We all face hardships in life, some more than others. There was a time in my life where I needed the help of those around me, and in return, paying that forward has become my passion. With Cisco’s recent announcement that they were giving every employee five days to give back to the global community, it struck an even deeper chord in me. Now, instead of using my own personal PTO to volunteer, Cisco was encouraging that passion in me and celebrating the giving spirit of its employees. I decided to put some of this time Cisco had given me towards my days in Honduras at an orphanage called La Finca.
Before my colleague Karla St. Louis and I left, we stuffed bags with necessary supplies. And for those who could not join us in Honduras, like my former manager Angie Miller, Amazon Prime was making regular deliveries to my house and entire suitcases were generously being filled that way. As much as the 14 of us headed to Honduras took, we all knew La Finca still needed more: basic necessities that many of us may not even think about like shower curtains, to the more obvious – clothes and shoes.
There was a little boy whose feet were so tender because there was no sole on the bottom of his shoe, and he had been running around on just the foam. There is only cold water to shower with, and the older girls are all sharing one tube of lipstick. The week we were there, four more mothers approached the gate of La Finca wanting to drop off their children and had to be turned away.
With a staff of 13 throughout the orphanage, including their school – the man who runs it even grew up there – our group brought them all outfits too. We could simply not leave anyone out.
And in our time there, we got to see the sweet smiles of those who were handed shoes and outfits. The older girls got to experience what shopping must be like when they tried on their clothes. Members of our group made all the kids a lasagna dinner one evening, and after their fifth helping, the boys had to be cut off as they will all eat until they are sick.
Photography is another passion of mine, and so I also went to La Finca to take and give the children childhood photos of themselves. Every smile is a melancholy beauty. Every photo I took made me wonder if this child knew that they were amazing. That they can be anything they want to be.
While I was there I photographed a young man named Samuel, who weighed 4lbs at 7 months old when he was dropped off. His mother said “If he lives – he lives, if he dies – bury him.” He’s now 22, and I watched as he heard that story for the first time, and saw the photo of that day.
As he processed his story, he said that Sunday was always the worst day of the week for him because it was family day. He would sit in a corner and sing to himself with no visitors.
We went back to that corner and as he sang I realized the song with the “my life will never be the same” lyrics, might be the most beautiful song I have ever heard. Tears fell from my eyes as I sat behind my camera and I snapped this photo.
Samuel is now in college, funded by the Honduras government, for agriculture. He is looking to return to the orphanage to help teach them how to farm the land that was donated to them. Usually the children only have rice and beans to eat each day.
When I arrived at the orphanage I saw a mural of a lion and told Samuel that he is that lion. He is an inspiration to so many, including many young ones from Honduras who can see in Samuel what is possible.
I was able to photograph all 66 children. Most of the time we couldn’t communicate and oddly enough we didn’t need to – smiles and hugs were our language.
I’m not sure why, but I was really surprised to see how happy the children all were. Love really does conquer all. I realized in all of them that hope was very much alive. As a photographer, you often focus on the eyes. I photograph children with cancer and in the NICU and I have seen eyes that do not have hope left in them. However, these children…the hope was there.
Now that I am home, I have hugged my 7 year old son till it annoys him. I know I will feel no guilt when he asks me for his next toy and I say “No.”
The boys in the orphanage snatched my lens cap to use it as a Frisbee – and it made me wonder where true creativity and innovation comes from. Am I removing it from my son by buying him toys or should I let him have some time to be “bored” and see what he invents on his own?
I once interviewed a CIO that said, “You spend more time with your co-workers than you do your own family, you ought to know something about them.” And, he’s right.
The time Cisco gave me to continue my passion in giving back, may have been some of the most rewarding. I realized that the days Cisco has given us to give back is not just a benefit, but it is actually a beautiful gift and I am so very grateful.
It just so happens that one of our customer executives, whom I got to know, had a direct report that grew up in a small orphanage in Honduras.
That orphanage was called La Finca.
It is just a piece of what inspired Karla and me to travel to Honduras – and maybe it will inspire future Cisconians to continue giving back and perhaps even to help La Finca.
Please consider helping by donating to La Finca.
Want to work for a company that encourages you to give back to your global community? We’re hiring!