Smiling Through the Struggle

It was almost a year ago that we first met Cayetano. The impact of his smile, his determination, and his strength has not left us since that time.

This fall we were able to visit Cayetano again. Cayetano recognized Josh as soon as Josh approached him.. This time Josh had returned with his two daughters and a meal, to meet and spend time with this man who had become a symbol of strength and courage in our home.

Just as with our first meeting, Cayetano continues to teach lessons in the way he chooses to live his life.

Cayetano was only a six-year old boy when he lost his ability to walk. It’s not completely clear, but there is a good chance the loss of his legs was due to a condition that might have been prevented if he had access to the appropriate healthcare as a child. Instead of running, playing and exploring as a six-year old boy should do, Cayetano lost his ability to fully use his own body. The use of his legs completely disintegrated.

This did not stop Cayetano though. He persisted to live life in the best way that he could despite having no use of his legs.

Today, Cayetano has no means of employment and so in this one area he depends on the generosity of others and spends his time asking for money, six days a week, ten hours a day. It is likely only because of his persistence that we had the opportunity to meet him.

Seeing Cayetano, you yearn to help him, to make his life easier. However, it is the struggle that he has had to endure which has also made him strong and allows him to teach the lessons he does today.

Cayetano lives 20 minutes away from Central Park. He makes this commute walking with his hands, using wooden blocks to protect his fingers. When he reaches his home he has to climb, up twenty-nine stairs. He lives independently with no assistance. That means, on his own, he completes all the activities, you and I do, to live on a day to day basis, but he only has the use of his arms to assist and maneuver in these activities–shopping for and preparing food, cleaning his home, taking a bath and more.

He regularly washes his laundry by hand. Upon hearing this, our instinct was to feel compassion for him and sorrow for how hard simple tasks are for him, sadness that he had to complete so much work on his own. However, upon further reflection, what a great gift he has given to himself to not have to rely on others for his daily needs.

Despite his kindness and smile, Cayetano’s life has not been an easy one. He battles depression. Instead of giving into despair, he has found ways to use the strengths he has. He regularly memorizes different things to keep his brain active and his mind occupied. He has memorized all 50 of the United States and gave us a demonstration of his admirable knowledge.

Instead of becoming dependent on others to care for him, he has become a teacher. He has taught us, no matter how difficult your life is, you can be happy. No matter what weaknesses you have, you can focus on and improve your strengths. No matter how enormous the obstacles that lie in your path are, you can overcome them.

Perhaps the greatest lesson Cayetano teaches us is that YOU are the master of your life and YOU decide what your life will be, no matter how easy or hard the circumstances of your life are.

Written by Shalyce Cluff

Where Strength and Beauty Overcomes

The house and yard are well-manicured, perhaps better cared for than any seen in the village.

There is a charm and beauty that does not often show itself in areas oppressed by poverty.

The cleanliness and order bring with it a sense purpose and peace, a relief from the circumstances that surround this home.

In every detail you can see that someone spends their time and energy to maintain the simple charm of this home to nourish beauty around them.

Elmedina is a testament to the ability to make the best of your circumstances, to overcome your struggles and to continue pressing on despite continual and persistent adversity.

Elmedina lives with her son Pedro. They pay rent by caring for the home in which they live. Pedro never finished school, but works in masonry and brings home what he earns to care for himself and his mother.

In comparison to many, Elmedina and Pedro fair well financially, but that is just a part of Elmedina’s story. As quickly catches the eye, Elmedina suffers from a significant medical problem.

For 25 years she has suffered with a painful goiter in her throat. In the last two years it has become more inflamed. She takes thyroid pills, but it has done little to provide relief. In any first world country, this is an issue that would be quickly resolved with a surgery, but for Elmedina, that is not an option. Instead it is a constant reminder of the discomfort and lack of resources that poverty yields.

Her medical problems and lack of resources are only a part of Elmedina’s story. Elmedina has known severe loss, loss that can be crippling if one allows it to be. Elmedina is a mother of 10, but only Pedro remains with her. While several of her children have made their own lives, one of her daughters was taken, when she was just born, by her former partner and never seen again. Another child died at birth, and one at only 9 months old from meningitis. A third died at age 29 after he was crippled by and eventually succumbed to mental health struggles.

