Editor’s Note: For one week in July, U.S. Olympic Team goaltender Molly Schaus stepped outside of her crease to help build a house in Honduras as part of Habitat for Humanity’s global initiative of improving the lives of those around the world. Here is Molly’s journal from her week in Honduras.
Day 1: (July 23, 2011)
I left my house in Natick, Mass., at 4 a.m. with a lot of excitement and a few reservations. At the time, I had no idea if I had packed the right things or even if my carry-on would fit in the overhead bin. After a quick layover in Miami and some final instructions from my worried parents, I arrived in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in the country, around 11:30 a.m. local time. Going through customs, it was amazing to feel all the energy and to hear the different stories from others on my flight. My traveling companions came from diverse backgrounds and hometowns, but we’d all made the trek to Honduras for the same reason.
With several hours to kill in San Pedro Sula, we spent the afternoon exploring the town, checking out the local sights as we learned a little about the local culture and one another. We were all excited for the road ahead.
Day 2: (July 24)
After loading the van, we had a brief orientation meeting to discuss our mission. We learned that we would be helping Jose, a single father of two and a janitor at the local high school, to build his house from the ground up. We all wondered how much we would be able to accomplish in one week’s time.
We set out on a two-hour drive south from San Pedro Sula to Siguatepeque, making frequent stops along the way to see the sights. Fortunately, several of our group members were fluent in Spanish and could translate what our tour guide was saying. Having taken Spanish in high school, I was able to pick up bits and pieces of the conversation.
Our home for the week would be the Forestry School in Siguatepeque. The cool mountain air was a break from the humidity. We dropped our bags off in our rooms and went to explore the town. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday, most of the shops were closed, so we just walked around the plazas.
We made it back to the dorms just in time to beat out a huge storm that was blowing through, our first introduction to the late afternoon storms that are daily occurrences during the wet season.
Day 3: (July 25)
It was finally time to get to work. On our way to the job site, we stopped by the Habitat for Humanity affiliate offices in Siguatepeque to meet the people who made our trip possible. Then it was off to Alicia, a small village in the mountains, where we met up with Jose and Giovanni, a skilled mason who would lead the project.
Our main focus was to build the foundation for the house, which began with us taking turns using picks and shovels to dig deep trenches. The fact that we were building on a hill added to the difficulty. The local chickens and roosters made for an entertaining distraction but quickly became a nuisance when they started to claw the dirt back into the holes. Before long we shifted our efforts to working with rebar to support the foundation.
After a grueling day of physical labor, we went back to the Forestry School. By 9 p.m., I was exhausted and ready for bed.
Day 4: (July 26)
Our day began with more work on the foundation. Although we’d made some headway the previous day, there was still a lot of digging to be done. I spent most of the day working with the rebar, lashing pieces together to make the foundation for the floor. In the afternoon, we finally finished what was left of the excavation and rebar and were able to move on with the next phase – pouring the concrete.
For lunch, the Habitat staff cooked us a traditional Honduran meal of tortillas (a staple at every meal), refried beans, queso, sausage and a spicy salsa. They gave us a quick lesson on how to make the tortillas.
As everyone in the group became more comfortable with one another, people started to open up about their life experiences. It’s amazing how quickly 12 people can come together to become a team and accomplish meaningful tasks while having a lot of fun in the process.
Day 5: (July 27)
After finishing the last of the rebar work, we started to mix batches of concrete, which was a mixture of dirt, cement, limestone and water. We then formed an assembly line to pass the concrete, bucket after bucket, to create the foundation.
It was somewhat disheartening when we later learned that what had taken us all day to accomplish by hand could’ve been done in a few hours using modern machinery.
By the end of the day, I was covered in cement and had completed a strenuous upper-body workout.
We made it back to the dorms just before another huge storm came through. This one was so big that it knocked out the power in the middle of my shower. We passed the time before dinner all crammed into one bedroom, sharing stories by flashlight.
Day 6: (July 28)
After the previous night’s storm, our first priority was to remove the pools of water from the construction site. We then whipped up a few more batches of concrete to finish off the foundation. For the next few hours, I found myself sifting and transporting dirt to get the mixture ready to make the mortar. That might not sound so bad, but the dirt and the sifter were at the top of a steep, bumpy hill and our build site was near the bottom. Unfortunately, the oxen that helped us earlier in the week were gone, so it was up to us to make endless trips up and down the hill with full wheelbarrows.
That afternoon brought a welcome change of pace. After three and a half days of digging, we began the process of stacking cinder blocks. Finally, we were able to see the outline of the house emerge.
Day 7: (July 29)
I am writing this by flashlight because a storm knocked out the power this afternoon. It was a very eventful day, celebratory at times and emotional at others. We finished up as much work as we could, completing the first three levels of cinderblocks. We broke up the tedious job of hauling dirt up and down the hill by running wheelbarrow races.
Later that afternoon, the Habitat staff came to the work site for a closing ceremony that included presenting Jose with a piñata and cake. Since it was my 23rd birthday, they let me take the first whacks at the piñata as everyone sang Feliz Cumpleaños.
Our farewell dinner at the Habitat office in Siguatepeque was a Honduran BBQ and included the staff, Giovanni, Jose and his son, along with a number of neighborhood kids. We brought gifts and had a blast playing, singing and dancing with the local children. It will definitely be a birthday I’ll never forget.
Day 8: (July 30)
It took about five hours to drive from Siguatepeque to the Copan Ruins on the winding roads that snake though the mountains, and pass through small towns along the way. We spent two hours touring the Mayan ruins and had lunch before checking into a gorgeous hotel at the heart of Copan, a predominantly tourist town. After a long week of manual labor, taking a hot shower and sleeping in a comfortable bed felt like a luxury.
We had the afternoon to explore the town on our own and four of us took this opportunity to go zip-lining through the mountains just outside of town before meeting for one final meal together. No one wanted the night to end because soon we would be saying our goodbyes and going our separate ways.
Being an Olympic athlete has afforded me so many wonderful experiences, both at home and abroad. Having the chance to work with Habitat for Humanity and to be a part of something that will have such a lasting impact on someone else is an experience I will never forget. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and to lend a helping hand to a family in need while experiencing a different culture. It was a welcome break from my training, but more importantly, it opened my eyes to a whole different world.