It's been four days since I landed back in the US from my trip to Honduras with the Retail Orphan Initiative (ROI). In some ways, the trip was what I expected -- a high school where orphans are getting the best education available in Honduras (in large part, thanks to Lifesong and the Retail Orphan Initiative) and discussions about what we can continue to do to help the school and the students.
But in many more ways, it was totally not what I expected. The hope, the determination to make a life better for themselves than what they previously thought possible, and the gratitude from the students for our visit was astounding. On the third day, we held a panel of "executives" - myself, Vicki Cantrell from NRF, David Dorf from Oracle and Jeff Roster from Gartner - for the whole school to talk about the "real world" after school including networking, interviewing, the importance of integrity and reputation. The attention, the eagerness to learn, and the detailed questions that the students asked was surprising and something that I'm sure we wouldn't normally see from most US high school students. We tend to take for granted that we'll graduate, get a job, and make a good life for ourselves. NONE of this is taken for granted by the students at Plan Escalon.
It was also amazing to see how much the students supported each other and the close emotional bonds that they have forged. Students helping each other study, working hard on talking to us in English as best they could, holding each other as some of them shared the stories of the heartbreak and sometimes abuse they experienced before Plan Escalon and simply holding hands as they walked from class to class. How many times do we see students here holding hands and comfortable in expressing their bond together?
I was lucky enough to have made the trip with my 14-year old son Jake (who became a little bit of a star for his Spanish ability in helping all the US teenagers communicate with the Plan Escalon students) and two other SAP colleagues. The attitude of the students at Plan Escalon was not lost on my son and I know it made him realize how truly very blessed he is and planted a seed that he needed to figure out ways to raise awareness and help the children of Honduras also.
As amazing as the two days at the school were when we first arrived, it was nothing to prepare me for what we saw in the two mountain villages we visited. The lack of even the very basic needs of food, good shelter and clothing was heartbreaking. And yet the children and mothers were so polite and gracious in their acceptance of our help. When we brought out a bag of candy, numerous children would swarm us, but very patiently hold up their hands -- no pushing, no shoving, just grateful. A stark contrast to the pushing and shoving we would experience on Black Thursday for a short supply toy that is in much more supply than the rare candy that these children have received. And watching them express simple and genuine joy at learning to throw one of the frisbees we brought or in learning to blow bubbles.
Through a generous donation from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I was able to bring 200 books over to the villages. We also brought some stuffed animals. I had heard that the children cherished a book -- most of whom did not own one -- but I was not prepared for the depth of gratitude in their eyes or how they clutched the books close to their chest. Or to see the older siblings holding hands with their younger brother or sister and helping them to stand in line and get what they could as well. Or the uplifting feeling of watching their genuine love and caring for each other. The simple joys, the humble gratitude, the depth of expression in their eyes just overwhelmed my senses.
But the most heartbreaking of it all was not just the children asking for a book or one of the few stuffed animals we brought, but the mothers asking on behalf of their young children. Being a mother, I am all too aware that our basic instinct is to do the very best we can for our children and to provide them with all they need. To have to tell a mom that we didn't have any more to give out was grief-filled for me. I made a promise to myself that there would be another visit with even more books and toys to give out the next time around.
When I arrived back in the US four days ago, I was also grateful to be home, in my familiar surroundings and the comforts I’ve become used to. But I also brought with me a sense of guilt at the abundance we have. Just the act of putting lotion on my hands my first day back was an emotional experience as I realized that this luxury is not one that any of the families I met has ever experienced. I also brought back with me respect for the mothers and the children we met, their love and caring for each other was deep and appreciative, they are happy despite the lack of the basics we come to expect, they are hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day and for the children at Plan Escalon they’re working to make that happen.
Take a look around you, right now. Realize how blessed you are, don't take anything for granted, and reach down and figure out how you can make a difference to those less blessed than you. For me, I will go back to continue to help.