Q&A: Senior takes volunteer trip to Honduras to visit sponsored child and elder

(Photo used by permission of Schmidt)
During a trip to a water park, senior Anny Schmidt (last on the right) sat with her sponsored child’s family, her father, William (third from the left), and his sponsored elder’s family. Doña Christina, the wife of the founder of Unbound, is in the blue shirt in the center.

Senior Anny Schmidt and her father William went to Honduras from June 17-25 for a volunteer trip called Project Santa Rosa run by the non-profit Unbound. Schmidt visited San Pedro Sula, El Progreso, Santa Rosa de Copan (where the project was based), Dulce Nombre, San Jose, Lepaera, El Barrio, El Yate, La Entrada and Florida de Copan.

Q: With whom did you go?

A: We went with an organization called Unbound, which we’ve been with for 11 years. There were at least 20 other people, not including the translators and guides.

Q: What is Unbound?

A: A non-profit group that helps kids and the elderly. (We sponsor one child and one elderly person).  It was started by a few Catholic brothers in 1981, but it’s not religiously affiliated. They operate in 20 countries and sponsor impoverished people (for $36 a month) in other countries. They let you go out and visit your child, and you can write letters to them, and (Unbound) will translate them for you.

We’ve been sponsoring a 19-year-old girl, Fatima Sari Arita, for 11 years. We wanted to see (her), but while we were there, she was in the hospital delivering her second baby. I chose a new 4-year-old girl, Sinthia Yamileth Rodriguez Henriquez, to sponsor while I was there because (Fatima) left the program.

Q: What is Project Santa Rosa?

A: It’s an Unbound project in Honduras. Unbound books transportation from the airport in Honduras, hotels, and visits to each sponsored child or elderly person, and to the communities. Food is also included.

They also arrange lots of special things for the kids. Unbound gives parties for the kids on their birthdays, and social workers check in with each sponsored person once a month. Unbound delivers the letters that we send to our sponsored people, though the letters have to go through the U.S. office, which is located in Kansas, and then through translators before it gets to the sponsored person. It takes nearly three months to send a letter.

Q: How did you find out about this program?

A: We found out about Unbound through our church about 11 years ago, and my dad wanted to check it out. I found a girl a little older than me that I wanted to sponsor, which is how we started in the program.  

(Photo used by permission of Schmidt)
On Senior Anny Schmidt’s first day in Santa Rosa, a welcoming party was thrown for the volunteers.

Q: Where did you arrive?

A: We flew into San Pedro Sula, and I was freaking out because everyone had giant guns. Mostly it was police officers and maybe some other people. I couldn’t tell. They were on every street corner and everywhere you looked.

Then we drove from there to Santa Rosa (where) the scenery was very beautiful, and went to El Cerrito Park, where the welcoming party was. When we got to the village, the arrival ceremony was great. Everyone was very happy. (Each) of the sponsored children had a balloon, and there were a bunch of different stations — with dancing, food and drawing materials for the kids.

After lunch, we rode on the back of a truck to get to where our sponsored child lived. (Their home is) within the subproject of Santa Rosa, so within a two-hour radius of the city.

Q: What was it like meeting the child you support?

A: We met my new sponsored child at her house first, and we met my dad’s sponsored elder later.

(Our group) went up, and we saw this big archway, like at a wedding. On the floor, there was a cover of pine needles.

The little girl, Sinthia, was really shy but very cute. She lives with her parents, brother and great-grandmother. Her house had about five people living in it, but it was smaller than (librarian) Ms. Melinson’s office. We went in their house, and there was a tiny side room and dirt floors.

I’m good at Spanish, so I could talk to them, but I had some trouble understanding them. It was a little awkward because she was so shy. It was hard to talk to the people we met, because what do we talk about?

We gave Sinthia some gifts a fellow sponsor had, like a coloring book. We even got her to smile (in) the end, which was nice.

(Photo used by permission of Schmidt)
Senior Anny Schmidt dances with a sponsored child during the welcoming party on her first day.

Q: What did Honduras look like?

A: A lot of roads are in bad condition there, and a lot of the time I thought ‘Is this really a road? Are we really going on this path?’ and then

we would turn on to something even worse.

There were lots of dogs everywhere. I don’t think they belonged to anyone. There were coffee beans (growing) everywhere.

