Since the buses and trucks couldn’t carry them up the goat path on the mountainous outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Crystal McDaniel and 55 other volunteers trudged up the cliff-like slope — lugging hammers, chainsaws, belts and other construction tools.
They were on a mission to build three wooden houses on the hill, but first had to negotiate large rocks to get there.
One home was for a disabled woman who had never been off the mountain.
Dark clouds formed over the building site and the nearby lush terrain, and heavy showers soaked the volunteers. But the downpour didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.
They donned ponchos and worked through the wet weather — working in three teams and finishing three houses by the end of the day.
“It’s the hardest I ever worked in my life,” McDaniel said of her stay in Honduras.
Besides making it more difficult to build, the rainstorm caused water to stream down the goat path making the rocks slippery as the construction crew headed down the mountain at the end of the day.
McDaniel and her teenage son Matthew made the trip as part of an outreach organized by Northwest Tampa Church of Christ. The Lutz residents are parishioners of the church and spent two weeks toward the end of June building houses for the poor in Honduras. The volunteers built 37 one-room homes, which measure 14-by-14. Each home is valued at about $1,200.
There’s very little to no public assistance in Honduras, which is the second poorest country in Central America, according to the CIA’s website.
About one-third of the 8.5 million people living in Honduras are underemployed, and more than half of the residents live in poverty. Impoverished conditions are especially great in rural and indigenous areas, like the three villages where the volunteers helped.
The nation also has the highest murder rate in the world.
“Up in the mountains is where we worked,” said Keith Boyer, a leading organizer on this trip. “It’s just the poorest of the poor. They squat on the land, and then they get ownership. And then we’ll build as many houses as we can.”
Crystal was motivated by a desire to help those less fortunate.
“We’re here to serve others — seriously,” she said. “I was born and raised with a family that — you (live) a life of service.”
Matthew said he went to Honduras because it was a new and different experience.
“I do it to grow closer to the youth group that goes down there,” he said. “And then it’s nice to go help people who don’t have anything. Even though it’s hard work, building the houses is actually kind of fun, and you get to see another country.”
The nondenominational Northwest Tampa Church of Christ, located at Sheldon Road in Tampa, gets parishioners from all over the Tampa Bay area. Church organizers have been planning annual trips to Honduras for the last 13 years.
It costs $1,650 per adult and $400 per teen to go on the trip, and parishioners had to pay the full or partial amount depending on how actively they donated and participated in church fundraisers and other activities.
Crystal paid more than $1,000 for herself and $400 for Matthew to go.
The mission trip also received funds raised through food sales, car washes and other church events. All of the money went toward food, lodging, plane tickets, lumber and other materials needed to build the homes.
The houses built by the volunteers consisted of four wooden walls, a floor and a tin roof. Residents who want smaller rooms can use clotheslines and blankets to create separate spaces.
The houses have no plumbing or electricity. Meals are cooked outside with a makeshift stove.
Matthew said residents who want electricity have to buy their own wires and connect them from their homes to the main source of electricity set up in these villages by the government.
Each home has a family with up to nine people living in it.
“They have nothing – absolutely nothing but the clothes on their back,” Crystal said. “And they’re the happiest people you ever saw.”
She observed an abundance of affection, communication and interdependency within families that led to joy and satisfaction in life. The villagers were very friendly with each other and the volunteers, Matthew said.
Besides receiving new housing, each family also received an adult and children’s Bible in Spanish from the mission.
On their three flights from Miami to Honduras, the church group took 37 large duffel bags full of shoes, small toys, shampoos, 150 dresses and many other small items to give out in Honduras.
The volunteers also managed to buy and assemble 300 bags of staple foods like rice, beans, sugar, lard, coffee and pasta. They gave one bag per family that moved into the new houses and their neighbors.
McDaniel and her son said they found the trip so rewarding they plan to go back again.
— Marie Abramov