Humanity and Hope United (H&H) is a nonprofit organization which encourages volunteers’ feet-on-the-ground in remote villages of Honduras to achieve their mission of “working hand-in-hand with people to get clean water, create jobs, and create access to education.” I found out about H&H through a friend from pharmacy school who married the H&H founder; I followed along on social media as their family called for generosity and love to a part of the world where a little bit goes a long way. After chatting with prior volunteers, I decided to join up for their mid-January trip. One impressive aspect of H&H is their ongoing presence within the communities they aim to impact, sending a group in-person at least every eight weeks and often more frequently than that. They are working to build relationships and trust along with farming operations, community centers and access to clean water.
I had constant communication and support from H&H from the time I expressed interest throughout the duration of my trip. They help with packing lists, daily activity expectations and travel arrangements; I just had to book my flight, pack my bag and show up. Everyone flies into San Pedro Sula where we’re greeted by an H&H staff member before ever stepping foot out of the airport. The hotel is about 30 minutes away in Progreso. I never felt unsafe in the country – except maybe the first night when I embarrassingly mistook a firecracker celebration for gunshots outside the hotel, and my new friends will never let me live it down 😊 .
We ended up with a really small group, just 4 ladies, including myself, from different parts of the U.S. We ranged in age from 23-29 and all got along really well. It was interesting to hear what brought each individual to this experience this week and to just get to know each other as friends. We had an incredible group leader, H&H Honduran employee, Daniel, who facilitated meals and adventures for each day. Daniel is great at initiating thoughtful, meaningful conversations and I was very impressed with the way he managed the group; I would not have guessed he was younger than all of us and leading on his own for the very first time!
While we did do some labor type activities – painting the community center in Remolino and digging out a drainage ditch in La Coroza – the more meaningful parts of the trip were the times we sat down face-to-face with women in their homes and expressed interest in them. I thought I was going to show the people of the villages that I cared by working, but I think they felt more cared for when we just listened – about their childhood, about their children, their favorite foods, their love stories, their concerns and their needs. I would say that the trip focuses appropriately on the “humanity” aspect of the organization’s name, and it is so easy for anyone of any ability level to treat another human with kindness and compassion; this trip requires no additional skills.
There are currently 3 villages that H&H serves – La Coroza, Remolino and La Cuchilla – they are all within about 40 minutes’ drive from the hotel in Progreso. We visited each village at least once, where we did home visits to check in with the adults and play around with the kids. The kids are so energetic and cheerful. They are on break from school until the first week of February, so we were able to play, dance and just run wild with them. Their joy is contagious and brought out that inner-child in all of us. There are many single mothers in the communities and they are some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. They do not wallow in self-pity for being left, the sole provider for sometimes a dozen or more kids, rather they lap up any work opportunities the organization provides them and then beg for more (mind you these are dirty, smelly, laborious jobs raising chickens, breeding pigs, etc. but they still jump at the chance to work no matter the task); they love their children fiercely and will do anything in their power to give them a better life. One of the most memorable parts of the trip for me is hugging these women as we left their homes after hearing their stories and trying to hide the tears in my eyes as I told them in my pitiful, broken Spanish “Tu eres una mujer muy fuerte” or “you are a very strong woman.”
H&H has an amazing, resident education coordinator in Honduras, her name is Aminta and she appears to be incredibly effective in her role. She seems to be gentle and patient with the parents, but still compelling about the value of education and the doors it will open for their futures. Aminta is coordinating the furnishing of a teacher for a new school in La Cuchilla as the children currently have to walk about 45 minutes each way to the primary school they attend. So many more children from the villages are attending secondary school thanks to sponsorship and support from H&H. Aminta’s husband, Darwin, also works full time for H&H facilitating the sale of the goods produced in each village. The villagers grow corn, plantains, pineapples, chickens, pigs and sheep thanks to operations set up by H&H. Darwin sources buyers to get the best price on each of these products. I was surprised to learn that the people do not consume any of the products they grow on the H&H maintained businesses (pineapple farm, chicken coop, plantain field, etc.) because they are just that – a business – expected to yield a profit to benefit the whole village while also providing daily labor jobs for the men and women. This means that while the women of La Cuchilla tend to the chicken coop to raise and sell around 1,100 chickens for slaughter every 2 months, they only actually eat chicken or any sort of meat about once per week (if that) since they have no electricity or way to keep food fresh, relying primarily on nonperishable items for their diet. The villagers remain compliant with this structure because they believe in the process, they trust that growing these businesses will better their lives in more ways than they already have.
