By Blake Strayhorn, Durham Habitat's Executive Director
“Why not just send the money?” asked my friend Leigh as our Habitat team traveled by bus from Santa Rosa de Copan, a university town in the mountainous Honduran state of Copan, to our build site in the nearby dusty village of El Rosario. Indeed, why not? It’s a good question.
For many on our team, this was the third, fourth or even sixth trip to El Rosario. For Margaret and Miguel Rubiera, trip leaders extraordinaire, it was their 25th trip; it’s very clear their relationships run deep. Even on this, my third trip, the impact of the Rubiera’s leadership is evident. It was great to be back in El Rosario.
For every home Habitat builds and sells in Durham, we ‘tithe’ $4,500 to help fund a home in Honduras. Habitat ‘tithing’ is a key tenet for Habitat affiliates, and Durham, Wake and Orange Habitat affiliates all have a long-standing tithing relationship with Habitat Honduras. And, Habitat Honduras pays it forward by tithing to Habitat Ecuador’s disaster relief efforts.
But what’s the point of sending a team of 19 inexperienced Durhamites to build houses in Honduras?
Maybe it’s getting to know the people, the country, and to build relationships. We met Jose, Merari, Kimberly, Alba and David, the beautiful family who would soon buy the home we helped build. Our team worked hard on Jose and Merari’s home, a 350 sq. ft. 4 room home, and we had fun playing games with Kimberly, David and Alba. We hauled dirt, rock and water, mixed concrete, made rebar forms, laid block walls, and dug a septic pit.
At the end of the day, what did we have to show for our hard work? On one level, we take home sore muscles, blisters, and a sense of accomplishment at building a foundation for a block home and digging an eight-foot deep septic pit.
We also lived our T-shirt tag-line, “Friends Without Borders.” After work hours, we toured a coffee plantation, a home for the elderly, a baby orphanage, and a girl’s home. We visited with each class in the six room school in El Rosario, and we were serenaded by the kindergarten class across the street. We toured a small, local bakery, and a neighborhood farm.
On Sunday, our day off, we met our guides for the day, Jose and Max, who led us on a beautiful, six mile hike to the tiny village of Agua Escondito (Hidden Waters) nestled deep in a remote valley. After four hours of hiking, Jose paused on a ridge high above his village and hollered a loud greeting to alert the town below. The village welcomed our team by firing bottle rockets, and then served us cool drinks and slices of melon at the village community center. Then, our new friends escorted us to the home of Dona Chalia, the matriarch of the village. A very spry 97, Dona Chalia has 14 children and 86 grand and great grandchildren, and many were on hand and helped prepare a feast for our team. What incredible hospitality!
After our last day of work on Friday, we played soccer then shared a meal with our mason friends. The Honduran soccer skills are strong.
Throughout the week we laughed, a lot. We cried. We drank coffee. We chatted with Hondurans we met in the street. We marveled at the joyfulness, the spirit, the strong sense of community of the Honduran people, many of whom live in poverty.
We read the US headlines on the Day Without Immigrants protest and we commented on the irony of reading these headlines while in a foreign country that greeted us with such hospitality and grace everywhere we went.
We began each day with devotions; one of those was Thomas C. Harris’s poem, The Problem. Harris writes,
“Do not come here to fix. The problem is not an adequate house. The problem is not a lack of health care. The problem is not street children or filth or pollution or corruption. The problem is not the country.
The problem is you. The problem is that you have already been given two simple instructions to fix the world: Love God. Love Neighbor. And you just can’t do it. You just won’t do it. The problem is you.
So do not come here to fix with your wealth and energy and good intentions. Do not come here to solve a problem or do a project or complete a mission. You are the problem. You are the project. You are the mission. And it is God who is the problem solver.”
So that’s why I travel to Honduras. Not to fix, but to be fixed. To be friends without borders. To learn better how to love our neighbors, both in Honduras and at home. So that we may help build the beloved community wherever we are.
To learn more or to get involved visit durhamhabitat.org/Honduras.