Editor’s note: In the last Oro Loma Nomad, the writer, a native of Oro Loma and graduate of Dos Palos High School, told of her Peace Corps assignment to Honduras. She continues today with more of her Honduran adventures.
“Señorita Priscilla! Señorita Priscilla!”
I looked in the direction of whoever was shouting my name. In the distance I saw a young man waving at me. He ran towards me across the hillside dotted with shanty houses. When he reached me, excited and out of breath, he blurted in Spanish, “I’m Juan. You used to call me Osito, remember?” Oh, my goodness! It was Osito, all grown up!
The year was 1981, and I had returned to visit Las Crucitas, the neighborhood where I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer during 1968-1970. Las Crucitas was one of the poorest areas of the capital city of Tegucigalpa in Honduras, which in turn was the poorest country in Central America.
Osito (Little Bear) was now a strapping 17-year-old. Back in 1969, he was a 5-year-old who was so thin and weak, he was vulnerable to illness and even death. Honduras’ health system diagnosed his health status as being in second-degree malnutrition. This meant he could be recuperated with feeding outside of a hospital setting.
My job as a Peace Corps Volunteer was to manage a pilot nutrition center located in the Las Crucitas health center. Simply put, the health center would refer malnourished pre-schoolers to the nutrition center for a feeding program aimed at recuperating the children and educating the mothers about nutrition and how they could have healthy children even within their meagre income.
Malnutrition was a major health problem in Honduras. It was estimated that 70% of the babies born in the country would be malnourished by the time they reached one-year of age if they hadn’t already died. The country had one of the highest infant and child mortality rates in the world.
“Osito, look at you! So tall and strong. How is your mother? Is she home right now?” I was just as excited to see him as he was to see me.
“Yes, my mother is home. Come, I will take you to her!” Osito led the way up the hillside. When we reached his house, he opened the door for me to enter. I saw Señora Tiburcia seated at a table where she was sorting dry beans. She immediately stood up with a surprised look on her face, rushed to me, and put her arms around me.
“Oh, Señorita Priscilla, you came back! It’s so good to see you!”
“And I’m happy to see you, too. And to see Osito – how he’s grown and how healthy he is!”
“Señorita Priscilla, you saved his life and because you taught us that malnutrition was not like a cold that you catch, but that it was what happens when we don’t feed the right foods to babies and kids, I changed how I feed all my children. They are all healthy. No more malnourished kids in my home!”
“Where are the rest of your children?” I asked.
“Two are in school and the others are working. Osito goes to school too, but he goes in the evening.”
“Señora Tiburcia,” I said, “When I knew you back in 1969, you had six children. Did you have more children after that?”
“No,” she answered. “Do you remember that you had a nurse from the health center come talk to us mothers about the family planning program they had? Well, I went to the nurse and then the doctor saw me. Six children are more than enough!”
Like many poor women in Honduras, Señora Tiburcia was not married. She had had 14 children by different fathers. Eight of her children had died, when she came to the nutrition center with Osito.
Señora Tiburcia sat me down at the table and offered me a glass of water. I hesitated, not knowing if her water was safe to drink. “She chuckled and said, “Don’t worry, I boil the drinking water. You taught us that too!”
I spent about an hour with Señora Tiburcia and Osito, catching up on their lives. Not only were the children thriving, but Señora Tiburcia now had a job, rather that washing clothes in the river for other people. Her work as a janitor at the local school meant a more stable income that allowed her to meet the necessities for her family.
I asked her about the other women who participated in the nutrition center back in 1969. She said they never visit each other, though most of them still live in Las Crucitas. However, she sees them and their children walking up and down the hills. “Their children all look good, too, like Osito.”
Finally, I told Señora Tiburcia I had to leave and thanked her for welcoming me into her home. I stood up, as did she. We embraced and felt a strong, happy bond. Osito and I also hugged.
As I walked down the hill, I had a big smile on my face and a happy heart in my chest. I was going to meet my husband. I couldn’t wait to tell him about my visit with Señora Tiburcia and Osito.