Shared Memories: Camping with 250 Boys

Jennifer Foster, PhD
Director of International Engagement
March 2024

About eight months into my year-long service at NPH Honduras, I went camping with around 250 boys. Years ago, the boys and girls would take separate camping trips to El Rio Grande before Holy Week, every March. All my girls from Chicas Poderosas asked me in amazement and doubt, “You’re going with the boys?!” Given that my “hogar” (or smaller section of kids) were the boys from the ages of 13-15, I said, “Of course!” The boys also gave me strange reaction, which seemed to foretell a painful weekend ahead. One told me how awful El Rio Grande always was: “Es muy feo, Jennifer” (“It’s really horrible, Jennifer”). All the boys agreed that there were a ton of mosquitoes and the gringos always got very burnt while camping. Also, I was warned to bring plenty of money to buy water and food, because supposedly they hardly were fed there. When I asked an older pequeño if he was also going to camp, he said “No, because I don’t like suffering.”

I was a little concerned. Still, I wanted to experience the camp out, for better or worse. So, I packed based on the kids’ suggestions: I had my plate and cup, a flashlight, toilet paper, my blanket, a lock, and a tent just for me and another female volunteer. I wasn’t keen on the idea of sleeping in a large tent with all my stinky teenagers. As we loaded the buses to go, the air was filled with excitement and festivity. Everyone ran around with their things until all the mattresses were strapped to the top of one of the busses. Surprisingly, it only took 45 minutes to arrive and as we turned onto the dirt road, heading for the river, everyone cheered. And, before you knew it we were unloading and setting up camp.

The first morning started at about 4 a.m., when the roosters started crowing. We ate breakfast—eggs and beans—and then headed out for the river! Before getting to the river, I was noting how moody my boys had been in the entire past week—mostly due to schoolwork, tests, and chores. But, at the river, all this anxiety and grumpiness seemed to disappear. Suddenly, I was surrounded by happy boys, who were laughing and playing like little kids, again. I showed a few how to do the backstroke properly and then we had fun trying to swim up the current. I called one of them an idiot when he dove from a rock—and the rest thought that this was very funny. I also went down further to the “rapids” and some boys followed me out and we talked while sitting in rushing water. After a while, it was time to go back to camp for lunch. We ate some delicious fried chicken—the first I had since being here—and spaghetti! Then we went back to the river. (P.S. There was absolutely no shortage of food, either!)

Our time at the river was amazing and so much fun—and I had overcome the big camping trip and all the scary stories that accompanied it. Most importantly, however, I felt more deeply connected to my boys by the end of our stay. I will always look back on that camping weekend as one of the most joyful weekends I spent as a volunteer for NPH Honduras.