There is so much I want to tell you about. It's getting harder to pick through everything that has happened in the last few weeks and choose what to say. The last time I wrote, I don't think we had started the survey work yet for the scholarship program that the parish has for school kids. I'll describe it in detail in this letter. Honduras has a 'free' public school system, but many families cannot afford the costs of uniforms, backpacks, notebooks, pencils, etc. So, among other social projects, the Salesians of Don Juan Bosco provide small scholarships for those who are most needy and who have good enough grades. There are about 300 scholarship recipients, scattered throughout the parrish in about 10 colonias within what I would guess to be a 10 mile radius from the center offices where the five priests also live. It is a tough task to gauge the neediness of a child. When Milton (he signs his name "1,000-ton" because 'mil' is 1,000 in Spanish :) and I interview people for the socio-economic survey, we walk to each child's house to see what it is like. "Walk" might be putting it lightly. In some colonias, like Campo Cielo, climb, crawl, and slide are more like it. In most zones we have a contact to show us around (and, we hope, to feed us lunch!). In Campo Cielo, three nuns live together in a calm little oasis of a house. One, whose nun-name is "Maria de Jesus de la Sangrada Corazon," was our contact in Campo Cielo. Everyone just calls her the Padrina. She is quite the babe, if you're allowed to say that about a nun. Padrina, thought probably in her late 50s, has the fitness and shape of a 25 year old woman. They say that she bathes in just her underwear in a cascade nearby and it is quite the scandal. I enjoyed spending two days hiking Campo Cielo with her. She organizes women's groups, visits families, helps with Canadian short-term groups at the clinic, and gives talks on health and nutrition, as many children are malnourished here. Padrina is from a poor family and only was educated up until 4th grade. She shared with us how important the scholarship program is to her. We have visited at least 150 houses so far for the survey. One of the questions is about their monthly salary. Most in Comayaguela make minimum wage or less, that is, about $125- $135 U.S. dollars a month. Many survive on about a dollar a day. Typical jobs for women include making and vending tortillas in their home or selling diced green mangos or papaya. Men are less likely to be living with their child. Some are brick layers or vendors in the bustling market by the Choluteca River. I came up with a crude scale to help our judgements of neediness. 1 and 10 are actual examples of houses we visited, and the discrepancy is jolting. Especially when they live as neighbors. 1: The child lives with her old grandmother. Her mother emigrated, or died trying, and the dad is as good as dead. The grandma makes tortillas over an open fire to sell. House of pieces of wood, tin, no running water or electricity, dirt floor, one room dimensions 13x5 (who knows how or where they sleep?).
Pause: I just thought of an example most of you may have seen. Remember little Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? The one room house where he lived with both sets of grandparents crammed in one bed is the closest image I can provide of what most houses are like in Comayaguela.
Back to the scale. 10: Mom is a school teacher, they live with her husband and in-laws. House of painted concrete, at least 3 rooms, fridge, TV, DVDs, microwave, toys, and a fat dog. Perro gordo = mucho pisto $. 10s don't get the scholarship. I think I am a 10+. We actually have 2 fat dogs and a fat cat at home. We even buy food for our dogs. Because of this, among other things, my family would be rich here.
Last week we finished the scholarship surveys. I have pretty much no idea what's coming next. I might sit in the office and chat with coworkers for a month. There is talk of having me help with tattoo removal on Saturdays, which would be interesting. Ex-gang members get their tattoos seared off with some kind of infra-red ray at a clinic run by the parrish. They also visit prisons to do tattoo removal there. Pray for contentment and a servant's attitude in whatever I end up doing.
Another prayer request: Leyla asked me if I would like to be the god-mother of Arryana at her baptism (would I like it?!) I love this little girl, and want very much to be her godmother, formally connected to the family and responsible for supporting her as she grows up in Christ. Problem is, godparents must be Catholics. Leyla has asked Padre Peppe for special permission and he is considering it right now. It's doubtful, but please pray that he makes an exception in this case! I thank God for all of you and am praying for you, let me know how you're doing and the Happenings in your life.