"Being confronted with children on the streets, begging to survive, I felt a great need to do something, rather than accept this inequality as normal."
Well, my dreams have certainly come true. My most recent adventure was a 2 year volunteering stint in Honduras, Central America. I include ‘Central America’ here because I myself had no idea where ‘Honduras’ was found. I like to think of myself as well-read and geographically minded, but even so, Honduras didn’t register on my visual compass until I ended up in the capital – a name I had never heard of, let alone knew how to pronounce – Tegucigalpa.
So what brought me to Honduras? If you google ‘Honduras,’ you’ll see some pretty gnarly facts around the drug trade, violence and poverty. I only told my family about my trip two weeks before I left, giving them less time to fret, and less time to try and stop me!
I came to Honduras for love. Not for romantic love (which has been the motivation of some of my travel expeditions), but for love of humanity, of children. Finishing my teaching degree in New Zealand I felt a desire to do something important – to do something to help those less fortunate. My dream became more intense after travelling to Vietnam for 3 weeks. Couchsurfing through this beautiful country, I came to know the locals, to hear their stories, to feel their struggle with poverty. I suddenly felt something I hadn’t experienced before – privileged!
Being confronted with children on the streets, begging to survive, I felt a great need to do something, rather than accept this inequality as normal.
Back in New Zealand, with these thoughts and desires swirling around, destiny brought me to a Facebook video of children from NPH Honduras. NPH stands for Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (“Our little brothers and sisters”, in Spanish). Seeing these children – kids who have been abandoned or orphaned in Latin America – I realised this is where my heart was calling me to go.
Looking online I was excited and shocked to find an amazing long-term volunteer programme in 9 different Latino countries, and even a fundraising office in New Zealand! What are the chances!?
So, with great confidence, that this is where I was meant to be, I booked my tickets to that city ‘Teguci-something’…. The rest is history!
My volunteer experience at NPH was the best 2 years of my life. I learnt humility, hard work, perseverance and español! I learnt how to cuddle, to open my heart to others and to never give up. I learnt how to cry and laugh with strangers. To be moved to my core by the pain of others.
How am I supposed to respond when a girl I teach tells me that she was raped by her father… that her father killed her mother in front of her? What does one say? Are there words to comfort, to heal, to fill her broken soul with love and security?
As their English teacher, I was really a mix of everything - an older sister, a mum, a counsellor, a mentor, a friend. At night I would let go of the stress of working with these energetic teenagers, by helping out the babies. Although, let me tell you, helping 13 under 4 year olds eat their dinner, brush their teeth, bathe and go to bed, is a different kind of stress!
But the stress would fade out at night, with the soft lullabies playing in that room full of bunk beds. Over 30 girls and 13 babies drifting off into their dream worlds. All of these children peacefully sleeping. All of these children without parents. All of these children having suffered trauma – separation, loss, abuse. Many to wake up in the night with nightmares, reliving some past violence. I would sit on the rocking chair every night, a young child in my lap, stroking their hair. We would rock back and forth, taking in the sweet Spanish lullabies, and quite often a small tear would roll down my face.
Not a tear of sadness, but one of joy. Pure joy that NPH exists for these children – that it provides them with a loving home, a safe-haven, and a future through education. A tear from my heart, which was overflowing with love for these children, unable to imagine how anyone could have mistreated them in the past.
Volunteering gave me far more than I was ever able to give to those children. It gave me a great sense of gratitude for all that I have. It gave me a huge desire to love more, and to give back.
Loren O'Sullivan is the Director of NPH New Zealand, raising much needed funds for 3,000 beautiful children. For more information about NPH, the volunteer programme, and visitor trips, visit www.nph-nz.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.