For the last three summers, for a month at a time, John Canterbury
has headed out for a place almost everyone has heard of – and that almost no one has heard of.
Tegucigalpa is one of his stops, the capital of his country of destination, Honduras.
In a way, that says a lot about how little most people know about Honduras.
It’s poor, said Canterbury, a student at Indiana Tech. Even the capital is far worse than any place you’d find in the United States, he said, but because you don’t hear about day-to-day life in Honduras, few people realize just how poverty-stricken it is.
About half the population lives in poverty. Poverty is greater in rural areas, where Canterbury goes, and job prospects are slim.
In a poor country like that, though, you can accomplish a lot with a little. Canterbury and a small group of other volunteers build homes in Honduras through an outreach organization called Breaking Chains.
They’re simple, one-room affairs, less adorned than a typical garage, just square boxes, 16 feet by 16 feet, with a post on each corner, boards nailed to the outside, a flat metal roof and dirt floors.
Each house has one door and one window, cut out with a chain saw after the place is finished. The chain saw is the only piece of power equipment volunteers have.
But to people in rural Honduras, who often live four or five families in a single huts, one of these homes is a dream come true, Canterbury said.
Canterbury’s latest trip was funded by a grant from Indiana Tech’s Better World Fund, a program created after Canterbury sought grants for his trip.
“We were inspired by Canterbury to create the fund,” said Brian Engelhart, vice president of marketing.
Though the fund is small, it provides two or three grants a year to students. Applicants submit essays that outline the reality of their proposals before grants are approved.
“We’re all very proud of John, and his work will have a great impact on students going forward,” Engelhart said.
One of the houses Canterbury helped build on his latest trip was for a young widow. The woman’s husband had bought a small patch of land and promised to build a house there, but he died before he could accomplish that.
In all, Canterbury says, he has built around 25 houses, put together with lumber bought from local lumber yards for about $1,200 a house, far more than rural Hondurans could afford.
Courtney Mathews, a North American liaison for the organization, said volunteers who want to build houses are expected to bring enough funds to pay for materials for the houses.
They then build the houses themselves.
Sometimes residents or the homeowner-to-be will help with construction, usually for free.
Mathews said the organization has some Honduran volunteers who work construction, but they make only about $5 a day. At that rate, if a crew of 10 were hired to build a house, which takes half a day, the labor cost would be about $25.
However, Breaking Chains volunteers go there to provide their labor for free.
Building houses, though, is only a part of the mission, Canterbury said.
Just as important, he told a gathering of students at Indiana Tech, is showing people that someone cares, talking to people, even playing with their children.
“You can do so much more if you have relationships,” he said.
Canterbury is a sophomore majoring in computer security and investigation. He is from Gibraltar, Mich.
He had done volunteer work on Indian reservations and in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before he heard about Breaking Chains in Honduras and raised money to make his first trip there.
“I love it down there,” Canterbury said. “The need is so much greater than here.”
Canterbury has also been struck by how trusting people are.
On one occasion, he said, a woman came up to him, handed him her baby, and asked him to protect the child. For an hour, Canterbury held the baby until the mother returned, having done whatever she had to do, and took the baby back.
Canterbury said he hopes to make the trip to Honduras to help build houses an annual event.