Honduras Diary (March 13-23, 1998)
Yamileth Hernandez, Drew University.
;March 13--getting there 
  • 3:45 a.m. We pack up our luggage and leave for the airport.
  • 4:15 a.m. We get on line at the Continental ticket counter. 
  • 5:30 a.m. Everyone is cleared and we all walk to our gate.
  • 6:00 a.m. We board the plane and leave Newark for Houston.
  • 9:40 a.m. (8:40 eastern) In Houston we run to our next gate.
  • 10:20 a.m. Our plane leaves for Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 
  • Switch to Central Time 
  • 1:10 p.m. The pilot announces that because of weather conditions, we can not land in Tegucigalpa and must land in San Pedro Sula instead.
  • 1:30 p.m. We land in San Pedro Sula.
  • 2:30 p.m. We clear immigration and customs and wait.
  • 3:30 p.m. A charter bus arrives to take us to Tegucigalpa. 
  • 7:30 p.m. We arrive at the bus terminal and call El Hogar to get a ride.
  • 8:30 p.m. Luggage and people cram into a van, truck, car, and taxi , and we head off to El Hogar. 
  • 9:00 p.m. We arrive at the orphanage, but the boys are already asleep. 
  • 9:15 p.m. Dona Claudia meets with us to talk about the ground rules and chores at the orphanage. 
  • 10:00 p.m. After taking our bags to the classrooms where we will be sleeping, we move all the desks to one side of the wall and set up our mats on the floor. 
  • 11:00 p.m. Lights out. Everyone's asleep.

  • Lining Up

    The bell rings out loud and the boys rush in front of the cafeteria to line up. They each put their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them, making five rows, each classified by grade. The smaller boys are called cachoros, meaning cubs. The second group is called tigres, tigers; the third, leones, lions; and the oldest group, aguilas, eagles. There is a fifth row for those boys who misbehave, which lines up perpendicular to the other four rows. They are called the castigados, the punished ones. (These boys are disciplined well. The directora told us that they have about eighty-two boys to a staff of eight and so must be strict with them.) We introduce ourselves and then the children introduce themselves to us, and then the volunteers make a line too. As soon as each row is properly lined up it is allowed to go into the cafeteria. As we enter, we see the boys lined up next to a door so that they can wash their hands and mouths before eating, then they sit down on a long bench in front of their table. After they eat, they get dressed in their uniforms for school. They comb their hair, tuck in their shirts, and form a line again, this time to sing their national anthem. The teachers give them the daily news and once dismissed, they run off to their classrooms.

    Eating with the children

    There are six long tables and a sink in the room. The food is already served on plastic color coded plates. Five colors, one for each boys' group and a fifth for the volunteers. We also have our own table but there are more volunteers than space and some of us get to sit with the boys. Our breakfast is scrambled eggs with frijoles and white cheese. To drink, they give all of us coffee, even the boys. For lunch,they serve us rice with beef in tomato sauce. After a long day's work, we all swallow the food down, appeasing our hunger. Another breakfast treat we had on a different day was arroz y leche, rice and milk. A type of hot cereal we weren't used to but tried anyway. Considering that it would be the only meal we would have for the rest of the day, there was only two choices, either eat something you might not like, or, starve until lunch and hope what they serve then tastes better. The majority of us ate.

    Washing dishes

    After we finish eating, we pick up our plates and take them to the sink. The castigados are assigned the job to collect all the plates and are required to wash them. We ask permission to help join the boys wash about a hundred plates, cups, and forks. Their sponges are actually green scoring pads and they have solid soap that they put in a container filled with some water. We later encounter a problem with the draining system. The sink starts to clog up and we try to take the garbage out, but we can't find the drain. We finally find it in the center of the sink, take out all of the garbage clogging it, and continue washing. We hand dry the dishes with a towel and arrange on the counter, color coded. 

    Cleaning up 

    After every meal, the castigados stay behind and clean up the cafeteria. They wipe down the tables, sweep the floor, and place the benches on the table. This is to reduce the amount of insects roaming around the room. We are allowed to help them and so take the small brooms and start sweeping under the tables. All the garbage is swept together and brushed outside. Each one of us takes a bench, flips it upside down and places it on the table. With so many of us helping, this only takes fifteen minutes.