Though a story of tragedy, Elmedina has instead chosen to make her story one of beauty and reprieve. She stands as an inspiration to keep moving forward, to keep trying and to spread goodness as you do.

Emeldina passed away in November, 2019.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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A Family’s Foundation

Her demeanor is stoic. Her face is weathered and lined, but that is perhaps the only clear indication of the hardship and struggle that Albertina Reyes has experienced during her life living in poverty in Honduras.

It is clear that she is a pillar of strength in her family. She is the backbone that keeps her family going and moving forward each day.

Albertina’s home is a small two room shack, only about four hundred square feet all together. She has a kitchen made of tarps and sticks.

Yet, this small home is teeming with life. While the home itself, is not much to look at, it is a home filled with care and compassion for those who reside therein.

Albertina raised nine children. Her oldest daughter, Brenda, left for Mexico 7 years ago. She has not heard from her and doesn’t know if she is alive. She hopes she found a better life in Mexico but she may never know if she did or not. Two of her daughters were able to attend school until the sixth grade, the rest received even less education.

Albertina doesn’t see the value in education like many others in her community. For her, the priority is simply surviving and so a paycheck at the end of the day, or daily tasks being completed, is more important than a grade.

As many of Albertina’s children were unable to obtain sufficient education, several live with and rely on Albertina for help. Her children have given her grandchildren, a number of which Albertina is now responsible for raising.

Like most children, the grandchildren maintain a joy and innocent that often is absent once childhood is gone. They maintain a sense of freedom despite having to take on many adult responsibilities.

It is necessary for the older children to help the younger members of the families, giving them baths instead of playing with friends, supervising the babies, instead of doing homework.

Albertina continues to work in the ways she knows how, to improve her family’s life. She works long days cooking tortillas in her tarp and stick kitchen to provide income. She is currently working on a latrine and hoping the ground water doesn’t flood it so that it will be use able, but they will have to wait and see when the rains come.

Despite having little, her greatest hopes and dreams are not extravagant. She would like her children to visit. With all she lacks, it is the one thing she most wants. This is a stark contrast to many in the developed world who often choose material possessions over relationships. In that way, perhaps she is much more wealthy than many in the world.

She also wishes for relief from her asthma, a roof for the latrine and to improve her home, including to one day have a brick kitchen. For Albertina her fondest dream is one in which she is able to spend time with and feed her family.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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A Way Out

The Munguía household stands apart from many other homes in their neighborhood. Both the mother and father live in the home, as well as all of their children. They are more prosperous than some, though by no means well off, or even middle class. They have a few comforts many others in their community don’t, made possible because they have electricity.

Electricity provides the luxury of a refrigerator.

And the enjoyment of a radio.

Still, it is relatively little when compared to the typical home in the developed world. Many comforts considered essential in other parts of the world are not even an option for the Munguía’s. The vast majority of even the poorest households in first world countries have regular electricity, running water, and a working toilet. The cost of electricity makes the regular use of it tentative.

There is no running water into their home, and while their metal latrine is nicer than many in the area, it is still little more than a hole in the ground.

The area in which they bathe offers little privacy. The makeshift room is right off the main road and the sheets used to enclose it are transparent.

Like all good mothers, Odilia, worries for her children. She yearns for them to have a better life. Her greatest hope is that they are able to get a good education. She sees education as their path out of poverty.

Odilia and her husband Jose’s employment provides well enough that their two children have so far been able to stay in school. School is not a right, but truly a privilege in their community.

Employment is difficult though. The work is disproportionately strenuous and long for the pay they receive. Jose works seven days a week, earning approximately four dollars a day. Odelia is able to work every fifteen days washing laundry and making approximately three dollars for six hours of washing. However, hard work is better than no work, and much of the time, finding regularly work is one of the biggest challenges.

Like children throughout the world, Odilia’s fourteen-year old daughter, Heidi, thinks about her future. She dreams about what she might achieve. She would like to be a police officer. An education will certainly help, but there are many other obstacles the children will have to overcome to make their way into a life of greater prosperity.

The greatest dream Jose and Odilia have is that their work might be more profitable, their children might get an education and that they might one day have running water. With all their life appears to be lacking in basic necessities, it is not a long wish list.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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The Plague of Addiction

Dunia’s life, like so many others, has been filled with struggle and loss.

At only twelve-years old, Dunia’s mother passed away. The loss weighs on her mind still today. She also morns the loss of her only daughter–Star. Star would be twelve this year. She died at birth.

