Candida is a farmer, but she is a mother first.
She lives in the tiny community of La Majada, nestled in the Las Nieves mountains of the Santa Barbara Department, Honduras. Eight years ago I spent three days and three nights here alongside 11 other young people from my church. I still recall our time here vividly. Long days of steep climbing while hauling clay and dirt. Working away under the blazing sun to build chicken coups, clay stoves, and roofs. Teaching basic English to eager young learners in the tiny one room school, which services all the children in the community regardless of age level.
By night the twelve of us slept in that same one room school, our concatenation of sleeping pads lining the cement floors. At the time it was the most poor community I had ever spent time in. Rampant poverty, little food to go around, no electricity, no showers (and frequently unreliable running water for that matter).
This time around I am hosted by Candida. She offers me my own room while her and her two children, Antonio and Nicole, sleep in the other room. I feel bad about this, but she insists.
My second day with Candida, it is the early afternoon and I am sitting in her yard reading my book. Hands dirtied and feet weary, I just spent the morning hauling bags of soil and coffee plants into a pickup truck to be planted at a higher elevation up the mountainside. As I rest, roosters and pigs and dogs and ducks scurry about at my feet.
Candida’s day has just begun; she is a tour-de-force. Flipping tortillas, scrambling eggs, cooking beans, dicing up fresh avocados, feeding the dozens of animals who live on her property, folding and hanging laundry.
I talk with Nicole (12 years old, Candida’s youngest) as her mother prepares lunch for us. Nicole tells me she likes to study, and wants to be a doctor some day.
Candida serves me lunch first, then herself.
I tell her that her daughter is sweet and intelligent, that she will make a great doctor some day. She smiles and thanks god for her children, their health and happiness. She tells me about Antonio, whom I had yet to meet, her 15 year-old who has to be up early every day to work out in the farms, then attend school in the afternoon. She has two older sons as well, Noben and Carbon, 31 and 29 respectively, who work in San Pedro Sula.
“And your husband?”
When I ask this of Candida she shakes her head and looks away.
She explains that she has been alone for some time. As if the challenges of living in a poor, remote community weren’t enough, she has had to raise four children all by herself.
Such is the sad reality in many parts of the world. It’s a story as old as the human race itself. Man gets a woman pregnant, then leaves in cowardice, unwilling to accept the duty he owes to his offspring and to his partner.
I do some basic math in my head. Candida can’t be more than 50, it’s likely she became a mother in her teens. This has been her life since then, devoted entirely to her children and to her land.
After lunch Candida gives me a tour of her parcel.
She harvests coffee plants, beans, bananas, avocados, chili peppers, squash, tomatoes, and a cornucopia of other products. Most of the yield is for her family, for her children and livestock. All told it amounts to many mouths to feed. If she has some left over, she sells it in other mountain villages. Nicole even helps out, often carrying a small box of vegetables to neighboring communities, using some of the money she receives to buy school supplies.
There is something profoundly poetic about Candida’s growth of crops to help her children grow as human beings.
The company I’m working with, Vecinos Honduras, partnering with the Trinidad Conservation Project, has purchased various plots of land among the mountains over the past year, permitting farmers like Candida to cultivate them. Moreover, Vecinos has provided local workers with education and a channel for exchanging ideas, ultimately leading to stronger yields. Candida shows me a barrel of organic farming product which Vecinos taught her to produce. It acts as a completely natural organic fertilizer, fungicide, and insect repellent.
Later that day I meet Lourdes, the younger sister of Candida. She, too, has four children. She, too, does not have a spouse to support her.
I am in awe of the strength and resolve of these women. I lament that they have to endure the challenges of living in a poor community while raising multiple youngsters on their own. I am disgusted that the men, where ever they are, made the decision not to be involved in their children’s lives.
When Candida heads back to prepare dinner, I continue onward through the village with Lourdes. As we walk through the rocky, overgrown paths, I can’t help but feel the strength of this close-knit community. Everyone seems to know and trust everyone else, as evidenced when Lourdes and I casually weave in and out of people’s yards, bidding salutations. Here and there, Lourdes is even gifted fresh products that some of the families have grown.
People are almost always eager to welcome me into their homes, enthusiastic to show off their clay stoves and ovens, which were often built with the help of Vecinos Honduras. These abodes would barely pass for shacks in the US, yet they are brimming with love. There are bible verses and pictures of family and flower pots and pet dogs and parakeets in virtually every home. I see children playing with toys, their pictures they made in school adorning the walls. No TV’s or video games or smartphones. Just households living off the land, fueled by their devotion to family, faith, and community.
A host of children begin to follow us as we weave through the village. One or two come from each house we pass through. Excitable and full of laughter, I am overjoyed by their presence, and they are endlessly curious about me. They rarely see foreigners here.
These children are beset by many challenges in their youth, living without the resources that other children of the world take for granted. At such a young age they are expected to help out on the land as well as maintain their studies, forcing them to mature quickly. Unfortunately, many also don’t have the support of a father in their lives.
As I lie in bed that night, the sounds of nature and the crisp mountain air lulling me to sleep, I think about the mothers of the world. I think about my own incredible, loving, and strong mother, who I am blessed to call mine, who has made so many sacrifices to give me and my sisters a good and happy life. I think about Candida and Lourdes, whom have endured an even steeper challenge in giving their children opportunities, yet are undaunted and undeterred to the task.
Never doubt the fierce resolve of a woman determined to give her children the world.