    Chores--in El Hogar

    Some of the work we did in El Hogar was to sew missing buttons on the boys' shirt and mend their pants. They needed more butons than they had, so we had to remove them from old shirts to place them onto newer ones. They also need more needles and thread. We plan to send them these supplies when we get back.

    Another big job we had to do was work in the storage room, a shack full of donated clothes that were piled everywhere in the room. These clothes were not organized by size or type and dust would easily piled on top of them. Our job was to sort them and classify them by age and season on each shelf. As we found more useful packages, we also found useless things sent to El Hogar. We found typewritters that didn't work, life jackets, winter gloves and hoods, and tons of sweaters. There were so many sweaters and sweatshirts just sitting there uselessly on the floor of the storage area. As the temperature rarely falls below 65 degrees in Honduras, there was no point sorting them. What El Hogar really needs is sheets, pillows, blankets, towels, and belts for the boys' pants. When we get back we will make a wish list and send it to some of the groups and individuals who sponsored us in case they want to send any items down. Wilbert suggested contacting local hotels and asking them if they wanted to donate sheets and towels.

    The Institute

    This is where the older boys who have graduated from the orphanage live. After they complete sixth grade, they are sent to an agricultural school where they learn skills to become formen. After a year of completion, they are then given the option to continute in that school, or go the Institute of Technology, where they learn the trade of welding, electricity, and carpentry for three years. By the age of eighteen, they graduate knowing a trade and are able to find a job. These two schools gear the boys towards an education. They are still orphans, and so live together as a community within the compounds of the school. It is like a boarding school. The teachers are very proud of their students and care for them like their own children.

    Chores--in El Instituto

    We line up outside and get our chores for the day. The director tells us that we will finish painting the building green and off-white and then paint the library. We go to the library and clean out the area that needs to be painted. All the books have to be taken off the bookcase, kept in order, and placed on desks in the center of the room. The bookcase is moved away from the desks and to one side of the room where it will not be in the way. We sweep the entire room and place newspapers everywhere to catch paint drops. Then we wait for the paint to arrive. 

    Half an hour later, the director brings us the paint. 

    We split up into two groups. One stays in the library painting the walls an off-white color, while the second group paints the outside walls. I know the boys are laughing at us trying to paint a building. The work soon becomes really tedious because we continue to repaint the same area over and over again. We have to paint until all the areas look even. Some of us decide to paint the side of the second floor. That's when we look like monkeys holding on to the railing, leaning over the edge so that we can reach. There was a handful of brave people who took ladders and climbed the side of the wall. Neysa decides that she will be on of those brave people and climbs up to paint the higher areas of the building. She shows no fear!

    Playing Games at El Hogar

    After all the chores are done for the day, we go back to El Hogar and are allowed to play with the children. We play tag, airplane, and swings. Then the big excitement begins when a game of soccer is formed. The boys love to play against us. They call themselves the Catrachos and we are the Americanos. Each group has about six people and the rest of us stay around the fence and cheer each other on. The more the game progresses, the more they beat us. Every time they score a point, the whole orphanage starts roaring with cheers. We manage to make at the most two points, but this is compared to their ten points. The best part of the game is when our team decides to cheat by picking up the ball with own hands, grabbing one of the kids away from the ball, or ganging up on them. If anyone would have gotten hurt, it would be us. After a game of soccer, all our players are sore from accidental kicks and crashes into each other, but they would never trade that moment for the world.

    Making Friends

    Making friends at the orphanage is one of the most important jobs we have. After days of spending time with them, we grow attached to them. They give us so much love in return for our friendship. Many of us have been here before and we are still amazed that they remember us. We become their best friends, older brother or sister, or another parental figure. For them, making friends like us is very important becausel it lets them know that even though they might not have any family, there are still people out there who care and believe that they are very special. There is a one year volunteer program, where you can live in the volunteer house for a year and help the orphanage. The only thing that is required of the volunteer is to have money for living expenses and to give a contibution to the orphanage. The only draw back to this program is the difficulty in leaving the kids after living with them for one year. I would be devastated and wouldn't want to leave them.


