Arriving at school at 7:10 a.m., sophomore Natalie Kidwell walks into the over-air-conditioned band room, and is awoken by a gust of Arctic air. She grabs her flute, and puts her gold and plaid rainbow backpack into her band locker. She is taken aback by the smell of gasoline, pine trees, astroturf and concrete coming from her locker.
The smell is coming from her marching shoes. Her turquoise, white, concrete-stained Nike’s.
It was the summer of 2013, Kidwell was bringing another bag of cement to the cement mixer for the bleachers of the Casa Hogar soccer field in Honduras when she tripped and dropped the bag.
There was a dust bowl-esque storm of cement powder. It created a mushroom cloud that she was caught in the center of. She had the taste stuck in her mouth for hours afterwards. It made her wonder why she was in Honduras covered in cement.
It was through a friend at St. Michael’s church that she heard of Casa Hogar and about the Latin American Missionary and Bible Institute (LAMB). The LAMB Institute in Honduras protects, helps and empowers people suffering extreme poverty, abuse and exploitation in Honduras. It provides financial resources and extends opportunities for churches and individuals to be a part of it, and make a difference.
Kidwell takes advantage of the LAMB Institute’s opportunities, and goes to Honduras every year to help Honduran children who have been dropped off at the children’s home known as Casa Hogar.
* * *
“It had been raining [the first day] of my first year,” Kidwell said. “So it was all muddy and the vans could only drive up to the gates. My first impression of this place was walking up a mountain of gravel after being on a plane all day. I was thinking, because I’m not a very in-shape person, ‘Maybe this was the wrong choice. Maybe I’m not in shape enough to be here doing this.’” Initially, Kidwell had wanted to go to Haiti, and was disappointed at the news that she was going to Honduras. Once she got to know the children at Casa Hogar, she was hooked.
After her second year there, the children had woven themselves into her dreams: “There was this little kid that he got shot in the street, and somehow in dream land I managed to conjure an ambulance for him (which would not have been a real option), and then the ambulance came and i got in with him. He held my hand and started to tell me all about how he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up and how [the ambulance] was so cool, and then he kind of got weaker and then started praying for me. The entire dream was in english except for the last bit, [when] the little boy said, “Los hijos de honduras necesitan tu.” (The children of Honduras need you) And then he died.”
Kidwell was distressed and concerned after the dream: “I actually thought it was real for a few minutes. I checked facebook like 300,000 times just to make sure everyone was okay.”
Kidwell’s heart is in Honduras with the children at Casa Hogar.
Casa means “house,” and hogar means “home.” Casa Hogar is not just a house and a home to children living there; it’s a community.
The meaning of the name says volumes about what it is: a large commune where children whose mothers, for whatever reason, are incapable of caring for them, as is the case with “Little Alex E.,” the child with whom Kidwell bonded with the most.
“Little Alex loves Spider-Man,” Kidwell said. “Spider-Man is his bae. He colored a picture of Spider-Man, and it was fabulous. He’s six, super mischievous and is usually the one who starts the things [the kids] get in trouble for like running around taking [and putting on] somebody’s sunglasses or hiding someone’s shoes, but he looks so cute and innocent, and is the youngest in his building, so he can get away with everything!”
Alex E.’s mischievous, but kind-hearted nature immediately attracted Kidwell, and she developed a maternal and nurturing relationship with him.
Each of the volunteers has one or more of the kids that they bond with more than the others, and they work with the children to complete projects to make life easier such as building a fence along the edge of the soccer field, located on the precipice of a mountain.
Kidwell feels as though the volunteers’ presence helps the kids more than the actual projects.
“We took all the mattresses off the beds so that we could repaint them,” said Kidwell, “We put all the mattresses on the floor and every single little boy was coming inside to change out of their uniforms into their play shoes and Alex E. started [the mattress mayhem].”
Alex E. had a look in his eyes that said “Mattresses? On the floor? Let’s… Let’s jump on them!”
Immediately every little boy in the building was leaping from one mattress to the next. In this scene of mattress mayhem, they were happy.
While many of the moments with younger children were spent laughing and playing, Kidwell had the opportunity to interact more seriously with some of the older children.
Kidwell recalls a moment after she had been playing for three hours, and she laid down in a grassy field and “Big Alex,” a 15 year-old who is currently attending the police academy in Honduras in order to fight gang violence.
“It’s so pretty here, Kidwell said. “I wish I lived here.”
“Sure we live in a beautiful place,” Alex replied. “but it’s so violent.”
Kidwell recalls the passion with which Alex told her his plans to change Honduras and make it a better place. It put her at ease.
* * *
The past two years, Kidwell’s group has brought coloring books, Play-Doh and large Lego blocks Honduras with them in order to give them to the children at Casa Hogar.
“It’s really cool to see something you’re not using really be appreciated,” Kidwell’s mother, Mary Kidwell said, “that would’ve just sat on the shelf in the Salvation Army store and then end up in somebody’s basement otherwise.”
The children have so little that when Kidwell’s group brings Lego blocks and Play-Doh, it means the world to them. That’s why Kidwell’s group brought pounds of coloring books, extra clothes and shoes: in order to leave them there. The kids keep their only possessions in between their mattresses and bed frames. Five bed frames had soccer cleats tied to them. A few had coloring books. Alex E. had Spider-Man toys and a little plastic heart on his bed frame.
“The day I left Honduras the first year it was pouring rain.” Kidwell said. “I remember because everyone was saying, ‘Honduras is crying because you’re leaving!’ and I was very sad to leave. I miss them every day.” Alex E. gave Kidwell one of his few possessions: his plastic heart.
She is constantly reminded of Honduras. Even the little things, like seeing a Jarritos soda brings her back to Honduras.
Kidwell recalls this summer when the kids were walking out of the house with a cup of water but pretending to be severely dehydrated wailing, “Emily, Emily! Agua, agua!”
The younger children can’t pronounce Natalie, so they call her Emily, and she responds, “You’re water is right there,” and Alex E. says with outstretched arms, “No, agua!”
“Emily” always gave him her water. He drank it all and walked away with a smirk.
* * *
Since Kidwell has come back to the United States, she doesn’t feel at home. At six a.m., getting up for a band practice, her mother asked her how she was adjusting back to America, and Kidwell was deeply upset and screamed at her mother about how Americans misunderstand culture and values, and that there is no culture in America.
Her real home is in Casa Hogar.
After she graduates high school, Kidwell is going to intern for the Lamb Institute at Casa Hogar so that she can visit the casa in her hogar for up to two months that summer as opposed to a week normally. Once the transition house from Casa Hogar to the outside world is built, Kidwell intends to work in Casa Hogar: “I’d help them find jobs and integrate themselves into the world.”
She cares about the people of Honduras deeply, and wants to help them especially by acting as the mother figure that they never had.
* * *
It stank. It reeked of gasoline, pine trees, astroturf and the taste of concrete. She looked down and saw her turquoise and white shoes that she’s worn to Honduras the past two years. They were disgusting.
She put them on, went down to the football field and she marched in step with everyone else.
Kidwell is always marching. Making her way to Honduras one step at a time, she’s constantly reminded of her goal by the bracelet on her wrist, her “mochila” on her back and the plastic heart that Little Alex E. gave her every time she opens her Vera Bradley pencil bag. Casa Hogar is waiting, and in the meantime, Kidwell will continue marching towards her home.