Meet Darla. She's a lifelong resident of St. Helene, a three mile long island off the coast of the larger island of Roatán, only accessible by boat. Before we arrived in Honduras, Brenda Dachner of the Abundant Life Foundation suggested we visit Darla and her community to get a feel for St. Helene.
We first met Darla teaching her class on the south side of the island. Wearing a sky blue t-shirt with the school's emblem on it, she sat in the corner of the dimly lit classroom. She had an amazing command over her students and it was clear that she had a earned the group's respect, affection, and trust long ago. Interacting with us, she seemed fairly quiet and reserved at first, but quickly warmed to us. Darla teaches the morning class to the younger students where she works with the same children daily and teaches every subject, including physical education!
As we left the commotion of kids running around the dry, patchy playground, the beauty of the island became apparent. On the walk back over the rocky path to Darla's home on the north side, Darla opened up to us without hesitation. Along the way we heard numerous stories of life, which were often interrupted by interesting trivia about what we just passed. These included the '10 o'clocks' (plants that only come out at 10am), or the hill that she used to travel over to go dancing with friends in her teens. As we neared Darla's house, a second crowd of kids confronted us, all wanting to chat, play and generally interact with Darla. She is clearly well loved by the children in her community. The biggest welcome came from Kayesha, Darla's daughter, who came rushing down the path to greet her mother, jumping into her arms, and giving her a hug so tight you could feel it just by witnessing it.
As we entered the community there were smiles all around; people greeting each other, sharing laughs, working, and all the while children scampered around, making the most of their natural playground created by the stilted island houses. Everyone knows each other, and Darla is especially popular. An almost unofficial leader of the north side, a school has been built her in name for the community, and she can't wait to teach there. She is also one of the main points of contact in St. Helene for the Abundant Life Foundation.
Even Darla's house is a popular hotspot. On the ground floor is the community's local "convenience store" with tables to sit and eat at, work, or just hang out. Nestled between the bright green walls and mounted in the corner sat a TV running the background. This isn't a common occurrence. Blackouts are frequent, and even when the generator is running, the cost of running it is so high it's nearly unaffordable. Some people seem indifferent about the TV, while others are glued to whatever's on. However, Darla's dad Junior, who dwells upstairs, has complete control over the viewing schedule. Whatever Junior watches upstairs, the gathering downstairs watches too.
Throughout the day Darla showed us around the community. With one arm around her neighbor's baby and the other wrapped around her niece, Chelsea, Darla led us through lush green plants, teaching us about the land and the people that inhabit it. We gradually picked up children along the way who all seem to want to be involved in whatever is happening at any given time. A walk around the entire north side doesn't take too long, and by the time we got back, the children were itching to be entertained. Darla set up a game of dodgeball, organized a Maypole dance, and sang classic children's songs that have made their way over to this small island. "Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar" was sung to the rapt attention of the circle of children surrounding Darla.
As the day wound down, some people trickled off into the darkness while others stuck around to congregate under Darla's wood-beamed roof. Some of the women still had their heads down, knitting away with plarn (plastic bags turned into yarn) to make their beautiful up-cycled bags. Others sat at the TV, watching it flick from channel to channel. Darla's mom tended to the house and store.
Darla herself continued to entertain the remaining children, sneaking in interaction with her fellow adults whenever she could. This is a close community and Darla is clearly at the center of it. Watching her play the final game of the night surrounded by four neighborhood children, I remembered something Darla had said earlier in the day that epitomized her perfectly: "I don't ask anything for myself; I ask for my community".
Want to get involved? Head here to donate directly to ALF’s joint program with MPOWERD in Roatán, and stay tuned for the next installment in our series!