    A hug is the most important remedy there is for a dreary day. If you're feeling down, all you need is a hug. In Honduras, it is the same. What makes Honduras' hugs more special is that you get them from many loving children at once that hug all day. You can be walking back to the rooms and one of the boys will sneak up behind you and hug you. Or, even better, you will see a hoard of them run straight at you and be toppled over by a stampede of boys. You don't realize how important their affection is to you until you have to finally leave them. They cry in your arms, knowing that they might not be able to see you again. You hug them tight, not wanting to let them go. You wish that you could take them with you, but it is not possible.

    Artwork---at El Hogar

    During one of the days when we were working in the storage room, the laundry room, the library, or outside, we brought sidewalk chalk so that the children could have a fun time with it. What we discovered was a wide variety of imaginative and creative minds. The entire orphanage sidewalk was designed in shapes, characatures, and names that have inspired their imagination. We were amazed to find a lot of designs of our names. It was such a wonderful feeling to know that they thought of us so much.


    Since were were twenty-six volunteers, transportaion was difficult to find. Many times when we had to go somewhere in Tegucigalpa, half of us would go one day and the other half would go the next day. We rode in anything that had wheels. Our first trip was in a bus from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa. That was a comfortable ride. The next time, we rode in a pick-up truck through the city with our hands waiving in the air or holding on to the sides so that we wouldn't fall off. Then, we rode in a van that was stuffy and only two windows could open. Our last ride was in a delivery truck. We were on our way to the agricultural school to meet the boys there. We all piled in the back of the truck and the driver placed an iron gate in the back so that we wouldn't fall out. We looked like a bunch of American cattle for sale. In San Pedro Sula, we always took a taxi to wherever we had to go. Only once did we use a private bus and that was to go to the new place in Puerto Cortez.

    San Pedro Sula

    The city is an interesting place to see. On one side there are green mountains and the other side is filled with many buildings and houses. What surprised me the most was the amount of American businesses located in Honduras. The obvious Burger King and McDonalds arehere, but they also have Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy's, Little Caesar's, Pizza Hut, and Dunkin Doughnuts. American industries have a large hold on the economy here in Honduras. 

    The biggest difference between San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa is the weather. It is so hot in San Pedro Sula that at one point when we were there, it reached the high nineties with humidity on top of that. A second difference is that Tegucigalpa is the political capital of Honduras, but San Pedro Sula is the economic capital of the country. When we are there, we stay in the Hotel Bolivar.

    Nuestras Pequenas Rosas

    We leave the hotel at 8:30 in the morning, arrive at the girls' orphanage at nine, and spend the rest of the day working hard. The directors have finally started to finish the extra building that will be used as a day care center and nursery. Since the area was dirty, they ask us to first clean up all the garbage and then pick up all the rocks and place them at the edge of the property. By the time it turns ten o'clock, we are already sweating like pigs. We are so glad when lunch arrives so that we can finally rest, even though we have taken about five water breaks. After lunch, we are asked to cut the lawn but we have no lawn mower. We have to use machetes to cut the grass, but the machetes are too dull and it takes us a long time to sharpen them. We then proceed to whack the ground and luckily avoid getting hurt. So at the end, we are just cutting grass with a dull knife, trying to look as cool as Crocodile Dundee. The sun is excruciatingly hot and many of us get sunburned. So at two-thirty, we decide to call it quits and go cool down inside. The girls finally come back from school and we spend the rest of the day playing with them.

    At five o'clock we return to the hotel to clean ourselves up, promising to come back in the evening. We come back looking and smelling cleaner and we have a pizza party. The girls eat about five slices each and drink about three cups of soda. We had to buy a lot of food to have enough for fifty girls.

    Although we call Las Rosas an orphanage, it really isn't. The majority of these girls have parents or some sort of relative. They are removed from their families because of some sort of abuse or because their families can not support them economically. Instead of leaving these girls on the streets to become prostitutes, Las Rosas becomes their ward and provides them an education until they are eighteen. The directoras are very proud of their graduating girls, not only because they are graduating from high school, but also because they are also planning on going to college. The directoras never imagined that the girls would be interseted in a higher education.


