On May 26th of 2014, I embarked on a life changing journey with 14 other men that I had never had the privilege of knowing. For me it was a repeat of time I had spent in other countries during my five and one half years I served in the United States Navy. Yet, for this trip it was going to be something completely different than those of my past. I was going into a country I knew little about with no special brief to give us the ins and outs of the culture. There was no protection of my military ship to return to. Then biggest of all, I was going at this completely unknowing of how to speak the language of the people we would be meeting every day. This left me with the feeling of some fear as to what would happen, but also ecstatic bouts of excitement because I am getting the chance to travel again and do something that will be used to change lives.
It was an immediate connection for us because we were all Delta Sigs
The journey began for me at 3:45a.m. on the morning of the 26th. I had to get up early enough to make sure I could get ready and be in the airport with enough time to get on my plane. I was flying out of Dayton Airport which I had done plenty of times during my stent of time in the Navy. I was to land in Atlanta, GA were I was to start meeting the men that I would get to know and grow close to over the next six days. It was an immediate connection for us because we were all Delta Sigs and had that at least in common between us. From there we were to fly into San Pedro Sula and meet the rest of our brothers. At this point as I boarded the plane my heart began to beat rapidly for the fact that I was ready to get some good work done with these men.
Luckily enough for us, we were able to meet with a few of our brothers from our national headquarters. They were able to help us get together and have an idea of what we were about to get into. Meeting Patrick Jesse our Executive Director and Ross Klein who is a Director of Chapter Development made life easy, because they were in the loop and understanding of what all we were about to do for the next six days.
After we landed in San Pedro Sula, it became very clear that it was going to be both a very hot six days and a very hard to understand people speaking six days. The national language for the country is Spanish as is the same for all of Central America. I had taken Spanish in high school, but after 10 years of being out of a Spanish class, I was in no way ready to converse with the people of Honduras. Then of course the heat was hitting us hard. Here in Ohio we have some humidity, but down there it was 90 percent the whole time. It made the need for water very high and the fact that we could only drink certain types made it a struggle for us to make it through the day. These people live every day knowing that the actual water of the country is dangerous to their health. Just like most third world countries, it can cause a person to get very sick and very hard to live with. This gave me time to appreciate the little things we have here in America that many other people do not.
After getting all of us together in the front area of the airport and making all of our introductions, we met one of the directors of Heart to Honduras. I do not remember his name because this ended up being the first and last time we really got to see him. He gathered us up and we got on the bus that would take us to our camp where we would be staying. Along the way we stopped at a mall to eat and get out of our seats for some time to stretch. Patrick Jesse and I walked around the mall trying to find the bathroom and after about 30 minutes and asking 4 different people we found our location. Come to find out that there was one next to the food court where everyone was sitting and eating by the time we got there. After another 30 minutes or so we got back on the bus and headed on for the next part of the ride.
They didn’t have safe running water to work with or AC to keep them cool. All they had was the food they needed to eat, a few sets of clothes to get them by with and the family and community they needed to be happy.
Along this next leg of the ride, we were told we were going to randomly pull over to the side of the rode and meet someone who was going to be our translator for our time there. After about 20 minutes we did exactly that. Yet, when we stopped this big guy jumps on the bus with sunglasses on, and tattoos covering all of his arms and some you could see from the neckline of his shirt. Little did we know from this point that Luis Ayala was going to be one of the biggest influences during our stay in Honduras. He was from another city called Santa Cruz that was one of the bigger areas in Honduras. He has lived in California during his teen years, but had come back to Honduras because this was his home and it was just not the same for him in the states. As time went on with Luis, we did not look on him as a Honduran that needed us so much as we needed him to get us through our time there. He was not just a normal person any longer, he became one of us.
