Thirdeyemom

Love and Heartbreak in a Honduran daycare

Author’s note: This post is part of my series on my recent trip to Honduras. To read past posts on Honduras, click here.

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The main reason why I went to Honduras was to volunteer and give back. A month before leaving I found out my volunteer placement would be at a Honduran daycare center for poor single mothers to send their children to the day while they tried to earn a living. As a mother myself who adores children and an advocate for fighting poverty, I couldn’t think of a better placement. I could hardly wait.

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The first morning I arrived at the daycare center with another American volunteer around half past eight. The day was already hot and humid like most days in La Ceiba in January. I was already soaked wet with sweat after the forty-five minute walk from our Spanish school and glad I had brought two bottles of purified water along for the morning. It was going to be hot. And it was going to be exhausting.

The center has over 60 children ranging from one to five years old. All energetic and ready to play. All highly anticipating the arrival of the new volunteers.

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The center is located a short distance from the heart of town in an old run-down building that looks like it used to be a school in its past life. It is gated with an open-aired dirt-filled playground (that I rarely saw used) and four classrooms that surround the courtyard in a L shape. There is also one large room with over 60 bunk beds where the children nap from 1-3 PM, plus a boys and girls bathroom, and a large sparsely decorated eating area. All in all it was what I expected. Rustic, dirty and the bare minimums. But what I didn’t expect was how the place would make me feel.

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When my friend Elizabeth and I entered the daycare center we were instantly attacked by hordes of smiling young children grabbing our legs and wanting to be held. Instantly, my heart melted. These children were so beautiful, so innocent and lovely. Yet they seemed so forgotton and unloved at this place.

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Playing with wood sticks, one of the only unbroken toys at the center.

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Getting my hair braided by a little sweetheart.

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After the first hour of volunteering in the two and three-year-old classroom I realized why the kids were so enamored with Elizabeth and I. Because the volunteers are the only ones who play with them and give them any attention at all. I was horrified how the  “teachers” just sat in their desks all day, away from the kids, playing around on their cell phones and only pausing to bring order to the room. The only time they interacted with the children at all was to either yell or physically discipline them. It was absolutely heartbreaking. Yet I was amazed at how resilient those kids were. Through tears and struggle, they moved on.

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Their toys were all dirty and broken, making me ashamed at my children’s playroom at home. The room was spartan and depressing with little fresh air or light. The teachers were  uninspiring, unloving and darn right mean. If children were tired they were forced to stay awake until the official group nap time at 1 pm even if they were crying of fatigue and falling asleep in their seats. It wasn’t a good place but for these mothers they have no choice.

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At home, I’ve been exposed to many different kinds of childcare centers over the years. Having two children, I’ve been in early education centers, preschools, summer camps and drop-off daycares. Yet I had never been exposed to this kind of maltreatment of children before. First of all, I do not believe in corporal punishment. I especially don’t believe in it in a daycare setting for very young children. Second of all, there was absolutely no love or compassion whatsoever shown towards these children. They were expected to sit quietly around a table sometimes for up to an hour playing only with one small broken toy or a couple of flashcards. And these were toddlers who are used to curiosity and wanting to move around the room and explore! Whenever the kids got out of their seat or misbehaved they were swatted with a ruler, yanked by the shoulders and spanked on the bottom. Then they were left to cry. It wasn’t right.

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I understand that there are cultural differences involved in how you rear children but as a mother and a human being, I felt this treatment of the children was wrong. We were told not to make judgments while volunteering or try to change the way things work in our host country. We were told that oftentimes things are handled differently than they are at home. Thus we were reminded to be flexible and openminded. Yet I did not feel this kind of mistreatment of the children was acceptable. No matter what country you are in. So I did something about it.

When I got home, I wrote a long letter to my US-based volunteer organization telling them about the situation and how I felt it was not a good place. They had no idea and sincerely appreciated me speaking out. Last I heard, there were some people fired at the center. Yet knowing that those kids are in that kind of unloving environment away from their mothers all day, is absolutely heartbreaking.

If I look at the positive side of my volunteer experience, it is certainly the beauty of the children. I adored them. I held them, played with them, smiled at them and loved them. If only I could have been there for more than a week. If only I could have truly made a difference. If only they could have a chance to be at a better place.

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Even now, I think about them often. I think about how they have so much less opportunity than my own children and it makes me feel sad. Yet I feel blessed that I could help, even if it was a small gesture, in making them smile…. at least for awhile.

Author’s note: After much thought I decided to enroll in the WordPress ad program. I have been writing for over two years, 732 posts and it has all been a labor of love. I am hoping that if my blog can earn any income from the ads, I can use it to donate towards all the amazing charities and no-profit organizations that I write about. That has been a long term dream of mine so thank you for your patience with the ads! :) thirdeyemom

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32 comments

  1. Thirdeyemom… what an extremely sad, yet love filled, journey you had. I am so glad that you did this, then wrote letters. Maybe it will help expose and correct some of the abuse. But most of all, you gave your heart for a week to these children. You gave them an experience they will never forget. Thank you!

