“I need you to look as unattractive as possible.” Those were the words that Ron Hicks, Executive Director of Lunches for Learning spoke as I landed in the Tegucigalpa Airport in Honduras. Ron had visited my Rotary club, Roswell Rotary, a few months earlier to speak about his Lunches for Learning program. A program operated in rural Honduras with a focus to break the lifecycle of poverty through feeding children that stay in school. When he spoke, I was immediately invested with my checkbook but wanted to see the operation with my own eyes several months later. I was lucky that my friends Kay Love and Lisa Carlisle were equally invested, but unlucky in the sense that we are all blonde hair, blue eyed women that stick out amongst the brown eyed, brown haired Hondurans. Ron was intent on keeping us safe as well as engaging us in the work he had been pioneering for almost 6 years. At the time I had no idea how much this trip would expand my horizons and connect me to the most amazing women on the planet.
Lunches for Learning began during a vacation for now retired Executive Director, Ron Hicks. As he drove his motorcycle across Central America, he came to the border of Honduras and El Salvador on Central American Highway 1. While trying to cross the border a little, “street urchin” as he referred to her, was begging him for coins. He wondered why she wasn’t in school and handed her some coins and she ran off. After he returned to Montgomery, Alabama from his month-long trip, he couldn’t erase the little girls face from his memory. He got back on a plane, flew into Tegucigalpa and drove 3 hours to the border town of Amatillo, Honduras. He found the girl, the school she was supposed to attend and the principal of the school, Roxana Gonzales. Ms. Gonzales came
from a long line of educators as her mother, Coila Gonzales was the former Principal. The Gonzales women informed Ron of the desperate situation in Honduras of starvation and that children at the age of 5 had to choose between feeding their stomachs or their minds. From there, Lunches for Learning began, and Ron and Roxana Gonzales built a model in the first Lunches for Learning School in Amatillo.
Food insecurity is an understatement for those living in extreme poverty in Honduras – starvation is the more appropriate term to describe the situation. Lunches for Learning keeps children in school by providing lunch thus erasing the issue of feeding their minds or feeding their tummies. The communities that this program serves in the Valle District rallies around it. Every member plays a role with keeping their children in school by serving in the kitchen and being active in the education process. Families stay intact and kids can become literate, which enables them to have a better job than scouring the landfills or begging for money in the border towns that dot the Valle District.
While my friends and I remained invested both emotionally and financially in Lunches for Learning, we started to think beyond food. People in the region of Valle, located in the dry corridor, die from starvation or water born diseases. Kay is sophisticated with navigating complex processes as she had spent the duration of her career in government. I have a knack for fundraising, and with Rotary International’s ability to leverage funds and their international network, we knew it could be accomplished. We just had to find a Rotary Club in Honduras that would be our co-sponsor.
Our first attempt at finding a partner didn’t go so well. We visited a Rotary Club on the outskirts of Valle in Choluteca, Honduras. They were 20 minutes away from the project but wouldn’t work with us because the project was being led by women. They did not work with women. I later found out that this club, along with another were the only two in Honduras that did not have women as members.
We ended up meeting through Lunches for Learning connections of another Rotary Club,
three hours away in the capital of Honduras, The Villa Real Rotary of Tegucigalpa. A club with women leading up front and invest in both business and community. Our first connections to the females in the club were through Myriam Osorio McCormick and Wendy Ayestas, sisters in law and real-life superheroes. Later they were joined by another female superstar, Sonia Rameriz and the rest of their club.
I am not a details person but thank God Wendy and Kay have that covered. There were some long years put into the initial water project. Multiple government entities and detailed requirements for the application of funding and then, of course, the initial fundraising, which was the easy part (and my responsibility). It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done. And our final product of water to 1900 people was so good that it’s about to be replicated in several communities in the region.
As we are in the season of giving thanks, I must hand it to these incredible women. They go above and beyond for other women and children. They can literally say they are carrying a region in the poorest country area in the western hemisphere that nobody noticed, even their own government, a decade ago. Thank you, Kay and Lisa, for taking that initial leap of faith and boarding a plane. Thank you to Wendy, Myriam, and Sonia for joining in with us and Rotary International for giving us a greater platform to serve. I must give equal thanks to Roxana Gonzales and Ron Hicks, for being the spark that lit the fire. These women (and Ron) save lives. And thank you to those of you who have followed along in our footsteps to donate their time, treasure and talent to strangers in a desolate and otherwise insignificant place. You’ve made your mark without a drop of makeup on too. But nothing is more beautiful than to give to others.
Taking a trip to Honduras may be out of reach for most, but it’s easy to be invested here as well. We have our annual fundraiser coming up in February in Atlanta. So as we line up to give thanks with our families and have our tables full of food, consider passing it along to some very deserving children. Or better yet, come to join us on the dance floor as we celebrate the success of others. www.roswellhforh.com Ron would say it’s acceptable to be attractive at this event as well.