We finally made it to the village our camp is close to. Its name is Santa Elena. As we drove through the village it was a culture shock to see houses made of nothing but cement and tin roofs with just cut out doors and windows. Most of the houses had nothing to cover those holes but a sheet or a blanket. They didn’t have safe running water to work with or AC to keep them cool. All they had was the food they needed to eat, a few sets of clothes to get them by with and the family and community they needed to be happy. That alone was something that hit me hard when I saw these places. The people of Honduras can have so little, but never think that they need more. These people did not complain because they did not have the next big thing on the market because it was not important to them. What they did have was love for their family and friends and the love for who they were. Statistically they are ranked as one of the happiest people in the world because they are content with what they have. They are not like the people of America that see what they have as just not good enough and think they deserve more. Hondurans will just go through life with not even a pair of shoes and their feet, but never ask for
another dime. They are truly a people that Americans should strive to be like.
The camp that we were staying at was beautiful. It was well above sea level and all you could see around you was trees and mountain tops. You would look down into a valley and see the birds flying around. You could hear them call to one another and it was different because it was not the birds you were hear or see in the states. We were led to our cabin that we would sleep in. It has electricity and running water of which I did not truly expect. I thought it would have been a bit more like the places we saw on the drive, but I was not complaining. We ate food that was prepared by a cooking staff at the camp and ate in a gym/dining hall area in the middle of the camp site. This would also be where we would meet up as brothers and have nightly reflection meetings about what we saw and learned through the day. It was the one time of the day where we could get to know each other the most, outside of just general conversation during the day. We were given the opportunity to the meet the pastor of the church that Heart to Honduras works with and would later in the week go to one of his church services. His name was Pastor Freddie. Then we also got to meet the rest of the staff and people of the camp.
There was a family there from Dayton that was there for a different type of service trip. They were there because they had been sponsoring a local child and got to meet her for the first time. The husband of the family was a pastor as well and we were able to hear him give the sermon for the service that we went to. We all made them a part of our group because we ate breakfast and dinner with them and talked to them so we could explain who we were and let them know of our purpose. They were happy to see college men coming to a place like Honduras and help out a person or people in need.
We woke up bright and early the next morning ready to start the building of a house for a 50 something old single father, who has never had a house of his own. He told us that he has jumped from house to house, bed to bed, just so that he can wake up the next day and work to provide for him and his kids. His name is Pastor. He is a part of another small community of people that stretch out to be just one big family. Most of them are not related by blood, but that again is just the culture of these people. They come together and help each other no matter what the problem is. I believe that is how it should be.
When you get a group of determined and ready men together, nothing is impossible
The foundation to the house we were about to build was already laid and the ready for us to build on. The wood we needed was already on the ground in the lengths we needed, except for the areas that would be the doors and windows. They had to be cut to size. It was a slow start because we had to wait for the wood to be cut and ready for us to use. As soon as the wood was being cut the work began. It was a hot and busy day for the first four hours of the job. Within those first four hours we got two three walls started and being built. As we would put the frame together, we would put it up and start adding the exterior paneling up. We did not put anything on the interior so it was only four one sided walls.
We stopped for lunch around noon time and had peanut butter and jelly for lunch. We learned that this was going to be our lunch for the days that we would be working. We did not mind. All of us are big kids at heart and were happy to have this as our option. After we had all eaten our fill and noticed that we had a lot left, we decided to give to the kids of the local community. This gave us a big chance to learn who these children were and have some fun while we were hard at work. The families all around laughed with us as we played and were gracious for giving them all something to eat. We met some new future Delta Sigs within those days, or at least we hoped they would be.
We got back to work around 1:30 p.m. and were able to erect one full wall and two partial walls. As we got them built toward the top we had to stop so they could start putting up the frame work for the roof. After the frame was done they began to put up the metal sheets that were the roofing and we started putting in the angled pieces to finish off the walls. From only the first day on the job we had nearly finished three of the four walls, most of the roof and had the frames in for the windows and the doors. When you get a group of determined and ready men together, nothing is impossible as we had shown in just this one day.
After we were done with our first day of work, we went back to the camp and had some down time before dinner. Most of us just sat around and talked and got to know one another a lot better. After dinner we had our first night of reflection. Everyone was inspired by the people that we met and the things we learned about the culture we were living in. One of the topics we got to talk about in this first night was, “how does it feel to see what these people have compared to what we have”? This one question hit us all hard, but we were able to come to a generalized conclusion that we must look at what we have and appreciate it. Not look at it as something we have but always want more. We should be happy that we do not live the lives of these people. We should not look at them as if they are under us because like I said before, the American people should learn from them. We had also gotten some time to sit down and just ask questions of Luis so we could get the understanding of how his people act, think, and believe. He was able to open our eyes to something that we would never see while back home in the states.
The second morning rolled around on us and we were ready to hit the road. This day was much the same as the first. Finished the three walls we were already working on and starting and finishing the fourth wall. With the lack of things that needed to be done, it left it open for a lot more time to play with the kids. This opened up the great idea of sword fighting a child named Alejandro and lifting the kids in the air and making them do back flips. Then a few of the older kids, Alejandro included, decided to show us how far they like to climb in trees. Alejandro in particular climbed up a palm tree and started to get us coconuts from the top. This is something you would rarely every see happen in the states. Parents would rip into their kids for doing something like that, but his father was telling him which coconuts to knock down for us. It’s just another difference that we could see in the people.
After we had lunch and plenty of peanut butter and jelly to go around again, we got back to work and finished all of the walls for the house. A few of the brothers and I began making the windows and the doors for installation the next day. We worked for another 3 hours or so getting the final details of the walls done and some more of the roofing. Then we loaded up all of the equipment and headed back to the camp.
The fun part for us on this specific day was we had a soccer game between us, some of the local kids, and staff of Hearts to Honduras. For those that had to have the Americans on their team they did not show any anger toward the fact that we were not good at all. It was literally just a game to have fun and get to know each other more. I do not have a clue who won the game or if score was even kept, but I do know that it was some of the most fun any of us had while there.
The third day of work proved itself to be a lot more effort than anything we had done so far. Four of the brothers were sent to the house to finish the roof and install the doors and windows while the rest of us went to Pastor Freddie’s church. We were given a tour of the church and found out that this was also an elementary school. The school was made up of students that ranged from the age or 3-8. Schools are free in Honduras and are not required for their children to attend. This generally leads the kids to either leave school after a certain age or go into the work force. Some do go on to college, but it can be very expensive for the families that have little money. A lot of the people try to get their children to leave Honduras and go on to live the American dream. As expected, some make it and most don’t. This is just a financial burden and is hard to get a person out of the country.
After the tour we were going to be split into three different groups and tackle different projects. The first group was going to go out and plant trees, the second group was going to help plant a garden, and the third group was going to help the workers build a shop room needed for a shop class. Well, this all fell apart and they decided to have everyone go and plant the trees instead.
The trees we planted went to help with the water supply that the school uses for the kids. The trees clean the water and keep it from being as bad as it normally would be to drink. I was told anyway. It was an experience to go into a dense forest full of trees to plant more trees. After we had gotten most of the trees planted, we went back to the church for our normal lunch of peanut butter and jelly.
After lunch the plans changed again and they had us carry down 50 pound bags of sand to the bottom of a hill. I assumed this was going to go to be made into cement for the building of this shop building. We were never told exactly what it was for and it was hard to carry these down a hill with steps made of tires imbedded into the ground. It took us a while and we finally get enough of the bags down the hill and were done for the day. We loaded up and went back to the camp for some much needed relaxation.
I do believe with the heart that Pastor has, he will cherish this house for the rest of his days.
On the next day we were all happy because all of the work that we needed to do was done. This was a day that had one thing of importance to complete and the rest of the day was for fun or relaxation. In the morning after we awoke from a much needed night’s sleep, we went back to the house for the last time to do a dedication ceremony. We arrived at the house to see that every person in the community was there to celebrate with Pastor on the receiving of his new house. This show of family again just hit us all very hard. It’s amazing how many people
were there to care and help a man like Pastor.
