What Fuels You? Discovering the Resilience of Children in Honduras

By Meaghan Ryan, Class of 2008
 
Meaghan and Kenia, a student in her first preschool class

Meaghan and Kenia, a student in her first preschool class

As I neared the end of my college career it seemed like the only question people were interested in asking me was, “What do you want to do with your life?” And, every time those words would pour out of someone’s mouth I would inwardly cringe and simultaneously feel a small pang of panic. Inside, I would be repeating the question to myself ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ over and over again, drawing a blank. I was only 22.  What did I know about the world or myself? Up until that point, I had been in school my whole life, learning about the world from text and media. And sure, I had a great education, I was intelligent and I knew what I liked but for me, that wasn’t a recipe to choose a career path.

The question began to be asked more and more frequently as my last semester loomed. Instead of giving an awkward blank look to whoever was interrogating me, I decided I should begin researching my options so I could at least appear more in-the-know, and perhaps find something I would actually enjoy doing in the future.

I decided I had three options:

1. To continue my schooling in some field of Psychology

2. To start working…at something…

3. TBA

Continuing my education seemed daunting at the time, especially since I did not feel strongly about what field I wanted to enter. It also seemed like a silly thing to do when I had little to no real life experience. So, I decided to put formal education on the backburner for the time being and moved on to a job search. Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested in much of what I saw and was laden with doubts about how successful I could be in a given career. I took a break and regrouped. I decided that instead of throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck, I would instead make a list. I asked myself a simple question ‘what fuels me?’ To me this question translates as: What am I passionate about? What makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning? What fills me with happiness, a feeling of purpose and self-worth?

Service, Learning and Travel

That list ended up being long but included what I narrowed down to be the three best attributes:  service, learning and travel. It seemed like my whole life I  dreamt of serving internationally, of living in a different culture and speaking another language. In that moment,  I realized nothing was holding me back from attaining that dream and it was probably the only time in my life I would have the freedom to pursue it. So I did.

I graduated from college in May of 2012.  One month later, I boarded a plane to San Pedro Sula, Honduras – whose claim to fame is being the world’s most murderous city. Suffice to say that my family was not overjoyed at my decision. But, my final destination lay two hours outside of the city in the picturesque landscape of rural Santa Barbara – an orphanage named Amigos de Jesus.

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Volunteers Alan, Meaghan and Jose with students

After a 2.5 hour incredibly uncomfortable bus ride during which my peer volunteers and I were packed in like sardines with our suitcases, we pulled up to the gates of the orphanage. The whole day leading up to that moment had been filled with nervousness of the unknown, doubts that I had made the right choice and sadness at leaving my family. I felt like an emotional train wreck. I looked up and saw that the gate had been decorated  for us with signs of welcome and balloons. Behind those decorations stood 66 dark haired boys and one little girl. All of them had huge smiles spreading across their faces as we climbed out of the van. When they opened the gates, the kids erupted in cheers and the younger children ran forward to hug us and ask questions. Como se llama? De donde es? I picked up one of the younger boys. He gave me a big hug and I studied his face while he looked at mine with his inquisitive brown eyes.

They were perfect, all of them. The doubts I had been plagued with all day disappeared and excitement took over. In that moment, I knew I was in the right place at the right time for the right reasons and about to embark on a great adventure.

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Group photo of staff and students at Cultural Night

My time at Amigos de Jesus ended up spanning 21 months. My main jobs over the two years included being a preschool teacher, resident photographer, social media updater as well as volunteer coordinator. My days consisted of working in the mornings and afternoons and then playing with the kids until about 8pm at night when they would go to bed. It was exhausting work at times, but it was mostly fun and rewarding. I loved getting the chance to see our children succeed, to see the sparkle in their eye when they finally tackled a word they couldn’t read or when they finally made a good friend.

In hindsight, my experience is a rush of memories both good and bad. I realize now that it was a necessary journey in getting better acquainted with myself.  It also made me realize where my passions lay and helped me see the world with a less filtered lens. The  experience  empowered me, humbled me and sometimes harshly taught me about reality.

During the time I was in Honduras, I encountered many injustices. I experienced the heartache of one of our children suddenly dying, witnessed children starving in the streets, young women selling themselves on corners and a murdered man strewn on the side of the road while people went about their daily lives.

These things however, are not what is most important.

Yes, they are important to have seen –  they drive me to want to help make this world a better place. But they do not empower me, they do not give me hope. What does give me hope and ignites a fire in my heart is the resiliency of our children, the children who have experienced so much heartache, pain and fear that one would not believe they could recover.

But they do.

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Kelita a few weeks after arriving at the orphanage

It is this resiliency that fuels me. To know that unconditional love and unfailing support have a transformative power fuels me. It pushes me to make better choices, to try to be a better neighbor and to work for and with others in a better manner. Our children taught me to love, they taught me to forgive because they have forgiven and they taught me that the history of a person does not define them. They also taught me to take the opportunities I have and to use them.

It is easy to go through the motions of life – go to school, get a job and do everything society has deemed normal on the path of life. But I encourage you to see the world, to make your own inferences and to find out what fuels you.

The best adventures, in my opinion, are the ones that challenge us, the ones that teach us more about ourselves and the world around us than we could ever learn from a book. They make us uncomfortable but they make us feel alive and if we are lucky, they make us happy.

So, what fuels you?

                                                                            To learn more about Meghan Ryan’s service and adventures, check out her blog  My Adventure in Honduras
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