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.

Global Issues Honduras SOCIAL GOOD Volunteering Abroad

My new little amigos

I’ve completed my second day volunteering with the beautiful children at a children’s day care center that assists poor single mothers so they can work. Originally I thought I would be working at an orphanage but that was somehow lost in translation. I’m finding that much for me is lost in translation since I’m only at a very basic Spanish level. But I’ve come to understand with traveling, especially in developing countries, that you must simply go with the flow. Having an open mind and open heart is paramount. Otherwise you’d pack you bags and leave the next day for home!

Honduras is much more basic and rough around the edges than Guatemala. It has truly opened my eyes. Over 80% of the people here live in poverty and it is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti and along with Bolivia. Yet despite the poverty and the dire situations most people live in, people are generally happy and resolved with their lot in life. Especially the children.

Here is a brief look at some of my beautiful new friends I met today at the center. They are so incredibly loving and full of life. They have so little material goods yet their joyous smile tells it all. For them, there is much more to life than having all the latest toys. Their love of life is evident and infectious.

Come, meet a few of my new little friends and see for yourself.

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Global Issues Honduras SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION Volunteering Abroad

United Way’s campaign to teach children about poverty: Pass the Grade game

This post is part of the Social Good Sunday series in which I highlight different organizations around the world making the world a better place. 

Poverty is a tough topic to comprehend. It is tragic, dark, unfair and cruel.  A way of life that doesn’t make sense in a world that has so much for some and so little for the rest. If poverty is hard to understand as an adult, imagine how confusing it is to understand such a difficult topic for children.

Many children in my community have everything they need and most likely too much. They generally have all the latest toys, more than enough food on their table, a home to live in and a family to love. However, once you step outside of Southwest Minneapolis, the picture is dramatically different. Children live in poverty, don’t always have enough to eat at night and struggle immensely in school. The inequities are surprising and often astounding.

According to numbers released in September by the U.S. Census, the percentage of children living in poverty in Minnesota continues to grow.

“Now 80,000 more children are living in poverty compared to 2000 (114,000), an increase of about 70 percent. Officially, an estimated 194,000 (15.4 percent) children were living in poverty in Minnesota in 2011, a trend that has continued to increase for more than 10 years. Compared to last year, the number increased only slightly by 2,000 children from 192,000 in 2010”.

I often find that our middle class children live in a bubble and grow up rarely being exposed to what the rest of the world lives like and even more so, what a large percentage of kids in their own city live like. In poverty. If it is hard for adults to understand poverty, it is  oftentimes even more challenging for children to understand the full impact of poverty on families and kids themselves.

In honor of the first ever Giving Tuesday, a new day to give back to the community that was launched on November 27th, The Greater Twin Cities United Way* launched a fun, educational online game cleverly called “Pass the Grade“. In “Pass the Grade”, players will experience four challenges that teach about the trials children in poverty have to overcome to succeed in school.  What is so impressive about Pass the Grade is that it accomplishes two important goals: First, it educates children about other kids living in poverty in a fun, engaging way. Second, it also raises money for educational programs with each game played.

Here are some details about the fundraising piece of the campaign (all information below provided by Greater Twin Cities United Way):

  • Campaign was launched on “Giving Tuesday”  – November 27, 2012 and runs through December 31 2012. 
  • Ecolab, Inc. is committing a total of $30,000 to the effort on two fronts: For each person who plays the game, found at www.uwpassthegrade.org, Ecolab Inc. will donate $1 to United Way’s Pass the Grade Campaign up to a maximum $10,000.  For each person who donates after playing the game, Ecolab will also contribute a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $20,000.

The goal of United Way’s Pass the Grade Campaign is to help 7,500 kids pass the grade in 2013. Here are some examples on how playing this game helps children living in poverty:

  • $5 provides a hungry child with snacks for a school week.
  • $22 will help one child receive one-on-one reading help.
  • $33 provides a child with enriching after-school programs.
  • 5,000 kids will get a healthy snack at school.
  • 1,500 kids will receive one-on-one tutoring and reading help.
  • 1,000 kids will take part in enriching after-school programs.

The game, developed by Space 150 and supported by U.S. Bank, takes players through four unique challenges that test if they have what it takes to pass the third grade. (Students who fall behind by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.) After each challenge, statistics on childhood poverty are shared. Upon completion of the game, a grade is given to the player. Players are then asked to share their results via social media to encourage additional donations. 

“Tackling the challenge of poverty and making a difference in a child’s life can’t be done alone, it must be a community effort,” says Greater Twin Cities United Way Senior Vice President of Marketing Kathy Hollenhorst.  She continues, “In playing Pass the Grade, one learns about the impact of poverty on a child’s educational advancement, while at the same time learning about how to make a difference in the community.  With our regions’ philanthropic spirit, we at United Way believe that together we can help all children get the quality early education they need to succeed in school – and in life.”

Ok….now I’m going to ask everyone to play the game! I just played the game and I failed! I failed at passing but I sure learned a lot about kids living in my community in poverty. Here is what I learned.

About Greater Twin Cities United Way:

Greater Twin Cities United Way addresses our community’s most critical issues by focusing on three key areas: Basic Needs, Education and Health. We attack poverty on multiple, interconnected fronts to achieve lasting change – through 10 measurable goals – by collaborating with business, government and nonprofit organizations to create solutions and carry out our call to action to LIVE UNITED by encouraging everyone to Give. Advocate. Volunteer. United Way serves people living in or near poverty in nine counties: Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Scott and western Washington. Join the movement. LIVE UNITED.

