A Lunch that Empowers for Life
by Jeanne Baumgardner
In front of the soccer field in the neighborhood known as Nuevo San Diego in Talanga, Honduras is a small brick house with a sign that reads Comedor Infantil Pasionista (Passionist dining room for children). If you walk through the doors any Monday through Friday between the hours of 10:30 am and 1:00 pm, you will see children like Tanya, a bright four-year-old, coloring calmly at a picnic table, or mischievous Luis trying to kill the frog that lives in the latrine.
But little Luis never manages to get the frog! Among the mothers who come to prepare the meals and us, somebody is always keeping a watchful eye on the kids. The four magical words, "ya esta la comida" (the food is ready) always set the kids into a quick routine to clean up, join hands in a circle to say grace and then sit in anticipation for the mothers to bring them whatever is on that day's menu. Comedor Infantil Pasionista is a lunch program which currently serves twenty of the poorest children ranging in age from four to six. But Comedor is so much more than just food. It is a place of empowerment and community.
When you walk through the market of Talanga beyond the vendors of food and clothing, you will see two dumpsters where children and dogs compete for the scraps of food. During our first week here, Luis, the musician at the church in Talanga, noticed the shocked look on my face as I watched the children picking through the garbage, filling bags with food and empty plastic bottles. He informed me that children who scavenge through the dumpster are considered among the most marginalized groups in that region.
Luis pointed to an empty building across from the dumpsters— Comedor Infantil was painted across the top in bright blue letters surrounded by a mural of animals. Shaking his head, he explained that the building had remained empty for years. "Your group could start a Comedor Infantil. You just have to want it to happen. But you have to get to know them first," nodding his head towards the group of children sitting against the sides of the dumpsters. Then in typical Luis fashion, he put on his hat, hopped on his bike and scooted off leaving me there in front of the dumpsters with my head spinning.
So I began to go to the dumpsters regularly. Every morning I would sit next to the children on a small square of cardboard and talk. They told me about their families, their favorite reggaeton song (reggae and rap), and laughed whenever I pronounced a word wrong.
But even as we conversed, they would watch out of the corner of their eyes. When they spotted scraps of food or something they thought valuable, they would shyly snatch it up filling their large thatch bags, which by mid-afternoon they would balance on their heads as they walked back home.
Little by little, they let me into their lives. Gabriela shared with me her love of dancing. As we five Passionist Volunteers began to develop relationships with these children and the larger community of their poor neighborhood, their situation moved us deeply. We began to embrace the dream of opening a Comedor Infantil. Paulo Cuelho writes in The Alchemist, "When you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it." And so it seemed. Luis the musician was right. The more we began to want the Comedor to become a reality, the more we found that this desire was in the hearts of many members of the Talanga community.