We had completed the installation of two filtration systems in the city and on our third day in Honduras, we headed out into the countryside. We pulled up in front of a compound that had a huge courtyard and several cement block buildings, all surrounded by an iron fence topped with razor wire. It looked more like a jail than a child development center but it was designed to keep people out as opposed to imprisoning them. There were no trees or greenery surrounding the property but the view of the mountains was landscaping enough.
An enormous gate swung open before we had unfolded our cramped bodies and climbed out of the truck. Spanish flew between the woman at the gate and our missionary driver as I looked around. Off to the right, by a dirt soccer field, there was a bright blue shack. I could see a man standing by the door, watching us. The missionary told us he had to go visit the landlord before we could begin our work and he set off toward the soccer field and the man beyond it. I was tempted to tell him to leave the truck keys. His visit must have gone well because he quickly returned, carrying a bag of semitas, slightly sweet breakfast buns, a gift to us all.
The courtyard was empty with the exception of two skeletal black dogs, both of them so skittish that they cringed when we started to unload our tools. One of the dogs had bloody ears and the flies were thick on its head. Both dogs had patches of fur missing and you could see the fleas, even from a distance. My smile died. I had to remind myself that these dogs were not pets. They walked to and from the center each day with the cook, her only protection along an isolated stretch of road. They received their lot in life off the floor in the room where the children ate their lunch. My appetite gone, I purposely let big clumps of my bread fall to the courtyard. I really don’t know if I was hoping a dog or a child would find them.
Wooden shutters had been pushed back from the windows of the buildings, the only light source in the rooms. There were no screens or glass in the windows, no electric for lamps. As I carried PVC pipe toward the kitchen, where our water filtration system would be installed, I could hear the lilting voice of a teacher, followed by the mimicking chants of several young children. In the kitchen, we were introduced to the pastor who ran the center. She was chopping vegetables with the cook while a huge pot of water boiled on the small gas stove. I watched as a container of bloody meat was dumped into the water and when I walked by I saw that it was chicken innards; livers, hearts, and gizzards. I know that when you are hungry enough you will eat anything, but I suspected the dogs might have a feast of leftovers after lunch that day.
The kitchen was not large enough to have the whole team working in it so I was invited to visit a classroom. Interacting with kids, and people in general, was my favorite part of mission work so I was quite happy not to have to fight with the dull pipe cutter and rusted channel locks. I’d inadvertently sniffed enough pipe glue at the last site to feel a few steps beyond normal and, really, after helping to assemble the first two systems, I found that putting them together was rather boring. I picked up the small case that held my craft supplies and face paints and wandered off to find the children.