By Scott Prater
Senior Airmen Joe Potalivo and Nicholas Gahm have visited many countries around the world as 50th Security Forces Squadron Airmen, but nothing quite prepared them for what they experienced during a volunteer mission trip to Central America inMarch.
Prior to departing, the Airmen learned they were going to the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. One of the world’s deadliest and most poverty stricken cities.
“I must admit, I deliberated for a long time about whether I should go or not,” Potalivo said. “San Pedro Sula, Honduras has the highest murder per capita of any city with more than 100,000 people. It’s filled with poverty and political corruption.”
Gahm and Potalivo attend Radiant Church in Colorado Springs. They heard for many months about the church’s mission to Honduras. They hadn’t put much consideration into participating, but as the date of the trip approached their contemplation turned serious.
“Gahm asked me if I was going,” Potalivo said. “I searched for information and found out some pretty alarming facts, yet something drew me toward going. I figured it might be impossible to get a passport on short notice and the idea of going somewhere potentially unsafe raised doubts, but ultimately, I decided to go because it is a place desperate for hope.”
Hope, Gahm said, is exactly what drove them to take the trip; to spread hope.
The Hope House Project, or as it’s called in San Pedro Sula, “Casa de Esperanza,” began in 2012. Kenny Driscoll, a business owner in Colorado Springs who has donated funds toward helping children stricken by poverty throughout the world, sponsored the project. Besides Honduras, Driscoll also supports missions in Swazi Land and Venezuela.
Gahm and Potalivo boarded their airplane on an early Tuesday morning with no worries or fears and at perfect peace about everything that was set to happen during the next 10 days.
After arriving in San Pedro Sula later that night, a van picked up Gahm, Potalivo, and the rest of the mission team. They crammed into a nondescript van and drove off into the dark streets of San Pedro Sula.
“The hotel had a few armed guards, which made us feel somewhat secure,” Potalivo said. “But, the first problem we noticed was that hardly anyone spoke English. Most everyone communicated in Spanish exclusively. Luckily, Gahm knew enough to get us by.”
Their first day commenced with a 40-minute drive from their hotel to the village where the Hope House was being constructed. With no true observable traffic laws, the streets and ground were covered in trash, debris and sugar cane plants.
“In one random village we drove through, we saw malnourished cattle, just roaming the streets,” Gahm said.
Their main objective, upon arriving, was to help build three, large, brick buildings, that once completed, would house more than 100 orphans. They did a litlte of everything, from erecting insulation to constructing a perimeter security.
“The most labor intensive part of the whole trip was the sifting of sand,” said Gahm.
Potalivo described the activity as shoveling rocks into a filter.
During the course of their first three days, a seemingly endless amount of sand was sifted as a means for making concrete for the building’s security perimeter. But, the Schriever Airmen’s back-breaking work proved no comparison to the joy they experienced through the children they met.
“Every day we would come to work, many of the village children would be there waiting on us, greeting us with smiles and handshakes as we got out of the van,” Gahm said. “The glow that shined on their faces was astonishing. These children, ranging from 3 to 11 years old, had nothing but the clothes on their backs, yet they were the happiest little kids I have ever met. They were all so grateful for every little thing we gave them.”
Gahm and Potalivo made sure to bring snacks and water each day and said the children were happy for even a left-over plastic shopping bag.
On their fourth day in country, the mission group introduced village children to the sport of golf. Never hearing of the sport before, the kids were more than eager to learn. A local Colorado Springs professional golfer, Gene Gabelmann, taught the kids a variety of techniques on swinging the golf club and the basic fundamentals of the game.
On their last evening in Honduras, the two Airmen were invited to a special dinner at Angie McInvale’s house. McInvale, who moved to Honduras from Alabama 15 years ago, will be the primary care taker of the orphanage once it is complete and she directed the entire project.
“It was an awesome dinner,” Gahm said. “We all sat at a table in the middle of Angie’s yard and all of the children watched us intensely as we prepared to eat. Suddenly, they surrounded our table and began praying over us. It was absolutely astonishing to see how God was working in the lives of these kids.”
“To see kids with such an amazing relationship with God, was one of a kind,” Potalivo added.
The satisfaction of a job well done
Currently, McInvale provides for 20 children and lives in the inner city of San Pedro Sula. One of her children is actually going to college to be a doctor. By the time the Hope House project is complete, she’ll be responsible for housing and improving the lives of more than 100 children from a poverty-stricken world.
“This was an experience we both will never forget,” Potalivo said. “We have few years on this Earth to make what we can of ourselves. In March 2013, this is how we decided to help. You never know how even a simple smile, can change someone’s day and sometimes even their life.”
To find out more about “The Hope House Project,” visit www.facebook.com/TheHopeHouseProject.