by Kirsten Matsumoto
I have recently returned from two months working at Our Little Roses Ministries (OLR) which encompasses the Home for Girls and Holy Family Bilingual School (HFBS) which provides education to the girls and surrounding community. With this update, I want to let you know about my recent work there.
The eight weeks I was in Honduras were joyful yet challenging. Being a part of the OLR and HFBS staff is such a privilege and my work with the girls is always fulfilling. Nevertheless, there are inevitable surprises and hurdles in maintaining a thriving community for 65 girls. Truly, there is never a dull moment!
It would be a monumental task to encapsulate my experiences in Honduras. I will name just a couple of routine events here. For instance, it is a specific honor seeing young women, who I have known for years, graduate from our program and set out on their own. On this visit, there were three occasions when we embraced these successful “roses” with prayers, tears, and love before they left the home. During the same time frame we welcomed three new girls into the fold, all under the age of three (one of whom was born during the pandemic and most likely thinks all adults wear masks all the time – that’s just what grown-ups look like). It was so sweet to listen to resident girls take their new “sisters” under their wing. The seasoned veterans all wanted to show the babies their tricks, whether or not the new recruits were interested.
While I provided my usual services on the administration team, this trip was also significantly different. It was the first time I had been back since March, when Covid touched every corner of the world. A country struggling with a pandemic, staff shortages, and safety protocols at the home and school meant that everything I did seemed to be twice as hard and take twice as long. I was on lockdown the entire time, and although I could see the distant mountains from my building, I could not venture beyond the gated driveway.
By late October, I was ready to come home – even though it is always hard to leave. I am aware that my coming and going can be stressful for girls who may have had traumatic experiences with abandonment. Therefore, I do my best to prepare the girls by telling them that I will return. This time, like always, on the night before my departure from San Pedro Sula, I had a chat with the younger ones. We looked up at the moon and discussed with amazement that, even though we were about to be so far away from each other, we would all be looking at the same moon until we would be reunited in a few months.
The next day, I said good-bye to the staff, drove to the airport, hopped on a couple of airplanes, and a mere 18 hours later was tucked in my own bed. The end. And this was meant to be the end of my update.
Here is where the update shifts from what I had planned on telling you. Last Monday afternoon, November 2, I received a phone call from a friend in Florida who was concerned about a storm headed toward Honduras. This is how I learned about Hurricane Eta. In the words of the emergency broadcast service provider that went out over Honduras that night, it was expected to be a “monster.”
For the next several days, I would endeavor to find out about the hurricane while at the same time try to protect myself from the onslaught of news about our national 2020 election. While the election was important to me, my priority had shifted in an instant to the wellbeing of my friends and coworkers in Honduras. Avoiding U.S. media sources, I looked to Honduran news and waited to receive word via texts from my acquaintances.
The storm sat on top of San Pedro Sula for four days. Hour by hour and day by day, I got word from my friends. I did what I could to listen to their fears, but mostly I was filled with awe at their resiliency and capacity to confront this new crisis. San Pedro Sula was bombarded with rain, wind, and mudslides. The floods devastated neighborhoods in and around our home and school. If the water reached anyone in a town or suburb, it reached everyone and the whole community was washed away. The airport I had departed from two weeks ago was under water and it still is today.
I learned quickly that the girls were fine, but several staff members lost everything. The floods came so fast that they had only minutes to get up onto their roofs where they waited to be rescued. Even those who live in areas that were not flooded spent hours wondering if they would be safe. In those moments, some colleagues texted me to say that they were cold and scared. The city of San Pedro Sula was without electricity and water for days. I listened to one message from a parent at our school who said that her son had lost all of his textbooks because the parents were more focused on evacuating 60 people in their pick-up truck than saving material goods.
And then… on Saturday, November 7, I began receiving photos of blue skies with the exclamation, “The sun is out!” The people of Honduras were so grateful that this storm had passed. They prepared food for their neighbors, made room in their homes for storm refugees, and began cleaning up their neighborhoods. The student council organized a food and clothing drive. A coworker housed two other families in her small apartment and had to buy 15 water-cooler sized bottles of water per day – at a cost that was a significant portion of her salary. I listened to a message from an acquaintance whose employees had all lost their homes. He said that he was donating some of his own land so that they can rebuild.
The painstaking process of digging out from under the mud has begun. School started up again today. I visited many classes via Zoom and the students told me about their cousins who are now living with them, their uniforms that are being washed, and the lights that are back on. More than one child brought a favorite stuffed animal to show me how it had come through the storm as well. Facebook sites are asking those of us who are warm and dry to donate. And as I write this, a new storm is forming in the region, threatening to make landfall in a few days.
Thinking back to my departure three weeks ago, I feel a little silly that I told the girls that we would all be looking up at the same moon until my return. While technically that is true, it now seems like they are worlds away.
If you would like to help with hurricane recovery efforts, please go to www.ourlittleroses.org.