    A common jobs to have in Honduras is working in a factory or sweatshop for a big foreign company. Honduras has a lot of these companies located around San Pedro Sula in a free trade zone, where they don't have to pay taxes and can pay their employees little money for the hard work that they put into their jobs. There have been lots of stories about these companies in the US media, and we learned that the workers are paid about sixty dollars a month to work in sweatshops making products that will be sold in the US by companies like Nike, Warners, The Gap, Fruit of a Loom, JC Penny, and others. Each company is different, but the employees work approximately twelve hours a day, six days a week. When the holidays roll around, many are expected to work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week until all the requests have been completed and shipped out. 

    The most common mode of transportation used by people who work in the apparel factories is the bicycle. Everyone rides their bicycle to work and then they pile them with the other hundred against the wall. It is the most conveniant and cheapest mode of transportation. Many times, we saw two or three people on one bicycle. As in other Latin American countries, the majority of these workers are women with children, or children themselves. 

    A New Place: La Guarderia in Puerto Cortez

    This year was very exciting because we got to go to a new place. We went to a day care center used mainly by the children of mothers who work in the factories in the free trade zone. They leave their children in the morning before going to work and we got to meet the children later in the day. The daycare center is located five minutes away from the sweatshops and is run by the local government. They charge a mother sixty lempiras a month which is cheaper than the hundred lempiras a week they would pay for a baby sitter at home. We spent the entire day with little babies and children under six years old. 

    Their current building is a run down house, but they are pooling funds together to finish their new day care center which is located a little bit closer to the factories. The companies that run the sweatshops do not want to take any responsibility for the children of their workers and have avoided talking about the issue, so the people who run the day care center had to look for funds elsewhere. They have asked for funds from the local government, and have been given a grant. It was sad to see the dismal state of the center. They need new furniture, and more supplies of diapers, blankets, towels, and clothes. They didn't have enough plates to feed the children and they had to wash all the clothes by hand. Spending an entire day with these children made it hard for us to leave at the end. We were crying along with them when we left.

    Having Fun

    Even though our stay in Honduras was a lot of hard work and little sleep, we still had time to have fun. Some of us got a chance to ride a horse, others went to the beach for an hour, and some of us had the opportunity to jump on a trampoline or die of laughter seeing the other monkies trying to get back up. Those people who didn't do any of these extra activites, still had fun just being with these kids. Ten days with the children was enough to give up a spring break vacation for. I don't think there was anyone on any of our trips who would have wished not to come.

    Volunteers and kids at El Instituto, Tegucigalpa, March 1998
    Neysa & Audeliz still at Drew, but packed and ready to be on our way to Newark Airport, March 13.
    On the way to Tecucigalpa, the weather gets worse and it begins to rain. With visibility at a minimum, the fog engulfs everything and all we can see is the car in front of the bus.

    At El Hogar
    The boys line up by age group, and the straightest line enters the cafeteria first.

    Each group eats from different colored bowls and plates (between posing for pictures with the volunteers).
    Washing dishes--they need to be dried and stacked by color ready for the next meal.

    Drew students join the castigados to sweep and mop the floors of the cafeteria.

    Storage room at El Hogar.

    At El Instituto

    Preparing to paint the library

    Painting the library and the outside of the building -- as well as we could . . .
    . . . Neysa proves her bravery! 

    Back at El Hogar

    We played soccer (of course)
    Honduras hugs are the best hugs in the world because they take you by surprise and they always come from the heart to the heart.

    The children's artwork.

    Herded like cattle (on the way to work)
    Leaving Tegucigalpa for San Pedro Sula 

    At Las Rosas

    Human lawn mowers . . .

    Party, Pizza Party
    Cleaning up in the backyard of Las Rosas.

    At Puerto Cortez

    Sweatshops outside Puerto Cortez.
    At the day care center in Puerto Cortez (This is me, Yamileth, by the way). 

    Some well earned rest & relaxation!

    Even brave girls get to have fun . . . 

    . . . in the sun, on the beach . . .

    . . . or jumping on a trampoline