The First Girl (Part One)

GisselaCan you remember one of those “light bulb moments” in your life? We all have them – that moment when something goes off in your head and sparks action. You know what I’m talking about….you’ve been there, too.

The most vivid light bulb moment for me happened several years ago in Honduras while I was working there building houses for impoverished families. In fact, I had someone snap a photo of that moment and I keep that picture to this day.

Honduras in the spring is hot and dry. The air blows warm and the sun beats relentlessly down on the arid landscape. That day began as all the others… climbing hills, hammering a house together, and crawling around on a hot tin roof. But this time one thing was different. This time I had a companion. Her name was Gissela, and she followed me everywhere. Any time I was free, she was holding my hand as if to say “Don’t go anywhere.” I just couldn’t shake her, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to. She seemed to be the same age as my oldest daughter, and I felt this strange bond, as if she really needed a father.

As the day wound down and we began to pack up our tools, I took a little time to talk with Gissela.  She was, in fact, my daughter’s age, and lived with her mother and 8-9 other family members in a shack not far from where we were building. She attended a primary school in the village nearby, where she was in 5th grade. She made good grades and liked school. She loved her friends and was very glad to meet me. “Was I coming back? When?” she wanted to know.  Then the revelation came. I asked a simple question, but got an answer I wasn’t expecting.

“Where will you go to school after you finish the 6th grade?” This seemed like a simple question, as if she would just tell me she would hop on a bus to another village, step right into the 7th grade and keep on going. Her answer was startling. “I’m not going to 6th grade. My family can’t afford it and I need to work to help feed us”. What? Did I just hear her correctly? You have to work?!

That moment, the light bulb came on. I would find a way to get this girl through school, one way or another. Quick! Snap a picture of me and Gissela! I want to be able to find her when I come back.

It was a light bulb moment. There were girls dropping out of school in the 5th grade to help feed their family. Tell me this was just one unique case… please.