(However), I don’t think I saw a homeless person while I was there. Everyone at least had a (home) they went to at night.

Even though it was so different, it almost reminded me of San Francisco with all of the houses stacked on top of each other.

Q: Did you meet anyone besides your sponsored child?

A: We rode in the back of the truck for about two hours to see some other sponsored children.

One of the girls was turning 12, so she would be going to high school. The closest school was two hours away via truck, but she would have to walk. They were trying to find another school nearby, but there just wasn’t one.

That afternoon, my dad and I went to visit his sponsored elderly person, Maria Ines Tabora, so we went up to the lady’s house a half hour out of the city.

Her house had one room, with towels or curtains up everywhere. It was made of dirt and built by her parents a long time ago.

The lady used to work with fireworks, so her hearing was damaged, and our translator had to yell into her ear.

We also found out that she had just (bought) a bed, but that rain would get through the roof and make her bed wet and cold.

(Later) in San Jose, I was hugged over and over by these elderly people and children outside a church. A lot of the time the people were crying. It was incredible. I think everyone kept hugging us because they saw us as their heroes. The motto of our trip was “You Are Our Heroes.”

(Photo used by permission of Schmidt)
Senior Anny Schmidt, second from the right, with a group of Unbound volunteers getting ready to go on a home visit to some sponsored families. It was Schmidt’s first time riding in the back of the truck.

All you’re doing is visiting them. It doesn’t feel like much, but it clearly meant something to them. The kids just wanted to hug us and play with us and didn’t want us to leave when we got on the bus.

Q: Did you do any other fun things with your child?

A: One day, everyone went to a water park. Everyone was assigned a translator and a table to sit at. We sat at the same table as the wife (Doña Christina) of the founder of Unbound.

My dad’s elderly lady (Maria) was there, and the girl I am sponsoring (Sinthia) was there too.

We got a place mat from Sinthia’s mother with our names on it. I don’t know how she was able to make it so fast — she had only met us two days ago — but it was very beautiful.

We went on the water slides. Sinthia really loved that. We played a little bit of soccer, which was really fun until this adorable little 5-year-old boy, whose soccer ball we were playing with, took the ball and ran away with it. They were really good at soccer too.

Dinner was also a talent show, so I read a poem in Spanish. I was really worried I’d mispronounce something.

That was the last time we’d see our sponsored people, so we had to say goodbye. It was kind of sad.

Q: Did you do any sightseeing?

A: We stopped at the Copan Ruins in El Puente Archaeological Park. There were around 50 people there to greet us and hug us.

We walked to the top of the ruins and took some pictures with some girls in pretty dresses.

There were some guards there, which made me a little nervous, because they had giant guns.

There weren’t any “Do Not Enter” or “Restricted Area” signs like in the U.S.; we could go wherever we wanted in the ruins. It was probably pretty dangerous, but no one got hurt.

Then we drove back to El Progreso. It was a nice drive, but I was sad to leave the mountains because they were so beautiful.

(Photo used by permission of Schmidt)
While riding in the back of a truck, senior Anny Schmidt saw this view from the highway.

Q: Was there any interesting food? What are Honduran dishes like?

A: Plantains were in almost every meal. They looked like dried bananas. They also offered us a lot of coffee, but I don’t drink coffee. We also had a lot of beans and a lot of beef. We had some fresh mangos, too, and they were really good.

Q: Had you been to Honduras before?

A: No, I hadn’t, (but) my dad had.  This was my first time in Central America.

Q: Did anything unexpected happen?

A: I would say that none of us were ready to experience that much love and gratitude. The schedule said we were going to visit these communities, (but) I thought we were just going to be walking around.

These people who had almost nothing were so happy to show us what they did have. Nothing could have prepared us for how happy those crowds were. It was really unforgettable, even though we all got a lot of mosquito bites.

Q: How did you feel during the trip?

A: I think I changed a lot over the trip. At the beginning, I was really cynical and scowling all the time. I didn’t want to be there and (was) kind of scared of all the guns. By the end, though, it was worth it, and I really loved it.

I thought I would be relieved that the trip was over, but I wasn’t. I was kind of sad that we had to go.

By Sonja Hansen and Mac Scott

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