While going though old files on my laptop, I found this never-posted post saved in my Mission folder. It’s dated February 17, 2009.
(By the way, I know I never posted about my visit to Honduras in February 2010. I hope that this will be the first in a series of never-posted posts… but I’m not making any promises!)
Útiles and School Shoes
Tuesday I had one of those moments of clarity that reminded me of how much I still have to learn from the poor. I thought I’d share it with all of you because it illustrates the sort of difficulties many of our kids are facing, as well as their inexplicable strength of character.
Two little boys (ages 9 and 11) came to the door this morning asking Carol for útiles (school supplies). Normally, we only give útiles twice a year to the children in our discipleship programs, since we can’t afford to give them out to the entire neighborhood, and the students who attend our classes regularly are generally the more responsible students. For these boys, however, we made an exception. They weren’t on any of our class lists because they live too far away to come to Casa Guadalupe every week. They have nine other siblings (two of their older sisters work as housekeepers in Casa Guadalupe), and their father is an abusive alcoholic. Somehow, they manage not only to pass their classes but to be straight-A students.
They came to us because their mother wasn’t able to purchase anything that they needed for school this year. Their teachers, they said, had warned them that they wouldn’t be allowed to attend classes without the proper uniforms, shoes and supplies, and they had also been asked to pay 500 Lempiras (about $25 USD) each in fees – an outrageous amount for such a poor family.
After Kathy took their measurements for uniforms, I escorted them over to Casa Guadalupe and prepared two grocery bags of school supplies from the leftovers we had in our bodega. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the sort of notebooks they needed. I was trying to figure out what to do about this when another little boy, smaller than the first two, showed up. Our little brother is going to school this year, too, they explained. “Oh. Why didn’t you tell me that before?” I asked. They shrugged. Perhaps they thought that three bags would be too much to ask for, and they had planned on sharing.
Once I’d prepared a bag of útiles for the littlest boy, I was about to usher them out the door when they asked me if I had any school shoes to give them. I told them that I didn’t have a key to the closet where the donated shoes are kept. Could they come back in a few days? Just then, one of the smaller boys bent down and pulled on the toe of his right shoe, revealing a gaping hole that left all of his toes sticking out. He then looked at me and said, wiggling his toes: “Pero mire como ando.” – “But look at how I’ve been going around.” Not complaining, not asking for sympathy, just stating a fact: they’re never going to let me go to school with shoes like this.
Please, God, I prayed. You’ve got to provide shoes for these little ones somehow!
I immediately went to look for Brother Paul, and he informed me that one of the boys’ discipleship groups was using the classroom I needed access to – if the boys could wait an hour, we could try and look for shoes for them then. I asked if they wouldn’t mind waiting an hour, and the oldest quickly answered, “No, no – that’s not a problem at all.”
I was headed to the library to spend some time cataloguing books, so I invited them to come and take a look in the window. “Wow, computers,” one of them breathed. “We’re going to learn how to use computers at school!” another piped up. “Do you guys like going to school?” I asked. The oldest nodded emphatically. I invited them to come back during library hours, and they reminded me that they live too far away to come very often. “Well, come when you can,” I said.
They spent the rest of the hour playing fútbol descalzo (barefoot soccer) in the cancha with a half-deflated volleyball. Once I was finally able to get into the shoe closet, to my great disappointment I saw that there were hardly any shoes left that would be suitable for school. (All the students here, elementary through high school, are required to have black dress shoes and white tennis shoes for school. Naturally, that makes things a bit difficult for families who can’t afford to buy their children any shoes at all.) Brother Paul helped me to find two pairs of black shoes and one pair of tennies that looked like they might fit the boys, and I took them to the boys, hoping beyond hope that they would fit. They hurriedly tried them on, and although all three pairs were a little bit too big, they exclaimed all at once, “They fit! They fit! Thanks!”
Now, what kid in the States would be so excited to get a pair of used school shoes that (a) they didn’t even get to pick out, and (b) didn’t even fit very well?
They promised to come back and visit the library when they could, and I sure hope they do. They’re the reason God brought me to Honduras, and I know He’s using them to teach me how to have a truly grateful heart.