Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy)

Chaplain Norris Burkes. Photo by Wade Spees. June 6, 2014.

On a recent Monday, my wife, Becky, and I boarded a plane flying south to Honduras. From several thousand feet aloft, we cross a border that, according to The New York Times, “76,000 migrants crossed without authorization in February ... approaching the largest numbers seen in any February in the last 12 years.”

What makes those migrants seek a new country? One word: choices. Honduran immigrants seek choices and options that many would never have in their own country.

This is our fourth trip to work with the Chispa Project, a nonprofit founded by our daughter, Sara, for starting children’s libraries in underfunded schools.

We bring three suitcases with 150 pounds of Spanish books to supplement the 16,000 books in the 50 libraries begun so far by Chispa. We hope that we have enough for a few Hondurans to make educationally supported choices about their lives.

On previous visits we flew into downtown Tegucigalpa for the dicey and turbulent landing in the mountainous capital of Honduras.

But this time, thanks to reader connections via Rotary Club International Clubs in Central Florida, we make a much smoother landing in the northern coastal city of San Pedro Sula.

An hour later, we sit comfortably in the Casa Blanca hotel, a 3-star accommodations venue reserved by the club.

“Wow, these Rotarians know how to ‘rough it,' ” I tell Sara, whose former lodgings make this seem like the Ritz.

A few hours later, I see the need for comfort as the eight-person group, led by Rotarian Jim Weaver, returns from a rocky ride into the mountains.

They walk into the lobby shaken and stirring with chatter about their three-day project assisting Compelled by Christ, an organization that rescues young girls from abuse and prostitution. These girls, sold by their families for the price of a cow or less, have few choices in their lives.

“You’re late!” says Jim. “We’ve finished our project with CBC. You really missed a blessing."

“CBC will rescue, literally, the most vulnerable in Honduran society. Most of the girls,” Jim explains, “have little to no education, so apart from safety and affection, education gives these girls a chance in life.”

Obviously, Becky, Sarah and I join a work already in progress, but Jim assures me that the Rotarians are not a “one-trick pony.” He has much more up his sleeve that he hopes will empower Hondurans.

In the next few days, we walk with them into a trade school where they furnish six sewing machines that will be used for teaching children to sew. Throngs of kids peek in and out of the presentation and surround us with thankful hugs as we leave.

At the next stop, I watch Rotarians present a check to a grateful director at a home for orphaned boys. The money will fund replacement of the orphanage’s broken brick oven. The idea is to allow the home to sell bread and become more self-sustaining.

This Rotarian group knows little rest as they manage four visits a day to schools and children’s homes, community centers, clinics and special-needs day care. They come to calculate how helping these places will bring the most good to Honduras.

The Rotarians focus on the physical needs that make Honduran life more self-sustaining. As physical needs are addressed, Chispa sees a path clearing toward education. And education, above all things, introduces life choices.

So, I have an ulterior motive in my rendezvous with this hard-working group.

We plan a detour to paint a library space in a local school. Before Chispa Project will place books on shelves, they decorate a space that relates to children and makes them proud of that space.

Imagine five grown men and two women in a humid 10-by-30-foot room rolling two coats of white paint on crumbling walls. The paint provides a bright pallet for colorful murals intended to inspire future readers.

Everyone takes turns sitting outside to escape the fumes, but the children surround us and chatter in a few English words. I return “poquito Español” and show them a few slight-of-hand tricks.

In adjoining classrooms, Becky coaches other volunteers and Honduran children in tracing a big balloon pattern projected onto a wall. The children fill in the outline with paint they dip from drinking cups.

We finish our painting and cleanup by mid-afternoon. The day is hot, and we pause for some ice cream cones sold by a street vendor at the school gate.

I look around and see that the Rotarians have slipped away.

“Where’d they go?” I ask Sara.

“Off to do another project assessment,” she says, wiping her brow.

I chuckle. “It sounds like the Hondurans are getting more choices about their day than Jim is giving our Florida friends.”

Web sites of interest:

Contact Norris Burkes at comment@thechaplain.net or 10566 Combie Road, Suite 6643, Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail 843-608-9715.