When I was very young, my uncle Eduardo Fernandez, a Catholic priest and Berkeley professor of Theology, used to prop me up on his lap and share with me countless stories of his many journeys around the world. He told me stories of children who were my age and sadly did not have the privileged life that I so guiltily took for granted every day. He told me stories about families who pursued survival every day and not newer things for the home or ideas for an exciting summer vacation. He even told me stories of places where people could die for merely choosing one God over another. All of these stories I took in, so young and so naive. But now, I finally know what he was trying to do. His stories took me through the mountains of Central America, the historically rich cities of Europe, the indigenous communities of Africa and through many unseen cultures in Asia, all for the purpose of fostering within me a love for mankind and a growing urge to take action. For this, I will forever be thankful to him.
From May 19 - 26, I joined my brothers of Phi Delta Theta in an international immersion trip to Honduras. To say that this trip was life changing is a mere understatement. Never in my life have I ever been so humbled and inspired. The experiences that I had in Honduras will forever remind me that anything is truly possible in life, for the world’s problems are far greater than those that we fight at home every day. In Honduras, I had the privilege of sharing my daily experiences with the rest of the brothers that attended the trip. Our talks and trading of experiences every night helped me to grow deeper in the very things that make me a Phi Delta Theta. I will forever remember these brothers and I hope that they had as great of an experience as I did.
“One man is no man.”
On the third day of our trip, I had the experience of joining a group of children for an afternoon on a soccer field that was in the village right outside of where we stayed. Many of these children had holes in their shoes, old clothes, scratches all over their body and occasional health issues, but each of these children wore the most enormous smiles I’ve ever seen. In my community at home, it is becoming less common to see children putting down video game controllers and taking their play outside. In this fast moving world that we live in, technology has become the standard for fun and entertainment and unfortunately, many children will grow up not valuing the person to person contact that is shared outside on the playground. In Honduras, however, technology was not an option. With no toys, no playground, no balls and no pavement, these children reminded me that all that is needed to enjoy life is the mere society of others. We learned the games that these children played and we spent three hours running around, getting dirty, falling on our faces and enjoying life by the help and society of these children. I will never forget the love and compassion that they all shared with each other and the amount of love that they shared with us despite the fact that we were odd strangers.
Friendship is an element of life that exists when one chooses it. It doesn’t happen by chance or by coincidence. Friendship is the foundation for any relationship no matter what kind, and I will now forever value all of the great people that I have ever welcomed into my life far more than I have before. Friendship is what makes someone commit an act of bravery; it is what makes one decide to do something about the problems within his community. It is what shapes the minds of fraternity men who go on to shape the world. Friendship, though often taken for granted, exists not between computers or between phones, but between people. Friendship is God’s gift to humanity and without it we are nothing.
|Our day with the children of San Isidro|
“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” – John F. Kennedy
Throughout our trip, we were treated with incredible hospitality by some of the most compassionate people that I have ever met. We stayed in a missionary camp that was founded in order to host travelers who went to Honduras with the plans of helping to better the surrounding communities. One of the people who I grew closest with was Leo. Leo is a native of Nicaragua and traveled to Honduras to follow his brother who is a pastor. Leo has been serving with the missionary for five years and told me that if he didn’t have necessities in life, he would do his work for the mission for free. Though born in a less fortunate family, Leo went to Honduras with a plan to better himself in order to enable himself to help others. Throughout his five years in Honduras, Leo has managed to learn English, attend a university, start a business, become a leader in many communities in Honduras, start a family and become one of the most faithful employees of Heart for Honduras. In my eyes, Leo greatly exemplified our cardinal principle of sound learning through his diligent work in bettering himself as a person through persistently seeking knowledge. In college, we are often taught what to think and seldom how to think. It is only a small percentage of the college population that chooses to pursue the ability to think efficiently rather than accepting what they are told to think. In a way, Leo fought the same battles that we do but on a different level. Everywhere around Leo, there are people struggling, hurting and often giving in to the challenges of life. Leo, however, chose a different path for himself and although he struggled far more than the average person, he never lost sight of his path and he finally created a life for both himself and for others.