Unlike hospitals in developed countries, careful explanations and regret for the loss is seldom given to patients here. Doctors are overwhelmed and understaffed. They have little time for the niceties of giving patients comfort and explanations following devastating losses. Their job is one of crisis management, with only the time and capacity to complete the most essential of tasks. Dunia has no idea what went wrong or why her daughter isn’t with her today, but she thinks of her often. She imagines how her life would be different if her daughter had lived.

Today, Dunia lives with her husband Javier and their three sons, eighteen-year old Brian, sixteen-year old Erik and seven-year old Lester.

The lives of those residing in Honduras, vary in many ways from those living in the United States and other first world countries, but there are some aspects of life that cross all cultural boundaries.

For Dunia, like many in countries and cultures throughout the world, her life is plagued by her husband’s addiction as well.

The family earns relatively good money. Dunia, her husband, and their two oldest sons all work. Javier and the boys harvest whatever fruit is in season. Dunia works caring for children. Sadly, much of the money never makes it home.

Unlike many men in the area, Javier has chosen to stay with his family and works hard, but like so many others the world over, his greatest struggle and challenge is an inner demon. Javier eases the pains, burdens and struggles of his life by turning to alcohol. On paydays Javier stays in town and visits the local bars. After weeks of hard work, they are quickly left struggling as much of the money is spent on alcohol rather than living expenses. It is a practice that provides Javier with temporary relief, but leaves his family with ongoing hardship.

Due to the economic loss resulting from addiction, both Brian and Erik had to leave school after sixth grade and begin working. Lester is able to attend school, only because of his brother’s income. Brian would still like to return to school and become an engineer. He has not resigned himself to a life spent working in the field, but contents himself working alongside his brother for now.

Dunia dreams of a kitchen of her own–with stucco walls and roof. Their current kitchen is makeshift at best, and holds up only tentatively during the rainy season.

However, more than a kitchen, Dunia wishes Javier would overcome his addiction. She is not alone in her struggle. There are many all over the world, in all countries and conditions who face desperation and devastation from the same struggle of a loved one. It is a hard road to travel and a hard sight to see to face addiction in someone you love.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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The Power of Determination

A single wooden post represents little for most of us, but for Miriam it is a statement of her character, a sign of her hard work and a testament to her determination.

Miriam was given help in building the brick part of her home which she shares with her two children and an unrelated older woman, but she does not rely on others to improve her life situation.

Miriam, single-handedly expanded her house to include a room made of wood and sheet metal in addition to the main brick structure. She hung clothing lines to dry her family’s clothes.

Unable to purchase a table, she built one, made of tree branches and mud.

Miriam’s desire for cleanliness is clear in how she cares for her home. Items are organized and put away as well as possible.

The TV on display is simply a decoration. It doesn’t work as they have no electricity to run it on. It represents hope that one day Miriam and her family will have the simple luxury of sitting down in front of the television to rest and watch a movie together in their home.

The dirt floor is maintained by sweeping it and spraying down the dirt to minimize dust.

Miriam works diligently to make things nice for herself and her children, but there are unending obstacles to keeping her home clean and sanitary.

It is a constant struggle to not only keep the cold air at bay, but also to keep bugs and other critters from coming into the home. Stuffing cracks and crevices with whatever they can find or anything not be being used at the time, though insufficient, is the best solution Miriam has found.

Local children, many without latrines of their own, urinate and defecate in the area behind her home–neither pleasant to smell nor to clean up.

Miriam is the mother of two children, the first born when she was still a child herself at just sixteen years old. Ten year old Elvis is able to attend school, but Miriam cannot afford the cost of school for four-year old Christofer to begin kindergarten.

Four-year old Christofer holds some of the toys delivered to the children during a visit from Life Differently staff and volunteers.

Despite having little herself, Miriam extends help to others. A 75-year old woman, whose children threw her out of their house, lives with Miriam and her children.

As a child, at just five-years old, Miriam lost her own mother to a heart attack. She and her sister did the best they could for themselves in the children’s home in which they grew up, but the repercussions of this loss last until today. She was unable to finish her high school education as it was more important to work to provide for herself. She still hopes to one day be able to finish her high school work and then study medicine at the university.

