I just returned from a week long humanitarian trip to Honduras. It was my second year going on this trip and it was just as rewarding as the first time! Getting away from our “First World problems” really helps to put some perspective back into your life.
Here at Oh Lardy, we spend a lot of time talking about real food ingredients and healthy living. Is our food organic? non-GMO? Have you joined a CSA yet? Have we done our oil pulling and our dry brushing? Is our water filtered? What kind of filter? Did you drink a green drink today? Did you take your cod liver oil? Have you had your spine checked by a chiropractor?
Then you travel to a place where there isn't clean water, people sleep on dirt floors and don't have indoor plumbing; a place where many children don't get an education, have no shoes and there is one small medical clinic to service miles and miles of villages. And, wow…who cares about all the other things?
I am not saying the things we worry about here are not important…they are. But sometimes a trip to help out in an area that is so very poor, helps to give a little perspective to what we have going on in our lives. And, it can help us all be a bit more appreciative of all the amazing blessings we have at here at home.
My trip was organized through Honduras Outreach and the HAVE Foundation. About 50 of us (a rag tag group of business people, vets, Rotary members, engineers, hearing aid specialists, doctors, students, a Shelter Box representative, engineers, musicians, a famous football coach and a food blogger) arrived in Tegucigalpa and boarded two school buses for the long journey to the Agalta Valley.
Once in the Valley, we got set up with our accommodations (staying at a pretty nice ranch set up by HOI for mission trips of this sort) and got to work. The work varied from crafts with the children, music lessons at the school, hard labor landscaping and more. Everyone gets to choose something that interests them.
I chose the hard labor (not sure why…that doesn't necessarily ‘interest' me but it was a lot of fun, and crazy, crazy hard!).
The ‘Chain-gang' (our name for our laborer group) helped with digging (and digging and digging and digging) an area in front of the elementary school for a future pavilion of sorts and distributing gravel for the drainage of a new soccer field at the middle school. The soccer field will be called the Vince Dooley Field (after legend University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley….who might be the hardest worker I have ever met. He is on the right in this picture)
While the digging, wheelbarrow-ing, gravel-distributing and cement laying was tough work, it is so rewarding to see the look on the people's faces in the village. They live in such poverty yet seem so happy and are so friendly and welcoming to us as we invade their village for a few days.
We all bring treats for the villagers, mostly candy (more on that later) and small toys. I brought bags of nuts (of course I didn't bring candy, Oh Lardy fans) and about 50 drawstring Nike backpacks that were a big hit. It is so fun to see eyes light up by giving gifts that are small by our standards but huge in their eyes.
One of the highlights of my week was getting to meet Cristina, the student my husband and I sponsor so she can attend the private school that has been built with funds from the HAVE Foundation.
The opportunity to attend this private school gives these children an education that is unheard of in Honduras. They have a library, a computer lab, text books, markers, paper…all of the things we take for granted here in the US. I can sponsor her for $600 a year which covers the cost of her education. (If you want to learn more about this, check out the HAVE Foundation).
The week was full of hard work for most of us…not all! 🙂
Our leader, Bob Hope, had all kind of activities set up for us in the evening…awards are given out (I got ‘Digger of the Day'!), talents are shared at the talent night and gifts are given. The vets gave Bob a wonderful gift I am sure he will save forever…pig testicles from an animal that was castrated earlier in the day! Nothing says ‘Thanks, Bob, for organizing a great trip!' than a tupperware of testicles.
This group of people is together for such a short time but we really do become a family. I can't wait to go again next year!
Now, for what many Oh Lardy readers may be wondering…the food. What was it like?
On the ranch, where we stayed, I thought the food was wonderful. It is a bit different if you are a Standard American Diet eater (heavily processed, refined flours, low nutrients, chemical filled stuff) but I thought it was great. It might have lacked variety, but the quality of the food was wonderful. Every morning we usually had some type of eggs, beans and fruit. Lunch and dinner usually comprised some sort of meat (usually chicken, everyone became tired of chicken), rice, beans, tortillas and a salad of sorts. The meat was a bit tough, but as a real foodie, I knew that was because it was actually from a pastured animal (there aren't factory farms in this neck of the woods) and probably could have simply benefited from a different cooking technique! One night, one of the members of our team did the cooking and we had spaghetti with chorizo and sauce which was a nice little treat!!