During the ceremony there was a moral contract signed between Pastor Freddie, Pastor, and Patrick Jesse. Stated within the contract were the requirements that Pastor never sell, damage, or leave the house that we made for him. Now obviously there is no true hold to this contract, but I do believe with the heart that Pastor has, he will cherish this house for the rest of his days. We had also bought him a bed, some general food and items he would need for his house, along with a table and chairs so that he could make it feel more like a home. This one experience paid for the whole trip all in itself.
Then we all went back to the camp and the majority of the brothers went to a river and swam for about 4 hours. I on the other hand was not feeling very well and stayed at the camp and slept most of the time. After they returned we had dinner and got ready for another reflection meeting. This was all around an easy day for us and we got the chance to relax for the most of it.
For our final full day on Honduras, we went to go zip lining and walk around a market place. The zip lining started off slow for us. We were about 20 feet in the air and going over a little creek that was in the middle of the park that we were at. It was fun to go for my first time. It got immensely better at the end as we got to go over a waterfall. This put us about 100 feet in the air. I could not stop from looking straight down and seeing how amazing the view looked from so high in the air. It got even better when we were told that now we were going to go under the water fall and have some time to spend in a cave. There were a few cliffs we could jump off of along the way as we were getting to the base of the waterfall. I was only able to jump once because I was wearing steal toed boots, and the water weighed them down a lot. After returning to the bus we had to change our clothes and we went to eat at a Hispanic buffet. I am not sure what all I ate that day, but it was some of the best food I had ever gotten the chance to eat.
We got to the market place back in San Pedro Sula and took about an hour and a half to walk around and getting anything we wanted to take along with us. I only got a few things, but most everyone came home with a soccer jersey. That was apparently the hot item for the brothers to walk away with. The language barrier made this a little hard for me, but with a few people to help I was able to make it out okay. We left the market and went to the Bed and Breakfast that we were going to stay in before we left in the morning.
The family that ran the BNB was amazing and hospitable people. They welcomed us with open arms and talked to us about who we were and what we were doing there. This was the perfect opportunity to spread the name of Delta Sigma Phi into the ears of more people and let them know what a real fraternity is. We ate a dinner that was prepared for us and had our last reflection meeting. During this meeting we were asked to write our passion project. This was to be something that we wanted to have accomplished through our field of study that could be of use to everyone and make a change in the world. Every one of the brothers had a powerful idea of what they would like to do. These men that I spent this week with are going to be the great leaders that this world needs to make it do something great.
My passion project was the want to get a world connected agency together that fought in the war against human trafficking. This would be a group that is a collection of all agencies around the world so that we all have a hand in this. Human trafficking is the second biggest crime industry, only trumped by drugs. This is something that happens in our towns and cities and so many people have no idea. I have had this in my head to be my project for two years now and I will try to make it happen, even if not on a world wide scale, at least something to help within the state that I end up calling my final home. After the meeting we all went to bed for the last time in the country of Honduras.
That one week has been the most influential weeks I have had in my life for a number of years.
We got up and ready to go on the last day. We went to eat breakfast and get our bags ready to go. We were picked up by our normal driver named Ever and taken on our way to the airport. We stopped along the way to meet with the Farmhouse fraternity and give them some advice that they could use to help them during their time in Honduras. We made it to the airport safe and sound and get ready to board our planes. We all got on two different planes and the first group to leave said their goodbyes and left on their plane. The rest of us had another hour to kill as we sat around and talked about the week. We all got on our plane as our time was called and we left the country of Honduras for the time being.
I still look back on this week and wonder what kind of change would have been lost to me if I never went on this Journey. That one week has been the most influential weeks I have had in my life for a number of years. The things I learned about the people of Honduras will be lessons I try to teach to the people of the states. More importantly, the lessons I learned about myself will stick with me for the rest of my life. I went on this Journey trying to just do good for a people that deserved the help, but I came back realizing that I needed the help that they gave me even more. These things are personal to me and I will speak of them to any person that asks it of me, but until then I guess for everyone else, it will be but a mystery.
Brother James Lee