From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

A Tiny Denim Dress

Our rickety truck climbed the steep hill to the fertile coffee land in the Honduran mountains. To the right was a beautiful countryside. Unless you looked closely, you couldn’t see the crumbled homes. Off to the left were shacks belonging to seventeen devastated coffee farmers who lost everything when Hurricane Mitch swept through this land nine months earlier.

Unable to buy back their expensive coffee land, the government took ownership of the land after their homes were evacuated in October 1998. Two days after the hurricane, missionaries and relief agencies rushed food to these mountain families. But the temporary relief didn’t provide new homes or new sources of income.

We unloaded the twenty bags of clothing sent from American missionary barrels. My teammates and I each grabbed a bag while our leader announced to the villagers, “Vamos a dar ropa. Venga.” We are going to give clothes. Come.

The dark-eyed people swarmed around our bags. I looked around trying to size up a tiny denim dress. A small girl with lightened streaks of hair—probably from malnutrition—shyly put out her hands. I held the dress to her shoulders. It looked right. I helped her slip on the dress and button it up. A perfect fit. A girl, who once wore only panties and sandals, walked away wearing a dress and a beaming smile.

I watched her trek up the hill and wander into the door of her one-room shack. She kept looking down and holding out her dress. Her fingers caressed it, as if amazed to actually own something so beautiful. I hung my head in shame. At home, my closet bulged with clothes. How many times had I complained about my lack of clothes? Would I ever dare to wear the same shirt two days in a row to school, or would I still be embarrassed?

When I signed up for this Teen Missions International summer trip to Honduras, learning humility was not what I had bargained for. Heat, thundershowers, mosquitoes and different foods challenged us. Each night of our two-week training ended with a rally filled with cheers, singing and inspirational speaking. Our team learned brick-laying, concrete mixing, carpentry, steel-tying and even puppetry in preparation for our four weeks in Honduras.

Why should I slave away under the hot sun in a foreign country when I could be relaxing at the lake? The answer for me was seeing that little girl walking away with the tiny denim dress—probably the first dress she ever had. It gave me a satisfaction I would never have found at the beach. Maybe we didn’t change much in Honduras, but Honduras sure changed us.

Jinny Pattison

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on Teen Missions International, Inc., contact 885 East Hall Rd., Merritt Island, FL 32953; 321-453-0350; fax: 321-452-7988; e-mail: [email protected]; Web site: www.teenmissions.org.]

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