AGUA CALIENTE, Honduras � — As the sun rises over the mountains east of Catacamas, the paved road turns dusty beige, then deep, wet brown.
Sometimes, it takes more than one pass to clear the cratered, gutted trails. Occasionally, they’re accessible only by horseback. But it’s a good day.
Finally visible in the morning light, the clay-brick houses reveal a mix of colorful and drab. Most are disproportionately small for the number of inhabitants.
Chickens, pigs and cattle roam freely, as do impossibly small children, many of whom carry a notebook under one arm and a machete under the other as they walk to school. Inside the vehicle, Kyle Huhtanen watches as uniform-clad youngsters in white shirts and navy pants plod through the mud.
North American by birth, Honduran by choice, Huhtanen serves as director of community development and outreach for Mission Predisan, a ministry supported by Churches of Christ. He looks forward to these trips to the mountains, where Predisan operates five remote clinics and oversees government-funded health, nutrition and education programs in 31 schools.
“Things like hygiene, drinkable water, adequate nutrition, we take for granted,” Huhtanen says. “Here, these are the battles we fight every day.”
More than half the population of Honduras is 18 and younger, despite decreasing family sizes.
The typical Honduran mountain child doesn’t have access to milk. Most don’t get enough protein. They may or may not have a latrine at home — which in turn compromises sanitation and water supplies.
The battle begins anew with the birth of each baby, when Irene Ramirez, Marlen Soto and other nurses at Predisan’s clinics have the most access and influence in families’ lives.
Ramirez, who works at the Agua Caliente clinic, has been a nurse here for 15 years.
“I’ve seen children of children,” she said through an interpreter. “The concerns I have for their health are the same. And most of them are preventable.”
Soto, after a day spent seeing patients at the Las Cabas clinic, climbs into her car. Her destination: a mountainside community about a half-hour away.
A woman with three young children invites Soto and Huhtanen up a coffee-bean-lined path and into her home.
She pours thick, black coffee into tin cups as her children toss around drying corn kernels.
Huhtanen learns the family has no latrine. “The mother doesn’t think it’s important,” he says, shaking his head.
When children here attend school, they take an empty cup. At snack time, fresh milk boiled earlier by parents is poured inside. Everyone drinks eagerly and gobbles down tortillas and beans or corn cake.
It’s the only milk many receive, said Alvaro Escobar, 28, who works with the Healthy Schools Program. Three components make up the program: School snack, health package distribution and agriculture training.
“Teachers are seeing better health related to more nutritional diets,” Escobar says. “This allows the children to better concentrate and participate in academic activities.”
When the program began, the poorest children would wait for their classmates to finish, then ask to reuse their cups.
The government has since allotted funds to purchase a cup, fork, spoon and plate for each schoolchild.