Thursday, October 29, 2009

Honduras Update 5—A heavy heart

I write this to you on a quiet Wednesday as I break from work and overlook the beauty that is Honduras. Corn tufts sway in the wind and the clouds curl slowly over the mountain tops. Rain will come soon, as it does about four times a week, to replenish the forests and crops while at the same time cleaning the streets and sidewalks of human debris.

Last week in Tegucigalpa I ran into one of my old students Miguel from the orphanage. I had worked with him and another student, Orlando, for more than a year on the reading, writing and math skills so they could keep up with their grade level. I grew found of them both and loved and treated them like little brothers.

Miguel had grown significantly since I had said goodbye seven years ago. Now twenty, he was good-looking, mature, and strong from cutting weeds with a machete six days a week. This day he was wearing an old U.S. used (Goodwill) t-shirt, jeans that had flakes of mud at the cuffs and old brown shoes. His smile was the same with straight white teeth which contrasted against his dark complexion and black hair. His personality—distracted from undiagnosed ADHD, good humored but with a less than average intellect--remained the same.

He began to share his story with me of the last few years. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to tell. He ran away from the orphanage with his sister to Tegucigalpa about a year or two after I left. He has been living with her ever since taking part time work when possible, hanging out at the mall when not. He has returned to school since he left the orphanage and has little desire to continue doing something he consistently failed at. His life is led a day at a time with no plans for the future and no current preoccupations. It was good to see him and catch up.

However, he had more to tell me about Orlando. Orlando had left the orphanage as well and returned to his "home" of Santa Rosa de Copan. I note home in quotation marks as he only lived there a few years before arriving at Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos orphanage. Miguel then took his thumb and made a horizontal arc across his neck—Orlando had been murdered only two months ago.

It brings me great sadness to think about Orlando as a ten-year-old boy, bright eyed and excited about coming to my class. Many, many people gave much of themselves to offer this kid, who had a terribly hard life to begin with, an opportunity, a chance to make something of himself. And that was taken away with his life at age eighteen; all of that work, his generous spirit, his love of soccer, everything.

Currently, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. To put it in perspective, Honduras had about 58 murders for every 100,000 people in 2008, the United States had about six, and Mexico had about eleven. This in a country that never had a civil war like its neighbors, that has been the closest ally to the United States over the last century, has had more Peace Corp volunteers than any other country in the world, and is wealthy in natural resources. It makes me wonder whether I should move from studying post-disaster community development to crime reduction strategies, especially among young people.

Often I try to find the bright side in every situation but I do not really see one right now. It just sucks to have a friend, a little brother who I did my best to love and support, no longer have a future.


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