Defending her lifeby Kari Costanza, World Vision on October 26, 2016
Hector Rodriguez Garcia and his 16-year-old daughter Janeth grow coffee in Honduras. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)
This is the story of two fathers in Honduras: Jose Gustavo, a farmer who is motivated by his faith and the loss of his daughter Maria Paula, and Hector, whose 16-year-old daughter Janeth helps him grow coffee.
Read how overcoming poverty through sponsorship and economic development helps to defend childhood and enables children to experience full lives right where God planted them.
There is something very special about the relationship between a father and a daughter. When I was 28, I lost my dad to cancer. I’ve missed him so—his hearty laugh and big, gap-toothed smile. His death left a deep trench in our family. We lost our protector—our defender.
Jose Gustavo Benitez did his best to defend his daughter’s childhood, but it wasn’t enough. His eyes grew sad as he told me his story. It starts in western Honduras, one of the poorest places in the country. Jose Gustavo is a good farmer, a good husband, and a good dad. He starts and ends every day in prayer.
Jose Gustavo cares for his community. He could sell the land his father bequeathed him for loads of money, but he shares it instead, letting his neighbors farm the land so they can grow food to take care of their families. He looks to World Vision to help him farm better and smarter. World Vision makes sure he has top-notch seeds and fertilizer, a working irrigation system, and that Jose Gustavo is part of a savings group to help him put away money for the future.
Jose Gustavo is motivated by two things: a faithful heart and a profound loss. A decade ago, one of his daughters, Maria Paula, left home for San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “I didn’t want her to leave,” says Jose Gustavo. He feared for his daughter’s life. San Pedro Sula was the murder capital of the world, and Maria Paula was only 13. How could Jose Gustavo protect her?
Maria Paula became pregnant and had a child. Then the unthinkable happened. “She took pills and they found her dead,” he told me. That’s all he’ll ever know. In a place where death is a daily occurrence, police did not investigate.
Poverty drives too many young people in Central America to make dangerous journeys seeking opportunity. The big cities are rife with gang activity and drug trafficking. The journey through Mexico to the United States is equally dangerous. Some people ride a train called “The Beast,” jumping aboard and then clinging precariously to freight cars running north. A botched jump can result in death or being maimed, as does falling asleep on top of the cars.
Standing next to Jose Gustavo in that sunny field as his neighbors cultivated fat green peppers and ripe red tomatoes, I drank in the depth of this father’s sorrow. How do you pick up the pieces when your child dies? How can you fight for her when you’re battling poverty, gangs, and drug trafficking? Jose Gustavo is working to turn his pain into productivity. But this pain never leaves—a pain no father should have to endure.
Jose Gustavo and his wife, Julia, holding a picture of Maria Paula. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)
In a community an hour away, a similar story is unfolding—this time with a happier ending. Hector Rodriguez Garcia and his 16-year-old daughter Janeth are in deep conversation, picking coffee beans from a tree next to their home. Janeth smiles, crinkly-eyed with deep dimples at something her father says. Hector smiles back, the same crinkly-eyed grin. Hector and Janeth are part of a savings group started by World Vision that grows coffee. “I thank God that World Vision supports me,” she says.
Janeth, who is sponsored, works with her father after school, once her homework is done. She’s saving for university so she can become a nurse some day. There are 13 other teen girls in the savings group. “None of them have become pregnant,” she says. “They are interested in the future.”
Both Hector’s and Janeth’s lives have changed because of sponsorship, the savings group, and coffee. “I only went to third grade,” says Hector. “I learned to sign my name. That was all.” The family struggled to survive, growing and eating only corn. Janeth contracted pneumonia. Hector and his wife thought she might die.
Today the family is thriving. Hector is secretary of the savings group and is working to create a life where Janeth can succeed and stay in the place she was born. It’s where she wants to be. Janeth loves her family and life in Honduras. “I want her to be the difference,” says Hector. With World Vision alongside, Hector is defending his daughter’s childhood.
In Honduras, overcoming poverty through sponsorship and economic development can enable children to experience full lives right where God planted them—just as it has done for Janeth. And nothing could make her father happier.