By Samantha SLAYBACK
or many, college is a time of exploration. For Crescenta Valley High School graduate Riley Chambers, that urge to explore took her all the way to Honduras. With her trip over, Chambers has been spending a lot of time reflecting on her experiences abroad with the Justice Studies program.
Now in her second year attending Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 19-year-old Chambers majors in international development and social work.
“As an international development major, it is a requirement to study in a developing country,” explained Chambers. “I have a strong interest in Central and South America, so Honduras was the perfect fit.”
Two of Chambers’ professors, Kurt Ver Beek and Jo Ann Van Engen, lived in Honduras for 26 years and were involved in starting the Association for a More Just Society (AJS). Most recently, AJS has been involved in an agreement with the Honduran government and Transparency International in an effort to bring more transparency to the government.
“Through the many connections the professors had through AJS, we had the opportunity to visit all kinds of places and hear from guest speakers,” said Chambers. “In our first week we visited ex-president Mel Zelaya in his living room.”
Thanks to its connections, the group Chambers was a part of also visited a palm plantation, maquilas (sweatshops), the presidential palace, the U.S. Embassy, Compassion International and two hospitals, among other places.
During their last two weeks in Honduras, students were able to participate in an internship of their choosing. According to Chambers, there were two students in hospitals, one at an orphanage, one at an elementary school, one at an agricultural college, one working with maquila unions, one building houses and one at AJS. Chambers chose to work with IMPACT, an at-risk youth program.
Chambers has worked with kids since her sophomore year of high school, so IMPACT seemed the obvious fit with her own interests. The children she worked with lived in Nueva Suyapa, the second most dangerous neighborhood in Tegucigalpa.
“Gang violence is a huge problem,” she said. “IMPACT gets kids off the streets and into games, soccer, art classes, computer classes, beauty classes and English classes.”
Aside from her studies, Chambers said the biggest culture difference she encountered was “machismo.” She explained that women were not allowed to leave the house at night, and they were to cater to any need of male family members. Everywhere she went outdoors, she described getting catcalled and verbally harassed.
Despite the culture shock, Chambers said she doesn’t regret anything.
“Studying abroad has been the best experience of my life and I truly feel that I have found a home in Honduras,” Chambers said. “The experience has allowed me to step back and appreciate the little things.”
She also shared that her experience in Honduras has confirmed her desires to live internationally and work with children. After finishing up her four years at Calvin College, she hopes to find work with a non-profit seeking justice.
“I had an incredible experience and I’m still fighting the fact that it’s over,” she said.