All of the villages now have a water pump to produce clean water for the residents and La Cuchilla is the only one still lacking electricity though plans are in the works to get them connected. It’s hard to verbalize the level of poverty in which the villagers live, but it’s mostly all they’ve ever known. It’s interesting to hear from the people what they see as their most urgent need, for example, many people in La Cuchilla see a closer primary school as the community’s number one need, while others say electricity is more urgent and still others worry that new houses or more jobs are the most crucial. H&H has to decide, in conjunction with the people, which needs to tackle first and then brainstorm the best way to meet that need before fundraising, then getting to work on it. The whole process is very interesting and meticulously planned out in order to fulfill the H&H mission of creating sustainable change.
H&H also planned some fun activities for our group within the villages, for example, after we walked the pineapple field and saw how the men clean and tend the field with only machetes, we learned how to make pineapple pastelitos which are basically a sweet empanada. We also learned how to make corn tortillas and had a wonderful fried chicken meal prepared for us one day in La Coroza. We were able to visit the Grand Farm for which they have just completed fundraising to secure this large patch of land near La Coroza and ensure continued jobs for that village. Getting to the farm required a horse and buggy to cross the river which was a whole other experience (the men just walk or swim across each day depending on the water level). As previously mentioned, there is a little bit of manual work during the trip and if you have a specific skill to contribute I’m sure it would be welcome; but the primary impact of this trip seems to come from interacting with the Hondurans, loving on them and reminding them that they have value and importance. I would highly encourage anyone considering it to sign up for the trip. It isn’t very expensive and fundraising opportunities are available to help with costs. You’ll meet a bunch of fun people, be surrounded by a beautiful environment, gain perspective on what is really important in life and be filled up emotionally.
As we loaded up in the van and left La Cuchilla on our first day, Daniel told us all “don’t feel guilty for what you have, feel grateful for what you have to share.” In that moment, I said I didn’t feel guilty, I just felt confounded by the circumstances out of our control that led me to my current life vs. them to theirs; but as I return to the States and acclimate back into my regular life, I can’t help but feel burdened with guilt for modern luxuries that I mentally classify as “necessities.” I hope to get back down to Honduras again soon, it’s truly an unforgettable experience.
*A few tips to remember for next time:
- Bring hiking boots if you have them, they make for an easier experience than tennis shoes plus keep ticks off your ankles; and bring a fresh pair of tall socks to wear with them every day (I wore my hiking boots every day and it was never overkill – and I almost didn’t pack them)
- Bring a couple of wash cloths since the hotel only provides one bath towel per person each day and no wash cloths or hand towels
- Bring fresh leggings/pants and sports bras and tops for every day unless you plan to do laundry, you will not be able to re-wear any clothing since it gets drenched in sweat and dirt
- Bring a backpack to keep with you at the villages, carry Benadryl and ibuprofen with you – we had a fire ant allergy issue where backpack Benadryl saved the day!
- Bring and use plenty of bug spray and hand sanitizer
- Learn a few simple Spanish phrases for the kids such as “how old are you?” “what’s your name” etc.
- Bring sunscreen and a hat, the sun is brutal down here!
- Bring some snacks like granola bars just to have on hand
- Check out the coffee shop at the hotel, they have awesome coffee and desserts – I wish I’d known about their chocolate cake when I was craving something sweet on the first night
- Bring some US cash just in case, $50 should be plenty