Volunteer Reflection by Jen Clark

“We’re going to the zoo.” That’s all I had to go off of during my second week at Amigos de Jesùs when we learned that all of the kids at the school were going on a field trip and all of the volunteers were going with them. When you think of a zoo in the states, it tends to include a lot of animals, a lot of long descriptions and plaques no one reads much, perhaps a spot to feed the animals or a ride or two. Here in Honduras though, I had no idea what to expect. How big was it going to be? Where was it? We’re going to the beach afterwards? I’ve never combined those two before. But as with many things I’ve experience so far this year, you have to learn to just go with it. That’s how I found myself on a retrofitted yellow school bus complete with flashing lights and a flat screen TV, sitting next to a boy named Johnny, heading off to some unknown destination. Next thing I knew, we arrived at what I thought was a rest stop, until I noticed the giant old Spanish fort. Casual. We got to take a full guided tour of the place, as well as explore the adjacent small museum, and it was awesome to see the kids exposed to a piece of history like that. I know they have a history class in school, but what’s it like? I have no idea what they learn about, and in how much depth. After being spoiled in the US with field trips to New York City and Washington DC, as well as spending 4 years just outside of historic Philadelphia, it was easy to under appreciate the value of seeing history in person. And visiting one of the largest Spanish forts in Central America wasn’t a bad way of seeing it.
            Still, that was only part one. We hopped back on the bus and headed off to our next destination when after a few minutes, there it was. There on our right. The ocean. Or at least the Gulf of Mexico. Within seconds there were gasps coming from over a dozen small mouths. How many of these boys were seeing salt water for the first time? And that was only the beginning of the amazement. We soon arrived at the zoo, with me personally anticipating a small petting zoo, and I was very much proven wrong. With all of the boys we headed inside, first passing a huge pool with at least three water slides (water park within a zoo? Why not?), then discovering the homes of ostriches, monkeys, a lion, cougar, coyote, toucan, boa constrictor, and everything in between. Though they were lacking the detailed descriptions of the zoos I was accustomed to, the animals were there. The boys got to see buffalo and wild boars and a puma. And this was to be followed with another first for me: a giant cookout in a zoo parking lot. Grilling carne asada, passing out salad and rice, kicking a soccer ball around, and preparing for our next venture—the beach. But just when I was expecting us to pile back onto the bus and drive off to a nearby locale, it turns out that the zoo is attached to the beach. One more stroll past the buffalo and an island full of monkeys and there it was. Seventy degree water, sunny skies, and 40+ boys ready to dive in a find as many sand dollars as possible. We taught the little ones how to swim, splashed around with the already proficient, and took in the view. It was incredible to see their unending excitement and enthusiasm for every part of the day. It was only natural to keep it up and dive into the zoo’s giant pool next, with nearly everyone from Amigo’s de Jesùs sprinting to go down the water slides first. By the time the afternoon was over and everyone was back onboard the retro bus, there was a universal level of exhaustion. It was a clear sign that every unknown, unexpected, and mysterious aspect of the day was completely and utterly worth it.