When I signed up to volunteer in Honduras for six months, I never thought that I would end up staying there for 3.5 years!
From January 2010 to July 2013, I lived in the Central American country of Honduras. I’d never written a story inspired by my time there until I was asked to contribute to the Sunny Summer Treats anthology by Choc Lit. My short story weaves in some of my own experiences from the years I spent living and working in Tegicugalpa.
I flew out in 2010, the flights from Heathrow all delayed by snow, to start a six-month volunteering role with ICYE, a charity which organises exchanges of volunteers all over the world (a lovely organisation and much better than the commercial enterprises which charge a fortune for two weeks volunteering).
Honduras had recently suffered from a political coup when their president was ousted in the middle of the night, and our departure had been uncertain right until the last minute. At the time I lived there, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world, so I was anxious about staying safe.
Originally I stayed with a local family and worked on a few projects, including in the children’s cancer ward at Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa.
I ended up volunteering at a school for children with special needs, called Juana Leclerc. My six-month time ran out and I decided to stay. I felt I hadn’t had enough experience, as I had changed projects a few times. I moved around, eventually renting a room in a flat with some Honduran students.
Towards the end of the year, I met a couple through my church who ran a project called Nueva Esperanza, New Hope, working with children and families living in poverty. Carlos and Barbara Barahona offered me a place to live in the project and the chance to work with them.
I ended up staying there for a further 2.5 years, living at New Hope and becoming Director of Operations.
It was undoubtedly one of the best and most challenging experiences of my life. Being fluent in Spanish helped me to establish firm friendships with the staff of New Hope and at my local Honduran church. I was the only foreigner in the barrio, and it was a dangerous area – I could hear gunshots at night and crime was rife. I was held up at gunpoint once, chased by a man with a gun another time.
I took public transport, I walked around my area, I knew the risks and I watched my back and prayed for protection. I kept money in my shoe with a decoy purse to give to robbers.
Life could be very hard for the children and families that we worked with. Many of them didn’t have running water, or if they did it could be as little as once in ten days that the water supply was turned on in dry season. They lived hand to mouth, often entire families living in one room and sharing one bed. The project was there to help the children with education, food, high school scholarships, and offer the families support, Bible studies, classes and training.
I loved working there. I loved the children in the project and enjoyed making connections with their families. I had a great time working with the youth group, organising youth camps, day trips, and teaching them English. I’m still in touch with so many of them now – the children, the parents and the staff – and I still sponsor a child there.
In my story in Sunny Summer Treats, a woman with a broken heart and an over-reliance on statistics goes to Honduras to volunteer for the summer. She ends up falling in love in more ways than one… I used my own experiences as an inspiration, although I didn’t meet my soulmate in Honduras – I met him one month after I returned to the UK!