TRUJILLO, Honduras – The traditions of Semana Santa in Costa Rica seem to be in flux. Whereas Easter week was once devoted to Catholic ritual, it seems the more popular option has drifted towards a relaxing beachside vacation. During my weekly respite from my duties at The Tico Times, I consider myself lucky to have spent time in a place that offered a combination of both.
For Semana Santa, I went to Honduras. I have friend there who volunteers at an orphanage, known as the Finca del Niño (Farm of the Child). Around a year ago, I was offered a job at The Tico Times shortly after she’d accepted a position to spend 27 months working as a volunteer at the Finca, as the orphanage is called. I promised I’d come visit.
She didn’t believe me. (She later told me she’d given me a 15 percent chance on following through on my word. At least she gave me a double digit confidence rating.)
When I did confirm my travel plans in February, we talked about what I should expect during my four days at the Finca. When she explained the project, I could tell by her words that her first few months there had been challenging. It made sense. A year ago, my friend knew only a few Spanish phrases and, after two months of studying in Guatemala, she arrived at the Finca to serve as a social worker for adolescent boys aged 9-16.
Included in her duties were visits to the families of the children, giving group presentations and updates on the children, and conducting therapeutic sessions with the boys. All were to be done in Spanish.
My friend is one of 18 volunteers at the Finca, all of whom have committed themselves to 27 months of service and a strict adherence to the principles of simple living. They eat only beans and rice on certain nights of the week, sleep atop thin mattresses in rooms for two or three, share communal bathrooms, take cold showers and, because they are essentially the heart of the Finca, cater to the needs of 35 children aged two to18 from sunrise until sundown, and often later. After three nights, I returned home fatigued. It made me wonder how long some of the volunteers sleep when they finally return home after an additional 800 nights or so at the Finca.
Despite the day-to-day challenges, many volunteers demonstrated their commitment to empathy and humility through 40-day Lenten promises leading up to Easter Sunday.
The Finca is rooted in Catholic practice, and many of the volunteers, as if not already giving enough of themselves, chose further personal sacrifices. One second-year volunteer chose to remove the mattress from his bed and sleep on the wooden bed frame for the 40 nights. The other volunteers said they didn’t even know he had elected to do so; he’d never mentioned it.
I found the children of the Finca to be equally impressive – proud and pleasant. Having been a social worker and inner-city school teacher in the United States for four years, I came to Honduras with a set idea of the type of youth I would encounter and of how I would be received. I was laughably mistaken. Never have I been greeted by children so graciously and cordially, with such curiosity or with such genuine warmth. If that sounds exaggerated or gushy, well, on my second day on the job in Chicago I was pushed against a wall by an angry youth. In contrast, during my first day at the Finca, a young man offered to carry my bags to the volunteer house, a 10-year old boy rode across a soccer field on his bicycle to tell me “Bienvenido a La Finca,” and the members of the girls home invited me over for a game of Skip-Bo and homemade baleadas, the traditional Honduran dish they cooked for me.
The children offered more than graciousness. They seemed instilled with a sense of duty and shared commitment to their particular home that I’d never seen in similar settings. Urging children to clean, cook or study can be one of the most laborious, challenging and frustrating elements of working with children. At the Finca, where the children live in six small homes according to age and gender, household chores were completed almost without direction. Shortly after breakfast, the children of each home swept and mopped the concrete floors; cleaned, dried and stored the dishes; and took out the trash. They did so again after lunch and dinner, typically without the need of a reminder.
While I can’t say that my four days at the Finca during Easter week are entirely indicative of day-to-day life there, I do feel I saw enough to tip my hat to a place worthy of recognition for its integrity, its purpose and its soul. All of the children of the Finca either lost their parents, were abandoned or come from homes where parents were incapable of providing adequate care for reasons such as physical ailments or drug addiction.
At the Finca, the children start their days with community prayer at the Catholic chapel on the grounds. They then attend school, also on the Finca site, where they are educated by a staff comprised of volunteers and local Honduran teachers. They spend the afternoons studying, receiving vocational training and engaging in social and recreational activities. It is a life most of them never envisioned, and they appear grateful for what the Finca provides.
Ah yes, I almost forgot. The Finca, which is just a few miles east of the town of Trujillo, sits about 25 meters from the shore of a pristine Caribbean beach. I had a key to the private gate that leads to the beach and had the option of sitting and watching the tide all day if so desired. Though tempted, I didn’t find myself spending too much time emulating Corona beer commercials in a lawn chair underneath an umbrella. It seemed that all that intrigued me was inside the gate, in the humble homes and imperfect conditions of a place known simply as the Farm.
For more information on the Farm of the Child visit www.farmofthechild.org. If you’d like to sponsor a child or support the organization, contact Andrea McMerty-Brummer, Executive Director of Farm of the Child-USA: U.S. tel. (727) 475-4459 or via e-mail at [email protected]. In Honduras, call (504) 442-2512.