by Lauren Hollon Sturdy
The island of Roatán, 40 miles northeast of the Honduran mainland, is a tropical paradise. White sand beaches and warm turquoise water greet throngs of tourists in high season who come to spend their vacation in the luxurious beachside resorts.
But stray from tourist areas, and it’s clear that poverty is a problem. Minimum wage is about 6,000 lempiras per month ($317), but some earn as little as 4,000 lempiras per month.
One small island resident, Alex Antonio Aguilar Levy, is a case study in the afflictions borne by children living in poverty.
He was one of the first 10 children to enter the Buckner Honduras Community Transformation Center in Roatán in July 2010. At 32 pounds, his weight would have been considered healthy for a 2- to 3-year-old. But Alex was 5.
Extremely malnourished, he spent most of his days living in the street, taking care of himself.
One-third of Hondurans are underemployed, and both parents often work outside the home just to scrape by on minimum wage.
“Most families live in precarious conditions,” said Sandra Zuniga, social worker for the CTC. “It really takes between 8,000 and 9,000 lempiras a month to provide for a family. They often have to sacrifice food to make ends meet.”
If poor families in Roatán have scarce resources to feed their children, they have no resources to pay for daycare. With no one around during the day to watch them and no food in the cupboards to eat, many children venture out into the streets to fend for themselves.
Alex’s mother, Sherry Levy, would lose him in the streets for two or three days at a time. It was dangerous, Levy said. He liked chasing the cars and getting into trouble with other street children. She worried that someone would kidnap him.
When the CTC opened and began providing childcare and case management services last summer, staff there took Alex to a free clinic for a diagnosis. Like many children who come to the CTC, he had parasites.
“When he came to us, he was skinny and malnourished,” said Kendy Alvarez, nurse at the CTC. “He had very bad health.
“Street children get parasites from eating fruit and food they pick up in the streets,” she said. “They don’t wash their hands. They also get parasites at home, because they often drink water without boiling it or chlorinating it. We teach each child not to do those things, and to wash their hands and brush their teeth and live a healthy life.”
The messages about health and wellness have gotten through. Alex talks about his daily routine at the CTC, how he does his homework, eats lunch, plays, takes a nap, has a snack, and then everyone goes upstairs and brushes their teeth.
“If you don’t brush your teeth, they’ll go bad,” he said. “And to stay healthy, I have to eat well and I have to shower.”
Besides education, the CTC provides a healthy lunch and snacks to each child every day. For many of the kids, it’s the only food they get. They take vitamins daily and receive deworming medication every six months. Alvarez also weighs and measures the children each month to make sure their growth is on target.
Now, at 42 pounds, Alex’s weight is within the normal growth curve for a child of nearly 6 years. The daycare staff said he has changed a lot in other ways, too. He used to be rebellious and he didn’t like to take showers. He was also aggressive.
“He has changed for the better,” Alvarez said. “Now, when he arrives, he says, ‘I showered today!’ He also used to eat with his fingers. Now, he uses his fork.”
He’s happier and better behaved than he used to be, his mother said, and she is thankful knowing he is safe.
“I feel good because he’s secure,” Levy said. “I know where he is all day.”
“He’s different, really different here,” she continued. “He’s happy. He’s got children to play with and all that. He comes and shows me the things he makes and tells me, ‘The teacher taught me this.’ He learns to print and he learns to write, and the numbers and things.”
“Children that don’t have a place like the CTC to come to fall into the street, they get into bad company and they get ruined,” Levy said.
To learn more about supporting this ministry and other Buckner Honduras programs, contact Buckner Foundation at 214-758-8000.
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