Miriam’s story is a bit different than others. Despite facing many of the same struggles as others living in poverty, Miriam remains hopeful. Her story leads you to believe that if you work hard enough with what you have, the future may hold a better day. It teaches us that no matter what your circumstances you can improve them.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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Fearing the Future

When Angel graduated from the sixth grade, his mother Daisy, was proud as any mother would be. He was now seemingly one step closer to success as an adult. In any first world country, sixth grade would be a minor milestone in his educational journey, and Angel would continue his education the next school year.

However, in Honduras, at age 13, he is now working as a day laborer doing masonry. Angel works from 5 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. He cannot progress in his education until he has turned 15 and is allowed to enter the next level of the educational program.

Daisy works seasonally in the cucumber fields. She makes relatively good money for the area–$64 for the week. She works five days a week, from 5 in the morning until 6 in the evening. She also washes laundry when she is able, which provides additional income when work is available. Neither of her jobs are regular. As a result her employment situation is a continual source of stress. The money that Angel earns now that he is working is nice, as extra income always is, but one of Daisy’s greatest fears is that he will never return to school. Angel acquiring additional education would allow him to have greater earning potential in the future, but it will be difficult for the family to give up his income, which they have come to rely on. If Angel returns to school, his income will be gone.

An old picture of Angel (now 13), Emerson (now 10) and Edwin (now 18)

Another stress Daisy experiences is related to her 18-year old son, Edwin. Edwin suffers from a skin disease, which has affected his muscles and also left him unable to work or attend school. It also places additional financial strain on the family for his medical care.

Looking down the street on which the family lives, it is in many respects quaint. The palm trees peak over the tops of the house, creating a tropical ambience. However, living in the tropics brings challenges.

Their kitchen is outside.

Their cooking supplies are subject to poisonous bugs, fly eggs and snakes–all abundant in tropical climates. There is no clean and contained area in which to store them.

While this family is fortunate to have more than one room, and more than one bed, their circumstances are still far from ideal. The room is not sealed and cold air seeps in throughout the night. The springs in the mattresses are easily felt through the worn padding. The beds provide a more spacious area for sleeping, but they are likely quite uncomfortable and hard on both the growing and aging bodies.

Fortunately, Daisy’s two youngest children are both able to attend school and doing well. For them, the hope is high and the fears Daisy has for Angel, have not yet set in for the youngest two. However, looking at these two children, it seems that with age comes diminished joy and an increased understanding of the difficulty of their circumstances and the poor prognosis of their future.

While Daisy, fears the prospects of the future for her children, through education, there is the possibility that they will be able to find their way out of poverty and into a life of greater ease, where the future is more certain, the work hours shorter, and the nights are warmer.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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Two Markers

Two felt tip markers. It was all Mirian needed to stay in school for the day, but her family did not have them. With no means of purchasing them, she was sent home. Until she acquires the two required markers, she may not return to school. It is difficult to get a good education, when there are disruptions such as these to consistent learning.

Mirian would like to be a teacher when she grows up, but that will be impossible if she is unable to get sufficient education. She is caught in a difficult dilemma. She needs an education to improve her life conditions in the future, but there are significant obstacles in the way to obtaining one due to the family’s current financial situation.

In Honduras, public schools are available, but you may only attend them if you have the ability to bring the required school supplies. No one seems concerned with children who are unable to attend school because the supplies they need are economically inaccessible to them.

Mirian’s sister would like to be a doctor. Like Mirian, there are many challenges standing in the way of her achieving that goal. The necessary school supplies she requires have still not been obtained, either. It is unknown how much longer she will be allowed to attend without them–before she is also sent home.

Lesly, the girls’ mother, dreams that her children will one day be able to attend a university, that they will be able to see their dreams become reality and achieve economic security. With a university education, there is hope that the poverty, in which they live, will be eliminated for the next generation. For Mirian and her three sisters, the dream is tentative at most.

Regardless of the many forces working against them, Lesly manages to remain hopeful. Looking into the faces of her children, you can see why she desperately hangs onto hope that there is a way for the lives of her daughters’ to be easier then the life she now lives. She prays that her family might be blessed with miracles–miracles that would fulfill the needs and desires she is currently unable to provide on her own.

