During my time in Honduras, I made many new friends; one that made a great deal of impression on me was Marisol. She is my age and acted as our tour guide through the city of El Progreso during our very first day in the country. We talked about the same things that all 25-year-old girl talks about. Her English was fabulous. She asked me if I like going dancing, in which I responded with an enthusiastic, “absolutely!”. Marisol was excited to show us a bit of El Progreso nightlight that weekend.
The difference between Marisol and my privileged life is that Marisol grew up in an orphanage for 20 years. We visited her childhood home, Copprome. The visit was optional, and I was the only person from the group that visited. I wanted to go, because Marisol had made an impression on me, and I wanted to see where she grew up.
It was a simple, but very nice orphanage. Our group leader, Justin, had been volunteer at this place since his teens. It was incredible to see the kids running up to him with excitement when he showed up. Those kids made me miss my village in Cameroon. So much genuinity, so much love. That aspect has been missing from my life post-Cameroon.
Marisol also was received with lots of love. She is a role model for the girls that are still at the orphanage. Marisol had became an OYE scholar and was in her final week of college classes during our visit. In a country where less than 3% of the population obtain a college degree, her story is truly remarkable.
Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE) provides Honduran youth with stipends that covers extra expenses that families may not otherwise able to afford to send their kids to school. It’s a small grassroots organization that Justin had founded after college. Funding is limited, and thus the number of scholars are limited. Each year during application season, parents line up out the door in hope that their child will get a place. The limited space makes competition incredibly fierce and harder to get a place as an OYE scholar than obtaining admissions at Harvard.
I looked around the orphanage and the kids were simply beautiful. I thought, “What if even 50% of these kids could have the opportunity that Marisol had? How many more kids out there need a similar hand to give them a little nudge towards a better life?” The kids had just gotten back from an event, and they were crowding around a TV. I walked over, The Simpsons was on. In the courtyard, two girls were playing hopscotch. These kids are no different than my little cousins in Taiwan, my village kids in Cameroon, or even the kids going to fancy pre-schools on the Upper East Side, where you have to take tests to get in (tho UES kids are definitely cleaner).
There is so much that can be done with just a little bit of money. I was once again reminded by how wasteful the international aid community can be, especially in light of the Stop Kony campaign. Long-term, sustainable development projects are much less sexy than “let’s get an evil man” campaign, and thus, they are often overlooked. I live a privileged life by the simple fact that I was able to go on this trip and to witness this different way of life. Although I don’t have millions of dollars to support grassroots efforts, for now, I take it upon myself to write about my experiences, and doing what little I can to raise awareness. Stepping out of my comfort zone is always a priceless experience. I hope I can remember to leave my comfort zone behind more often to discover many more inspiring stories like one of Marisol.