For more information, visit www.unitedwaytwincities.org

Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises Poverty SOCIAL GOOD

Teaching your kids the value of giving back: Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF

Some of my fondest memories of a child growing up in the 70s was trick-or-treating on Halloween with my siblings. Me, my brother and sister would walk for hours around our suburban neighborhood knocking on doors for candy. We’d come home exhausted yet smiling with pillowcases filled to the rim with sugary treats. We would pour our goodies onto the floor and would eat one a day for months to come.

Imagine if the candy could be replaced with donations. Donations to the children served by UNICEF.  Imagine the impact it would have on impoverished children around the world if only half of the candy was donations and we all participated.

Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD

Explaining the unexplainable to my children

September 11, 2001. A day we will always remember. A day that we will never forget. A day that changed our world as we know it. A day that made our lives never the same.

Copy of “First Pass, Defenders Over Washington” by Rick Herter. The painting depicts Capt. Dean Eckmann in his F-16, as he was the first to arrive at the Pentagon. A copy of this print is hanging in my sister’s Virginia home in honor of her husband who was one of the three pilots.

Global Issues

Commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. through the eyes of a child

Sometimes in life, there is no better way to understand a complicated issue such as civil rights, than through the tender eyes of a child.  I had the opportunity to volunteer in my son Max’s first grade class last week, and they were learning about Martin Luther King Jr.  Through art and creativity, here are their dreams of the future….

I had a dream…

My son Max’s dream:

That all bombs will be sent to outer space.

For a complete view of Martin Luther King Jr’s life, click here.  Here is another great link regarding his biography on the Nobel Piece prize website.  

Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD

The House of Children

Volunteers were not needed Friday morning at the nursing home so instead Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) arranged another volunteer opportunity for the day. CCS works with a variety of different non-profits in Cartago and places their volunteers on an as-needed basis. When you sign up on a CCS volunteer program, you do not find out exactly what your assignment will be until two to three weeks before departure. You have an idea of what it may entail. Normally CCS volunteers work in nursing homes, hospitals, orphanages, centers for disabled children or adults, or teaching English. Thus, when you sign up to volunteer you know it will be one of the above programs. The in-country home base typically evaluates the needs in the community and at each agency to see what the best fit is for the available volunteers. For our week-long program, the nursing home was the best match for the given amount of time and number of volunteers. However, Friday we were not needed thus Santi and Jose found another, exciting opportunity for us: Taking the 35 foster children of Dona Melba’s foster home to the park.

Dona Melba and her husband were well-known throughout Cartago as a wonderful, caring couple who had established a foster home for unwanted, abandoned and abused children over 25 years ago. Their family began slowly, taking in a few children here and there who needed homes and over time grew into a large, close-knit family of adopted and foster children all under one roof.

We had received an update from another volunteer named Julia who was an early high school graduate from St. Louis, Missouri spending three months in Cartago volunteering with Dona Melba’s children. It was a chaotic household with children of all ages and varying degrees of emotional and mental stability living in a small house and being cared for by only Dona Melba and her husband. Occasionally, they would receive local volunteers and ones from other international organizations but most of the time they and their 35 children were on their own. You can imagine the work involved in caring for such a large household. Laundry was done all day long in a large room with piles of washed and folder clothing assorted by age (this was the easiest way for children to find clothing. No one had their own clothing. Everything was shared). Cleaning and work around the house was taken care of by the older children in the family. Cooking was also a shared job by the older children which took hours.

Having two young children of my own, I couldn’t even fathom how much work 35 kids would be! I asked Julia tons of questions on our ride to the home. Over the last three months working with the children, she had become extremely attached and was very concerned about leaving them soon. She knew the ins and outs of each child and told us some of the most devastating, tragic stories of their young lives before they were saved by Dona Melba.

One boy, Alain, had an alcoholic mother who never fed him as an infant and abandoned him barely alive at Dona Melba’s doorstep. There was not even a note. Obviously, he was in poor health and was seriously malnourished which had lead to brain damage. At age eleven, he cannot talk, cannot eat unassisted and struggles with his motor skills such as walking and catching a ball. I spent some time hanging out with him at the park and he was a lovely child who was fascinated by tearing off weeds and throwing them into the creek and watching them float away. He would smile, frantically jump up and down and grunt in pleasure. It was heartbreaking but at least I knew he was loved and cared for with Dona Melba.

Another girl was named Anita who had also been abandoned in a terrible state. Dona Melba found her completely battered up. In a rage, her parents beat her up at two years of age and hurt her so badly that they broke both of her legs. She was rescued by Dona Melba and would not speak or smile for years. A year ago, a CCS volunteer from New York worked with Anita and felt compelled to do something about her terrible situation. Fortunately, her father had connections with a surgeon in NYC and they were able to raise enough money to fly Anita and Dona Melba to New York for surgery that enabled her to finally walk! Although she isn’t perfect on her feet, at least this special little six year old girl can finally get off her hands and knees crawling and walk and play like the others! It was quite a story and brought tears to my eyes.

Then there was Cesar, another disabled child, who was in his teens but was mentally about the age of four or five. He loved playing ball with the volunteers and loved the special attention. To think that this child was abandoned and mistreated just because he wasn’t perfect made me sick. It made me realize that we are all humans.

The morning at the park was delightful. We played ball, chased balloons, ran after the children and enjoyed their imagination and laughter. It was a special day. In light of the horrendous stories and tragic backgrounds, these children had hope. The love and care that they received from Dona Melba, her husband and the endless amount of volunteers flowing in, lead me to believe in the resilience and hope of the human spirit.

Here are some pictures from our visit to the park. In order to provide protection for the kids, I will not include any of their names. The beautiful, serene park:

The beautiful children from the foster home:



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