Hello, my name is Helga Sierra and I grew up in Tegucigalpa. When I turned 18, I moved to the United States to pursue a college degree in business. I knew I wanted to study in a different country when I was 14, the new places, cultures and possibilities in education were exciting to me. Not many people, in the world, get the opportunity to travel to the United States to get an education. I would say I fall in the 2-3% of the Honduran population, probably less…
I went to Abilene Christian University and got an undergraduate degree in business management and an art minor. During my college years, I would return to Tegucigalpa in the summers and spend them volunteering at a breakfast program my church at the time hosted. It was during those summers that my passion for kids intensified.
You see I’ve always gotten excited about social enterprise, art, and eradicating poverty. So how could I tie those together? In the Spring of 2015 I spent 5 months in Tegucigalpa, establishing local partnerships and creating a pilot program to empower children through art. The concept is simple: if a child is receiving assistance when his or her basic needs are met, what is the next step to help empower them? By learning art skills and creating beautiful works a child can learn about their natural ability: creativity. It’s inside all of us. By learning that they are valuable and that they can have big dreams, then maybe they will start looking beyond the environment where they live, an environment of physical poverty and violence.
So how did my connection with POI happen?
After I completed my project I returned to Nashville, TN where I wanted to live post graduation and started job searching. I had my MBA degree and the world looked promising. Only 8.5% of the United States’s population has a master’s degree, and I could fall into that category since I was a part of the last US census. Without getting into many details about jobs and the issues of immigration as an international student, I forgot what my whole purpose in returning to Nashville was. While I needed to find a steady source of income, I really wanted to start a non-profit (LUNNA) with the mission to empower children of low-income neighborhoods through art.
I would like to reiterate why: Because I hate poverty. I do. I don’t hate the people who happen to be surrounded by those circumstances. I came to the realization earlier that the reason I hate poverty is because it is a form of suffering and it is unjust in the world. It is one of the reasons as to why I started this journey to start a non-profit. Because once I know something I have to do something about it, and hate is not a good emotion to have, instead my goal is to transform it to love. I have been presented with unique opportunities for a reason, and the talents that I have are meant to be shared and not kept in hiding.
So by showing children that they are valuable people, with unique characteristics that can make a better world, by giving them education, etc. then maybe the cycle of poverty can be broken.
From June 1-12, my friend Lindy Matthews and I went to Honduras to work with one of the POI centers. I truly did not know anything about the organization besides what my friend (one of the POI board members had shared with me). She called me in the fall of 2015 and said, “Helga, I have 600 kids for you to work with.” My mind was in shock. At that time I had not found a job, I had forgotten about the kids.
When she said that, I had to take a step back and evaluate my priorities. I presented her with the idea of an intensive workshops for kids in June, where I would take a team of artists and volunteers from Nashville to work with POI. It was quickly approved and so I began looking for a team. Long story short, I found just 1 other person, Lindy, meaning I would have to recruit Honduran volunteers to assist us during the trip.
The first day in Tegucigalpa, we met with Dr. Ivan Lainez, the current Honduran director. He took us to the location where we would be, and just by looking at the building I knew that POI meant business. I have worked and volunteered with many non-profits in Honduras and other developing nations, and I dislike when non-profits run inefficiently. The building was well-painted, the outside driveway clean. We walked into a clinic with 30 people waiting and then walked into what we be our home base for 10 days. We walked in the classrooms and I saw where these lovely kids learned. I was immediately impressed. I went to one the most expensive schools in Tegucigalpa, from Pre-K through 12th grade, and the classrooms at POI might as well be where I went to school. My initial impressions of POI were enough to release me into freedom when it came to teaching art.
Everyone I talked to was passionate about their job, and the children. Just by looking at the way the teachers, cooks, assistants, etc. worked I knew that there was love in that place. I personally strive for excellence, and that is the spirit of the people who work at POI, so it was good fit.
After a couple of days of preparation we (Lindy and I) proceeded to do the first intensive workshop and that was a busy day. We only had 2 other volunteers, one who was 10 years old. We completed the task set in front of us, but when I think of where God moved: He moved in big ways by providing the right people to help us with the workshops. The Humuya Inn sent 4 volunteers in different occasions. 2 Honduran college girls who study in Nashville, happened to be home for the summer and were able to join us. 5 of my family members were able to come in different occasions and be of great assistance. Trying to paint with a group of 40 kids at once requires a large team to make it happen.
We could not have done any of this without the amazing team of teachers and volunteers that came each day. They were the ones who kept the kids calm, and made this all a reality. The teachers were interested in learning what we were teaching, why we were teaching these things, and the benefits it gave each child. I saw God move in their hearts, as they learned about the value of creativity and promoting new skills.
In 3 “work hours” each child completely finished 2 works of art, 1 which could easily make it into any art show. The children learned about colors, drawing, acrylic paint, oil pastels, but most importantly that they could express their thoughts in a new way. That their ideas could actually become something real, tangible, and beautiful.
At the end of our time, after what were sprints in a week-long marathon. Lindy and I got to talk to the teachers, and for them to realize the value of what this unlocked in each child was the most rewarding conversation. We didn’t have time for many conversations, because truly we were in work mode all week, but that affirmed what we were there to do.
My hope is to continue working with the different children at POI and eventually reach more children in Honduras and the world. My hope is that more artists realize that they can serve globally and empower others who maybe have not even realized the talents that they might have inside of them.
Who knows? the next Picasso might be sitting in the classrooms at POI. My hope, as I begin a non-profit that partners with amazing organizations like POI, who daily invest in many children, we might break a mindset that has deterred countries like mine from truly
embracing and expressing the beauty that lies within. My hope is that the creative quality of God, that he has also placed inside of us (his sons and daughters) can be a quality that we can use to create positive change in the world.
I hope you enjoyed the pictures throughout. To read more about this trip, I invited you to see my blog, where not only have I shared what you just read about POI, but I’ve also shared about some of my favorite spots in my hometown.