  2. What precious little angels, NIcole. :) I can imagine that it must have been heartbreaking to leave them to their uncaring minders, after they’d got used to being played with and loved by you and Elizabeth. You did what you could, and I hope your letter to the US-based volunteer organisation bears fruit.

  3. Aren’t they adorable, Nicole? I can understand how you want to hug each and every one of them. What I find hard to understand is why teachers/carers would be so mean. Why do that for a living if you don’t like the children? It isn’t easy not to make judgements, and whoever pays them should certainly know about it.
    I also applaud your use of WordAds- that’s a fine idea.
    Bet you’re really looking forward to your trip to India.

    • Thanks Jo. I still think about those beautiful little kids and feel sad. But not much more I can do than what I’ve done.
      I hope the WordAds helps. I would just love to donate some revenue to all those amazing NGOs!!!!
      As for India, I am so incredibly excited and am working on a post about it….:)

  4. What a beautiful story! Was this your first trip to Honduras? I know a lot of what you experienced there is unexplainable to those who have never been. I’ve been on a similar trip to Nicaragua, and it was the best experience of my life. What organization were you with?

    • Thanks for the comment! This was my fourth year in a row volunteering. The last two were in Guatemala and Costa Rica and also Morocco. I had nothing but great experiences before and also worked with kids. I don’t think it was the NGO I worked with. I think she really just didn’t know as it is a smaller operation and maybe no one else complained before as most volunteers are college age and maybe they just didn’t know. I’m a mom of an 8 and 6 year old so I knew it wasn’t right. I actually am really interested in going to Nicaragua next year and would love any recommendations you may have on good programs! Thanks so much for your comments!

  5. Nicole thank you for sharing your experiences, it must have been so difficult to sit by and watch the kids get hit and cry without intervening! Good for you for reporting that behavior! Your photos are beautiful, and really highlight the adorable children you got to know!

  6. Thank you for sharing your story! Good for you for writing to the organization- nothing will ever change if no one speaks out and brings these situations to someone’s attention. Even though it was just a week, I’m sure you were a bright spot in those kids’ month, even year! Never doubt the impact that even a short amount of time can have on someone’s life :) Keep up the good work!

  7. Volunteering, whether short-term or long-term, can often challenge our inclination that we are doing it to “change the world.” I loved the gem of wisdom my son came back with after a week with Habitat for Humanity on one of the reservations in South Dakota — it was something to the effect of, helping does not always mean changing. Your story helped remind us of the importance of continuing to seek meaningful ways for women to make better lives for themselves and their families. ~ Kat

    • Thanks so much for your insight Kat! I often feel that the volunteer trip is 90% for changing me and maybe 10% for bringing some smiles to the people I help. I have grown so much through doing this kind of work. It has humbled me.

  8. What an unreal experience. Those kids are so adorable and it’s a shame that they aren’t treated with every ounce of love and respect they deserve. I hope your efforts will prove even more helpful! Keep it up.

  9. Wow! This one so touching, Madam. Hope you had a great time there with those lovely young kids. :)
    In between, as ya said I would be glad to have a post from you regarding my little short movie project in your blog space. For the further details regarding the making, inspiration and all about our little project, please do check this link. Have a good day ahead. Keep in touch. God bless. Cheers.\m/ :)

    http://myindividualinsights.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/probation/

    Rahul

  10. I hope the poor little things get better treatment at home. They seem to be well cared for in that they are clean and nicely dressed, so there is some hope there. Why on earth would you want to work in a child care centre when you don’t like children??? Good on you for reporting these horrible “teachers”. They don’t deserve a job.

    • I hope so too however when I talked with my host family in honduras they said that oftentimes this kind of treatment is due to lack of education and poverty. I witnessed this kind of motherly treatment in stores and on the streets as well. As for these “teachers” it is a low-paying job and honestly I don’t think they give a darn. Sad, isn’t it. Thanks for stopping by Debra. I’m really behind on reading about your NYC trip but I’ll play catch up soon. Your blog is one of my favorites! :)

  11. Sas

    Don’t worry Nicole, you will have made a diffrence to those children. In the past I have worked with children as well. My inspiration came from my youth workers when I was younger. I decided that if I could make a difference to just one child’s life, like my youth workers did with me, then it was worth it. Rest assured, some of those children will remember the nice American volunteer that came to play with them and give them some attention for the rest of their lives, and you will inspire them too :)

    • Thanks Sas! I hope so too. I know a week is short but I also think just exposing children to foreigners is good for overall cultural understanding too.

    • Thanks so much. The more I travel, volunteer and learn about advocacy and social issues around the world, the more I want to crawl up in a hole and cry. You are indeed correct that the world is so unfair. I’ve been so blessed with an education, a nice home, the ability to stay home with my kids and travel. That is why it is my duty to give back as much as I can. A lifelong journey for me! Thanks for the encouragement! :) Nicole

  12. You have a pure and generous heart. A moving story my friend. I’ve seen similar sights in the orphanage and day care centers in the Philippines. Despite of the living conditions, children gives smiles generously and their optimism so joyful and full of life. Beautiful children with faces that lights up our world.

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