In June 2018, we went on our first mission trip as a family. We chose to serve at Project Manuelito in Honduras. We were not completely sure of what to expect, but had heard from others that this would be an experience to be treasured.
The day we arrived at Project Manuelito we heard a few stories of the tough lives that some of the kids had experienced on the streets before living in “The Project." To many, these stories were heartbreaking, however given my profession as a school counselor, I was hearing similar stories of childhood that I hear on a regular basis. That first evening, our group leader asked about our thoughts from the first day. I shared that these kids’ stories of neglect, abuse, and drugs are similar to the stories I hear from students and families in the United States. As I laid down that evening and reflected on that first day, I was feeling a little disappointed in myself for being insensitive and unfeeling about these kids’ lives and stories. I was also a little discouraged that this trip would be filled with sadness and despair. However, as it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We woke up early the next morning to see all of the kids from town arriving for school. The children were smiling and appeared happy to be there, which again is very similar to what I see each day at my own elementary school. During the morning hours our team assisted with moving bricks and sifting sand to prepare for building onto their school. After lunch, we were given a choice of working with the building materials or hanging out by the dorms to play with any kids that were not working on homework. One of my daughters chose to build, while one chose to stay back in hopes of playing, so I opted to stay back with her. Midway into the afternoon, a truck arrived, pulling up to near where I was sitting. Out of the truck came a man and a woman. A child was sitting in the backseat. The young boy had a look about him that was similar to look that I have seen on several kids I have interacted with over my 20+ years in education. The boy was helped out of the truck. As he stood beside the truck, he looked around and began a repetitive rocking motion. I heard his name was Jefri, and over the next few minutes I just watched and listened. It appeared that this child had some “special” qualities about him. It also appeared that he would be staying for a bit, as the woman had a bag containing two shirts and a pair of pants that she gave to the staff. The woman began to talk with the staff about medication instructions. Shortly after arriving, a photograph was taken of Jefri, and he was sent off to play with one of the young adults at “The Project."
Over the next couple of days, my family was able to spend much time with Jefri. By watching his interactions with others and observing his mannerisms, I felt that I was seeing characteristics of a child with autism. I spoke briefly with Jarvin to share my thoughts, and was told that Jefri's behavior at a previous home was too much for them to handle and that was why he had been sent to Project Manuelito. Jarvin explained that while they had encountered kids with physical limitations and learning problems, they had never had a child with needs like Jefri, and had many questions about how to best support him. It was then that I realized why God had sent us to Project Manuelito this summer. My husband and I have much experience with students with adverse behaviors, kids who get overstimulated easily, kids with communication difficulties, all of which seemed to be impacting Jefri. We could share thoughts and ideas to support Jefri and those at “The Project” during this time of transition. We met with Jarvin and Mae (Jefri’s house parents) to discuss behaviors to look for that would alert them that Jefri was excited or anxious, the importance of routine, and to encourage them that their interactions with Jefri thus far was having a positive effect on him. In just a few days, improvements were already being made.
As each day passed in Honduras, I reflected on what an incredible place Project Manuelito is. “The Project” is a place where ALL of a child’s needs are met - physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. All who enter are considered family. It is a place of genuine love. It is a place of safety. It is a place of hope. It is a place where God is present everyday.
As we had been told, our trip to Project Manuelito was an amazing experience. God put us there to help with the physical, laborious work of building the school, but also to show care and support to the staff and children living within “The Project.” God also showed me something too. I experienced His goodness and love through Project Manuelito.
By Christie Wolfe