It started with one. The first time I went to Honduras I met a shy yet inquisitive 12 year old named Jenny. She lived in the nearby home where my fellow college volunteers and I spent the week mixing cement and stacking bricks. Our only interaction was her curious gaze at how we clumsily attempted to construct a sink and her gentle offering to help fix our mistakes. I sat with her on the porch near the ground during a short water break showing her coins left in my backpack from my trip to Canada and some from back home. She handled them with great curiosity and her now familiar shy yet kind smile.
When our final day in the community of Corralito arrived, our van started to pull away heading towards the airport. The children we had spent the week with stood in the background as our tires left dust tracks making it difficult to distinguish their faces. But I never forgot Jenny as she stood there to the side. She was the last image of the trip that stuck in my head.
After arriving back home, I couldn’t let go of the question- what if I could help Jenny with school? You know you’re in trouble when you wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night haunted by “What if I actually could…?” You’ve unleashed something inside yourself (and soon into society) that will challenge everything you believed to be true.
What I learned about Jenny after back and forth emails with the volunteer organization was the launching point for E2E.
Their email read:
I wasn’t sure how much you knew, or why you had chosen her in particular, but given her life circumstances it seemed like you picked someone with need. Jenny lives with her sister and aunt. Both of her parents were killed when she was young. She seems to be a quiet girl, a bit shy, and the teachers wonder if she still has some trauma from this. She dropped out of third grade because they needed her at home to work. While there is still no guarantee that with your support she will continue throughout school, there is a guarantee that without it she will not go to class again. You have changed her life.”
And that was it. After reading that last sentence, I would never turn back.
I headed back to Honduras the following year with the same volunteer group, this time to Pajarillos. The details surrounding the trip were all the same, except one thing was different. It was me. Learning about Jenny’s situation had changed me. This time I was a sponge ready to soak up as much information as I could about what was happening with the education system. I used every opportunity, every rest break I could get, to be near the school, around the students, or visiting homes to interview parents and take notes on my yellow notepad.
So what do you do when you find out that no one in an entire community has ever had the opportunity to see how far their dreams could take them. What do you do when the very reason that you are standing in this small Honduran village — reliable access to education — is something that has never been attainable for the people who you’re interviewing.
And then there was the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At the time, I thought this to be one of the most ordinary questions to ask a child. The reluctant silence served as an eye-opener that made me realize that in fact it was a privilege to have an answer to this question. To grow up in a society where you have exposure to role models and different professions is a luxury.
“You know you can be anything you want right?”
— the girl closest to me looked down timidly and shook her head.
I’ve never considered myself to be much of a baker. But the summer that I returned back home would consist of more bake sales than I had ever been a part of. Every Sunday, my friends and family helped to bake cookies and pastries to sell outside of my church, earning a little over $100 each time.
When we had finally saved enough, I took a solo trip back to Honduras. With suitcases full of books and school supplies, I rented a truck and hired a driver to take me back to the community. My lodging consisted of sleeping in an abandoned building on loan by the mayor atop a coffee table with a sleeping bag, eating a diet of cliff bars and trail mix.
Luxury has to be sacrificed when you’re both on a mission and a budget.
So I set out to find other girls who had been in Jenny’s shoes. As I feared, it was not difficult at all to do.
I remember two girls in particular, both recent primary school graduates, one who was sweeping quietly outside the entrance to her home and another inside washing dishes. I asked them both the same question:
“How would you feel if we could bring secondary school to Pajarillos?”
The look on their faces told me this was a thought they rarely considered, one that only existed in their dreams. One girl and her mother proceeded to show me countless notebooks from primary school proud to showcase what a great student she was and her love of school.
I knew the challenge I had ahead of me, but I asked the girls to wait for me. I had no idea how but I was going to make secondary school a reality — for the Jenny that I met in 2009 and the Jenny’s I had yet to meet.
Learn more here: www.educate2envision.org
Story: Katia Gomez