of the holy in the messiness and in the complexity of a real life...working to change the circumstances of a world that insults the sacredness of most [human beings]."

Eight days is nothing when you think about it in the context of the struggle to survive that each of these kids has faced in their very short lifetimes. Each kid is a fighter. Having the opportunity to interact and support the kids and staff in any way during this journey back to health was and continues to be an honor and a privilege.

I plan to return soon.


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