I stood in the middle of his living-room and looked up into blue skies.
Chilo giggled like a child and worked like the devout. When I met him, he was a giddy eighteen-year-old finding his swagger. I had just arrived in Honduras to begin my two-year journey. He was my ‘national staff’.
Anyone in international work will tell you, the national staff are everything. Manuals, protocols, standards—they’re all empty without local knowledge to fill them in. And Chilo was a wellspring.
I sat him down every quarter for a performance review. The kitchen was the only empty room available and my six pages of notes spread onto the table. I asked him questions about his work. Did you do this the right way? I liked it when you did this, so how can we do more of it?
He was nervous the first year. I could see it in his eyes—always shifty—his toes curling in his sandals. His answers came in single sentences, but he was eager to try new things. As the months went on, I reallocated our budget to send him to English classes. We agreed on different work hours so he could enroll in high school. As long as he kept his grades up, I’d keep the funds flowing.
Another six months went by and we sat down again for a review. I had seven pages of notes titled ‘Loan Officer Review’. I asked him questions: Is this working? Are you getting where you want to go? We’d known each other for long enough that I could tell something was off. He was grateful, he said, looking up beneath his brow, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue.
At first, my heart fell. I left that meeting with a new understanding, because you see Chilo wanted something I couldn’t give him. I knew what it was, but I denied it. So, every day at the office, I looked over my shoulder at the back of his curly hair. I winced as he politely declined to continue English classes—as he transferred to a half-time high school.
I knew what was best! Get your education! Move out and get a studio! Be a—oh… wait a minute. That’s what’s best for me. That’s my track, leaving for college, building my career. I was on a white-western-boy path, and I’d let that color my relationship with him.
When we sat for our final performance review, I no longer spoke to my national staff, to my loan officer, but to my friend. I asked him only one question: I want to help. What do you want?
His feet no longer fidgeting, his eyes steady, he looked at me squarely and didn’t have to say a word. The gleam in his stare said, you know what I want.
He was married in December 2016 to a sweet young lady named Iris. Chilo honored me when he asked I be the photographer. All night, the pride swelled in my throat, as I documented him laying the bricks of the life he wanted:
I envision a world where people choose human beings before money, and values before comfort. It’s why I do what I do. And when I set Chilo on a path to traditional ‘success’, I betrayed that vision. I knew family was his everything. I knew he’d go to the moon and back to give his future kids the opportunities he never had. My parting advice to him was to please, please finish your education before you try and have a child. He giggled his giggle, his smile full of mirth, and agreed.
One year later I was sitting in a café, typing on my laptop. I’d returned to the states to continue my own path. My phone dinged and I read the text. He’d finished his education.
Eduar Eliel Reyes Lopez was born in March 2019 and I had to meet him. Sure, when I flew down in July, I was contracting for work, but my real objective lay elsewhere. And as baby-Eduar bounced and burped on my knee, I had an earnest conversation with his mother and father.
He was building a house, one block at a time. He’d saved and saved until he had enough to build the walls. Next was the roof, but as always, life has a way of thwarting us. When little-Eduar was born, severe health complications kept him incubated for three weeks. It was scary, to say the least, and Chilo’s savings evaporated. Although he’s okay now, the event blew a hole in their finances. I could see the ghost of his life-plan flicker behind his eyes, as his son sat on his knee and took a handful of his shirt.
I breathed deeply, and took out the only toolkit I knew—personal finance. He’d saved $2,450 (a remarkable amount) and put it all into the house. The problem was, another $3,000 stood between him and the most expensive feature, the roof. I asked if he’d take me there.
In a patch of farmland just outside the community, a cement shell grew out of the brush.We stepped inside, watching for snakes, as Chilo gave me the tour. Painting a picture with his words, he showed me into the kitchen, the bedroom, the baby’s room. The main space was big, I noted. He pointed from corner to corner. More room for the kid to run, he said.
The electrical grid, street lights, and water systems were already being built along the road. Once they were established, the value of the home would shoot up.
I stood in the middle of his living room and looked up into blue skies. I went back to my vision: a world where human values came first. Where a parent could meet enough of their basic needs to prioritize their child’s morals before forcing them to work. I saw numbers in the clouds. $8,000—the home’s appraisal. $28,000—the appreciated value after four years. I imagined that asset in the name of little-Eduar. Okay, I thought, maybe now I can help him on the path he chose himself.
The $3,000 crux became my focus, and it’s why I wrote this blog. This Go-Fund-Me page has become my part of our agreement. As he saves in Honduras, I will do what I can to save here. Given that I’m in grad school, my funds will likely grow as slowly as his do.
I wanted to open it to you, the reader. If you believe in turning down higher salaries for love, putting human values before success, or if you just think building a roof is a good cause, please donate. I invite you to come with us on this next phase of our journey, and deeply thank you for taking the time to read about it.