Lesly, is a single mother. She is the sole provider for her five children. Currently, she has temporary work sweeping the village’s sidewalks and streets in the morning. She has a contract for that job lasting two months. When the contract is up, the money from it will also be gone. In the afternoons, she sells vegetables. Her vegetable business was made possible through a loan, on which she is charged 20% interest. In any free time she has, she picks up whatever domestic tasks are available to add even the smallest amount to her income. Caring for a family of six with minimal opportunities for economic growth, is not easy.

The family’s pantry consists of this hanging shelf. Every two days or so, it becomes empty. When they find the food has run out, the already infrequent two meals a day becomes even less frequent. When the situation becomes desperate, they ask for food or money from others. Sometimes, only due to the generosity and kindness of others, they receive help.

The heaviness of her responsibilities, is evident on Lesly’s face. She is only 25-years old. The burdens she carries are wearying. When asked how she would like her life to be different, her response is that she only desires that she could rest. It is a constant struggle to provide the very bare necessities for her children.

Lesly’s daily struggle is tangible, but somehow, there is still joy and hope in the faces of the members of this family. Perhaps, someday, they will receive the miracles for which they have been praying.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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Hope Remains

Often, it is the children that bring hope to the world of poverty, despite the difficulty to find the means for their care.

In the children, it is easy to see potential.

The children still carry a sense of joy, hope and goodness in the world, and it is a sustaining force for many living in poverty.

They often walk without shoes.

Their toys, if they have any, are worn down and well-used.

Regardless, their joy is persistent and contagious.

For 23-year old Carmen, hope for her children is her lifeline. Though still young herself, it is hard to remain optimistic in the situation in which she lives, but for her children, she can.

Carmen has been unable to find permanent employment. She has temporary work, selling avocados. She is fortunate to be able to live with her mother and her brother. Her brother earns the income on which they live. Finding and keeping a regular job, is one of her few desires. Her other main desire is that her children are able to get an education.

Perhaps, if and when she acquires regular employment, a small bag of groceries will no longer spark such interest and excitement, for it will no longer be such a rarity. Until then, that interest and excitement will likely be her lifeline.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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A Mother’s Worries

In the community where Keila lives, she and her partner do better than many, but that does not mean they are wealthy or that things are easy for them.

With two able adults to provide income, they have a distinct advantage over many of their neighbors. Keila’s partner sells, Atoles, a hot drink with a corn base, and makes 1,000 lempiras a week. He works 11 hours a day. Although typical for many in this part of the world, these earnings pale in comparison to that of any individual in America. His wage is equivalent to $42 a week–what someone working at the lowest minimum wage in America would make in less than one 8-hour day, and what someone with an average American salary would make in less than two hours of work.

Keila occasionally is able to work harvesting sweet potatoes in the field. When she does, she adds approximately $29 to their weekly income–a significant amount.

They also have chickens that provide them with a sustainable food source–something anyone in the community would be grateful to have.

Looking at their home, you would never know they are among the more prosperous of their community in terms of their income.

The home is a compilation of various materials. The walls are part sheet metal, part sticks, rocks and dirt.

Used cotton sheets make up parts of the walls, as well as part of the roof. Their floor is dirt. As is typical of homes in the area, their home has no electricity, no water and no latrine.

Possibly the greatest challenge with the home concerns the family’s 4-year old daughter, who suffers from respiratory issues.

Though the house in which they live is better than nothing, they practically live out in the open. Their home is sorely lacking when it comes to providing protection from environmental elements. The area in which the family lives is windy which generates a great amount of dust.

The dust, along with smoke from cooking their daily meals on an open wood stove, exacerbates the breathing issues, from which her daughter suffers. Exposure to the cold night air does not help either. Creating an environment conducive to healthy respiration is a nearly impossible task in these conditions.

Among the many concerns Keila is likely to have, her daughter’s health issues may be the greatest. She has already known the depth of sorrow that comes with losing children. Before her daughter was born, Keila lost a set of twins when she was 6 months pregnant.

Though only 23-years old, an age at which time when many Americans are living life large, finding themselves, and planning for their future, Keila’s face reflects the difficulties of life and the loss she has experienced.

Keila says her life is happy, and she truly does find great joy in her daughter, but happiness is not reflected in her face. If Keila had the resources, she would save up for medication for her daughter and start a business selling bread. Both desires would improve the conditions of her life, but most likely, only minimally. Those wishes might generate a reflection of happiness to her face, but if they did not, they would certainly minimize the strain of her impoverished living.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

Thank you for joining us on this journey!