I have always enjoyed Thanksgiving as a day dedicated to gathering with family and friends and eating massive amounts of amazing food. Each year I value more and more the opportunity to come together and celebrate one another as well as the effort it takes from all parties to make this day a priority. Loved ones travel from all parts of the country or world in order to share a meal together sitting at one dinner table - or in my large Irish family, several dinner tables. For me, Thanksgiving feels like a holiday where the sole focus, aside from food, is to take a step back and appreciate all of the people that have been a part of our lives and the opportunities we have been fortunate enough to receive. As I reflect back on the past year and a half, and realize that come this June I will have lived internationally for 2 years, I could not be more thankful for my time in Honduras working for BECA at Amigos de Jesús.
Before starting my volunteership, the idea of working abroad was like a dream. I had visions of grandeur where I would work during the week and venture off on the weekends to hike a lush, green mountain or lay out on a beautiful beach bordering the Caribbean Sea - and to be fair, that actually does happen from time to time. In many cases, I feel like this is the mindset that a lot of people have of those who volunteer abroad or before committing to being a volunteer themselves. Don’t get me wrong, the opportunity to travel is absolutely one of the many aspects of living abroad for which I am thankful; however that point of view tends to detract from the real work that goes into being a volunteer. I have personally witnessed every volunteer at Amigos de Jesús regularly put in hours beyond a normal work day, so I cannot imagine the amount of hours they give to this community that go unnoticed. It is a pretty incredible feeling to work alongside so many dedicated people all aimed toward the same mission of providing a safe, nurturing place for these children to receive an affordable, high-quality bilingual education and, with that, all of the opportunities that will open up for them.
Yet, the hours we put in combined with communicating in a different language, eating food we are not used to, and adjusting to a culture that is pretty different from how we grew up can prove to make some days feel pretty challenging. The beautiful thing about those days is that they push you to persevere, to go outside of your comfort zone and find out what you are capable of accomplishing. After you overcome a tough day, you become a stronger version of yourself. In the end, those are the days that I appreciate the most and those are the days I think about most often around this time of year.
Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Honduras, the directors of Amigos de Jesús, Amy and Wilson Escoto, make a special effort to bring the holiday atmosphere here by opening up their home and hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at their house to express their gratitude to the volunteers. This dinner is absolutely one of my favorite days of the year. It gives us all the chance to relax and indulge on the foods we are accustomed to during the holidays, while we reflect on the year thus far. For the past two years Amy has cooked the turkey, spending all day making sure it is cooked to perfection, while Wilson secures a sufficient amount of tables and chairs for the feast.This year in particular, Suyapa, the lawyer for Amigos de Jesús, went out of her way to find dried corn, candles, and a centerpiece for the table to give this Thanksgiving that extra holiday touch. The rest of the food is prepared potluck-style, where each volunteer - 15 or so - brings their own dish, meaning lots of food and, better yet, lots of leftovers! In addition to preparing the turkey, Amy also makes the most ridiculously great tasting sweet potatoes that I cannot fail to mention in this blog post.
About halfway through the dinner, we stop gobbling up the food and share what we would be doing if we were with our families back home and what we are thankful for this year. When my turn came, I chose to give thanks for the all of the support I have received, specifically over the past year and a half. In my opinion, it takes a lot of courage to move away from home and live internationally where many unexpected obstacles are thrown your way. However, a strong and consistent support network has by far been the most undeniable asset to the many successes I have felt while abroad. I have felt support from this group of volunteers; after encountering a number of difficult hurdles, we have pulled together and remained unified every step of the way. I have felt support from the community of Amigos de Jesús who continually provide me with a sense of hope and encouragement. I have felt support from my friends back home who reason with me when I say absurd things, validate me when I am upset, and listen to all of my silly stories about children they have yet to meet. Most importantly, I have felt support from my parents and family who, despite their initial reservations about me moving to Honduras, have never stopped believing in me or the work that I do. It is because of this work that I am challenged to practice open-mindedness, understanding, and appreciation every day; three sentiments that we should all do our best to keep in mind, especially when fear of the unfamiliar tries to deter us away from them.
Happy holidays, everyone!