I first met Erick in 2008. I was visiting Honduras
as a World Vision Canada representative. I had spent the morning hearing local staff present their plans and share stories and statistics of how their work was helping children, their families and the entire community.
Close to lunchtime, we went to visit a community leader, Doña Lucia, who was working with World Vision to monitor children and teach mothers how to cook nutritious meals for their families. World Vision works with many volunteers like Doña Lucia—leaders who work hard to improve the lives of malnourished children. But this lady was special.
She was donating most of her hen’s egg production to feed families in need. Doña Lucia put in all the work—feeding and caring for the chicken—but kept little for herself. I was taken aback. By most standards, she was not exactly doing well, and yet she had the will to help others.
When I asked what motivated her, she told me she had a son and, as a single mom, she wanted to set the right example. Doña Lucia had an incredible character; she was such a strong woman. Her son should be very proud of her, I thought.
As I talked with Doña Lucia, one of the World Vision staff members told me her son was benefiting from another project I had come to see. The project provided business training and loans to local entrepreneurs.
“How old is this boy?” I asked. He was 12, the youngest member of the project.
Erick inside his store in 2008. Photo courtesy of Juliana Pierossi
We crossed the street to a small building with two large windows. Printed above was Pulperia Erick, and sitting quietly on the steps in front was Doña Lucia’s son.
I introduced myself and asked Erick if he owned the convenience store. He said he did and invited me inside. I quickly surveyed his products. There was food, cookware and personal hygiene products. As we talked, a gentleman came over and placed his order through the window: “Soap, please.” Erick promptly responded, as a good businessman should.
The young boy continued to answer my questions: “I started saving when I was six. I collected cans to sell for recycling, and sold plums with salt and pepper, and limes at school. At home we always had a lime tree, but my selling strategy was to tell people I bought those limes in the southern part of the country!” He laughed. With those first sales, Erick saved just under US$211. He used this money to start a small business. “I began selling in the street, small things like hooks, nail polish, lotions and even treats.”
“What is that?” I asked, pointing to a certificate I spotted hanging on the wall. He explained it was his official business registration. Doña Lucia had supported her son by taking out two loans with World Vision. Her first loan was for US$210; the second, US$528. With this money, she built him this small convenience store so he could safely sell his merchandise.
“Erick has always been an entrepreneur. He has big dreams. Since he was very young, he had his goals well defined,” said the proud mom. “For me, he is a very special young man with a unique talent for business. Thank God we’ve managed to legalize his business in order to avoid having problems with the municipality.”
I wanted to test Erick’s business savvy, so I asked him how much money he made from the convenience store. He told me his business paid him a monthly salary of US$52, which he used to pay for his studies and help Eloísa, an elderly widow. “Her children left and never come to visit, so she is mostly alone. When I met her, and saw how she was living, it touched me so much I made a commitment to visit her at least once a week,” he explained. “I come by to help her in the house. I clean, wash the dishes, take care of the ward. While I am there, I also bring her food, since when I met her she hardly had anything to eat. She is very grateful and I feel happy and satisfied to do this for her—she is one special lady and I love her very much.”
“Wow. Why do you do it?” I asked.
“I feel this is part of my responsibility with society and God, because it is thanks to him that I have my business,” Erick said.
At that point, a boy came from the house and interrupted us. He quietly asked Erick a question about a homework exercise and quickly returned inside. I apologized for taking Erick away from his schoolwork. He told me he was tutoring the other boy in math. Even with his business and volunteer work, Erick still found time to attend school. His grades ranged from 92 to 94 per cent, so his teachers had selected him to help other students who had difficulty learning. “I like to teach other children about everything I know,” said Erick.
Erick inside his store in 2015. Photo courtesy of World Vision Honduras
I was so impressed. I couldn’t wait to come back to Canada and share Erick’s story, but before I could get all the information, I lost touch with him—until May of 2014, when I again travelled to Honduras. On our first day in the field, as we stopped for lunch, I immediately recognized the small building with the two large windows: Pulperia Erick.
Doña Lucia and I embraced like old friends. As we settled to eat, Erick arrived to greet us. I must have sounded like a hysterical fan, as I screamed his name and stood to hug him. The now 19-year-old obviously didn’t remember me. I described our first meeting seven years ago, detailing everything he told me then. He smiled shyly.
In the next hour or so, we enjoyed food and light conversation. Erick told me he was a teacher, doing some side work and looking for a permanent job. I needed to redeem myself, so I asked if he would be willing to tell his story on video to share with his sponsor. He agreed.
As we prepared to leave, Erick disappeared into his house. I had missed my opportunity again! We went back to his store for lunch for the next two days, but we always missed him. I began to think my flamboyant attitude had scared him off.
Then on our last day in the Renacer community
, we visited a group of young people who were harvesting and selling honey. And there was Erick. We took turns tasting the honey (I bought a large jar) and counting how many times the group had been stung by bees. Given his earlier reaction, I didn’t ask about the video for his sponsor.
Later in the afternoon, we stopped at the community office, which was Doña Lucia’s house. The community manager explained that Dona Lucia was letting World Vision work there for free. A group of volunteers was busy inside verifying the annual progress reports for sponsored children. Erick sat at the head of the table.
I couldn’t help but blurt out, “You are everywhere!”
One of the staff members asked to speak with me alone. “You don’t want to do the sponsor video anymore? Erick has been talking about it all day.” I felt guilty. I had it all wrong.
So I called Erick outside. We walked behind his mother’s chicken coup and made the video. He still remembered his sponsor’s name, as well as the only letter he received from her back in 2006. He told his story and how he and his family had partnered with World Vision to improve his community.
In the end he cried: “I know God has brought my sponsor into my life. I’m so happy someone has cared for me from so far away. I love her every much.”
I couldn’t help but cry with him. Erick is for me World Vision’s poster child, everything I hope for every sponsored child, including my own.
A version of this article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of Childview.