Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series about a recent mission trip that staff reporter Amy Banton attended with a group from St. John's United Methodist Church through the Honduras Agape Foundation. Today's story will focus on the local missionaries' trip to Texoxingales, located in the mountains of the Quimistan Valley.
To get to Texoxingales, tight winding roads wrapping up a mountain have to be taken.
The two vehicles carrying the 15 Aiken missionaries had to cross rivers without bridges and dodge other modes of transportation – whether it be a horse or other cars – that were attempting to squeeze past.
The missionaries took in the breathtaking scenery around them during the bumpy road trip as they spotted a single waterfall rolling down a mountain wall, bright yellow flowered trees dotting the deep green hills and birds of many colors zipping overhead.
Finally, about an hour later, the team was in Texoxingales, also known as Teo, and ready to get to work.
The main purpose of the trip to Teo was to assist in the construction of another classroom for its school of approximately 130 students. Currently, the school has three classrooms – the kindergarten class is held in the kitchen, but once the new building is complete, the children can move out of the incommodious, hot structure.
Ana Damaris Rodas Rosa, 15, has been a volunteer kindergarten teacher for three years. She said teaching in those conditions can be difficult.
“It's not very good right now,” Ana said. “I'm really doing it for the kids, but I don't feel comfortable where I'm at.”
Ana said the additional classroom will give her more room to teach, and she's grateful to see construction progressing.
The team helped level the ground by hand with shovels and picks. They carried over cinder blocks, moved dirt and hand-mixed cement. Children stood in the doorways of the already existing classrooms and curiously watched the new portion of their school slowly rise from the ground.
Later, the missionaries played with the children for several hours. Laughter echoed throughout the village as the children jumped rope, tossed tennis balls, blew bubbles and chased frisbees.
“It's amazing the happiness the children feel when they know you are coming,” said teacher Elda Damary Mejia.
All of the teachers were very grateful for the work that was done by the missionaries.
“Thank you. Because you are here, being with us, we want you to know that we love you very much despite it's difficult to communicate,” said teacher Yenni Delcid with the assistance of a translator.
“I know that you are here because Jesus sent you. This school is very blessed for you being here.”
Ana is very young, but has accomplished so much at the age of 15 by already impacting other young lives in her small, mountain town by volunteering her time to teach.
She also has advocated a computer lab at the Teo public school so the children can be prepared to work in a technologically advanced world, and she has gained the attention of those who can maybe make that happen.
Ana wants to teach as a profession, but is currently unable to continue the education that's required to accomplish that goal. She's attending classes on the weekends through an offshoot program of the Agape Promises, but to become a teacher, Ana must go to normal weekday classes.
“If I have the financial help and with the help of God, I will (become a teacher,)” Ana said.
Ana lived in a big city before moving to Teo and said that whenever she saw a professional teacher, she felt the desire to be just like them.
As Ana continues to work toward her goal, she said the Foundation and her faith in God will keep her going.
“Never say just because I was born in a small town, I will live here; I will die here,” Ana said. “I want to go out and do more.”
End of a trip, but not the journey
This series was a small snapshot of the vast amount of work that the Honduras Agape Foundation has accomplished in the Quimistan Valley over the years.
Starting off as a mission ministry of South Aiken Presbyterian Church to respond to Hurricane Mitch in 1999, the Foundation went from reconstructing homes to rebuilding lives. Over the years, several different churches have joined the mission.
The Foundation's Administrative Assistant Maynor Castillo said many people have been touched by the nonprofit as they are given the tools or knowledge to help themselves. For example, Castillo said that through the Foundation's medical outreach efforts, teams began educating those living in the small villages of the importance of certain screenings, such as Pap smear testing. The women of those villages were a bit nervous about the idea, but underwent the testing. One woman's results came back positive and she received treatment. That test saved her life, and more women are seeking those screenings without hesitation.
Castillo said the Foundation also is supporting the construction of a water storage tank for another mountain village that depends on a small creek, and when it dries up, residents have to travel several miles to find more water. That water tank will provide for approximately 20 homes.
“It's reaching so many communities, so many families,” Castillo said about the Foundation's efforts.
Translator Daniel Reyes, who has helped Foundation members and Honduras locals communicate for approximately six years, said that working with the nonprofit has been an inspiring experience. He's witnessed both happy and heartbreaking moments throughout his travels of the Quimistan Valley and the Foundation has encouraged him to do what he can to positively impact his own community.
“I thought if a group of Americans can come from over there and help, I can do the same here,” Reyes said. “It just kind of moves you.”
For more information about the Foundation, visit www.hondurasagape.com.
• Amy Banton is the city beat reporter and has been with the Aiken Standard since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va., and a graduate of Randolph Macon Woman's College.