In life, we need to accept where we are and learn to move forward. Oftentimes, we let the biggest opportunities pass us by and we allow the most insignificant things to get in our way. Those who never lose sight of their path are the ones who arrive at their destination. Sound Learning is about everything that happens outside of classroom. It is about what we do to seek out a high standard of mental culture no matter what area of study we come. We need to always remember to be mindful of what we accept into our minds as individuals and to always remember to pay our blessings forward. Like Leo, we should love what we do so much that if we could, we would do it for free.
|Brother Joel Vega (left), Leo (middle), and me|
“Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him.” – Thomas Aquinas
On the sixth day of our trip, we had the pleasure of visiting an orphanage in San Pedro Sula, one of the world’s most dangerous cities. This orphanage housed children of all ages, most of whom needed medical attention. Children who lived in the orphanage were children who were left behind by their parents for one reason or another. In my eyes, it is a calamity that I child can go unloved by their parents.
Upon entering this orphanage, within a few seconds, children were jumping all over us asking us to pick them up and to hold them. They called us, ‘Tio,” which literally translates to, “Uncle,” but in the Honduran culture is used as a term of endearment. These children had so much energy that many of us were tired before they were. We played soccer, showed them things of ours, took pictures, offered a hand in the nursery and had conversations with the more timid children. One child I will never forget was Abigail. Abigail is 10 years old and is dying of leukemia. When she was 8 years old, Abigail’s right leg was amputated and she is now forever confined to crutches when she walks. At merely 10 years old, Abigail was already the sweetest and most loving young lady I had ever met. She complimented me on my smile, asked questions about my American education, told me something about each of the children in the nursery and even teased me about my Spanish being terrible. Abigail went on to tell me that her medical condition can only hold her back if she lets it and that she would never let that happen. Abigail’s smile will forever be a memory that I recall when my life seems to come to a halt.
One of the most surprising discoveries I made at the orphanage was the amount of pay for the nurses that run it. Nurses who work at the orphanage, though nationally certified and fully educated, are paid no more than a few thousand dollars a year. I wondered to myself, if a degree in nursing is extremely difficult to attain in a country like Honduras, why would one choose to pursue a career in nursing knowing that the pay is not logical? To my humble surprise, these women told us that if they did not care for these children, who would? If they had not done what ought to be done, then no one would have.
That evening, we visited to a local children’s program that was headed by a Honduran pastor who has dedicated his life to helping children escape the shackles of poverty through providing education and opportunity. Pastor Francisco Huete was one of the most compassionate men I’d met throughout the whole trip and his dedication to both his faith and the children of Honduras was incredibly inspiring. “Pastor Freddy,” as he told us to call him, gave us a tour of his facility and acquainted us with the program. He explained that international donors from all over the world fund the program and all money received goes towards funding educational programs, leadership development opportunities, sports, books and basic living needs for over 30 children. 15 children, Pastor Freddy informed us, currently still need sponsors and cannot be included in the program until they are found sponsors. “You, my son, will change the lives of one of these children when you get home,” he told me as he put his arm around me and looked me straight in the eye. I am currently in the process of applying to become a sponsor.
Before the trip, I thought I knew how meaningful Robert Morrison’s philosophy was. “To do what ought to be done but would not have been done unless I did it,” is a philosophy that we as members of Phi Delta Theta constantly hear in our minds throughout our everyday lives. Until I had seen it in action in a place like Honduras, I never realized how important it really was. In a place that is home to the world’s most dangerous cities, there still exist brave men and women who strive to do what ought to be done everyday. Though it is difficult and though it called for major sacrifices, the men and women I met on my trip lived this philosophy without question. Everyday, whether it be with a group project, a chapter meeting, a community service group or our own families, we always wait for someone else to step up to the plate and make something happen. We always assume that there is someone else to fill a position that needs to be filled or that there is someone else who will be willing to take up a responsibility. However, I am very sure that those who have made the biggest impact in history were the ones who did what ought to be done. The reality of life is that sometimes that person is not there and sometimes that person does not show up. We, as men of Phi Delta Theta, need to be that person who people can count on. When people assume that someone will fill a position, because they will, we need to be that man. When people are lost and need a leader to show them the light, we need to be that man. When there is calamity all around us with no one brave enough to do something about it, we will be those men who do something about it.
In all ways, in all things that you do and in every moment of your life, live with every single ounce of you because when the time comes to do what ought to be done, the world will look to a leader to get the job done. We are those leaders.
Gabriel Fernandez is a member of the Texas Tau chapter of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Texas. This post was originally posted on the Phi Delta Thetablog.