I recently returned from a trip to the Agalta Valley in Honduras that I took with the Wilderness Team from Honduras Outreach. One of our purposes was to guide a group of villagers in building and installing water stands that would provide fresh water to the churches, schools and homes of various villages – 114 water stands in all.
On the surface, the project was fairly straightforward and simple: build and paint stands with the locals who would be using them, deliver the stands and train individuals on their use. Of course, the ultimate success of the project was more complex: it depended on the team itself working well together; it depended on our ability to overcome language barriers with the villagers and it depended on the team and the villagers achieving a level of trust that would allow for teamwork.
Most of the team members are leaders in business at some level. We could not all be leaders on the water stand project; some of us had to take a role that was unfamiliar to us and spend more time following direction than giving direction. We also had to learn quickly how to work together; with none of us having experience with the others, this could have been a challenge. Fortunately, we unconsciously followed a process that we use at Smith & Howard and it worked very well: we used our strengths.
For instance, one person was particularly adept with the drill; another was an engineer and understood the process of the design and execution. And all of us did perhaps what was most important: we trusted each other.
The villagers as a team
Though we knew we would have to rely on assistance from the villagers to complete the full scope of the project in the time allowed, we did not anticipate just how enthusiastically committed they would be to the project.
Within the group of villagers who worked directly with us, one leader stepped forward quickly and confidently: Eduardo. At 10 years old, Eduardo watched my work with the drill briefly, took it from my hand and took the lead on that part of the project. Although perhaps the youngest and most energetic of the leaders that emerged, Eduardo was not the exception. Quite the contrary, the villagers were deeply engaged in the project and exhibited a level of work ethic and responsibility that was amazing. They often insisted on doing the heavy lifting – as much out of a sense of owning the project as of helping our team. In all ways, it was done with a good spirit that was contagious.
While the experience of working with the villagers and the satisfaction of providing a way to get clean water would have been more than enough to make the trip memorable, each of our team members had personal stories and reflections at the end of the trip that are what we will carry with us for many years.
For me, there were two primary inspirations outside of the project:
First was the school. The children of the village attended school during the day – a school that might defy the stereotypical idea some have of a “village school” in Central America. It was an extremely clean and organized educational environment. The children all wear uniforms and take pride in the school and in their appearance. They also take their responsibility for education and for the village very seriously.
Second were the children. In particular, I was taken with one of the children who also had Down Syndrome. For some reason, he attached himself to me from the beginning – literally attached (see photo). There was no language barrier; he was telling me thanks for caring enough for him and his family to provide clean water to them. This showed me who the real leader was that day – HIM.