In the villages, there is such utter poverty, it is hard to know what all they eat. I am sure beans and tortillas are staples. Some of the ‘houses' had fruit trees (fresh coconut water! Delicious) and small gardens.
What I did see a lot of, which made me sad, is processed junk food…candies, Coca Cola and other soda, all kinds of junk. (Our group is full of people from Atlanta, so I hate to single out the Coca Cola, but really, that is the main soda throughout the world; so ‘yay' for Coke, I guess.).
I have been to many 3rd world countries and people may be starving for the traditional foods that nourished their ancestors for thousands of years but you are never far from a stand or a market full of overly processed, nutrient poor junk food. I remember a trip in Tibet where I was literally in the middle of nowhere, in a village with about 20 houses…and there was a little stand with Coca Cola, Snickers bars, chips. Yes these foods provide calories so people do not starve, but they offer absolutely zero in the form of nutrition.
We all know and hear about the obesity epidemic in the US and the increase of lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, etc. It is frightening for our nation and our economy. But the rate at which these diseases are increasing in the 3rd world is even more frightening (I have a list of sources at the bottom if you are interested in learning more).
While it is one thing to develop Type 2 diabetes in the US (where, by the way, according to the CDC, in the US, 1 out of 3 children born in 2000 WILL develop diabetes in adulthood), we have the ability and the resources to manage it here, and many times reverse the disease. We can stop by a Walgreens and buy a blood sugar monitor (heck we can order one from our iPhones with the Amazon app), get insulin or head to our doctor for check ups. We can change our lifestyles, choose better foods, exercise more and make our health better.
When Type 2 diabetes escalates in a 3rd world country, these people are in really big trouble. The medical clinics, if there even is one close by, can't keep up. How are people going to manage their blood sugar? What happens when they develop complications (which they will) and lose limbs? eyesight? their kidneys fail? I am sure there are many reasons for the influx of these Western lifestyle diseases but the influx of heavily processed foods and the pushing out of the traditional foods that their ancestors ate has to be a main reason.
This is why I did not bring candy this year on the trip. Now, I am in no way under the impression that one week of candy extravaganza is going to make a bit of difference into the medical plight of the people of Honduras. I eat candy on occasion (yes, even non-organic, high fructose corn syrup filled candy *gasp*). I may or may not have had quite a few Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on the trip (because, let's face it, they are delicious!) But, after my trip to Honduras last year, I saw that these children aren't missing out on candy (and soda…which let's face it, is just liquid candy). Given the amount of candy wrappers, empty 2 liter bottles and other processed food garbage surrounding the villages, there seems to be quite the supply of junk food.
(Although, hey, these people are the ultimate recyclers! If you are going to drink the soda, what cool ways to reuse the bottles!)
I am not opposed to bringing candy, but because our group has so much of it, this year I chose to bring individual almond butters and bags of nuts. I felt at least they could get one serving of healthy fat and protein in the midst of their day. I will say I was happy when I had a handful of candy to pass out and a handful of nuts and the kids were clamoring for the bags of nuts! (these little food interactions make me happy!)
I was trying to think of good things to bring next year and will still probably do the nuts, maybe raisins or dried fruits, or even beef sticks (like Nick's Sticks). Any ideas? Leave them in the comments!
Our group does so much work and brings such hope and happiness to the people of the Agalta Valley. It has been amazing to be a part of it and to see the visible change that this group is making year in and year out.
I can't wait to go again next year! The trip is so rewarding, the people in our group are so nice and such fun. It feels so good to help others and give back when we are so fortunate here in the US. I hope it can become an annual thing for me!
Want to learn more about the HAVE Foundation and our mission in Honduras? Check out this brief video:
3rd World Diabetes Resources: