This past month, Victoria Rose, VP of Sales and Marketing at Jesta I.S., visited the Republic of Honduras as an official delegate of the Retail Orphan Initiative (RetailROI) in an effort to help children who are in need of basic care and support. What follows is an inspiring recap of her adventure.
I have been encouraged for years to join the RetailROI team on their different trips to support the Orphan Initiative, but never found the time. In the spirit of full disclosure, the idea of traipsing thru the jungle wasn’t that appealing to me and it was pretty easy to not “find the time”. This January at NRF, I was again approached (some might say ambushed) by the persistent team members to join them in March and I finally agreed. I can honestly say that I now consider myself privileged to have been able to get involved.
We visited a school called “Plan Escalon” in La Entrada, Honduras. Today, Honduras is the 2nd poorest country in the western hemisphere, where 70% of the adult population is unemployed, “mandatory” education only goes up to grade 6, and less than 1% of the students go on to college. Poverty, malnutrition, violence, and lack of health care and education all factor into the cycle of despair the citizen’s experience on a daily basis. Located in the northern part of the country, La Entrada is approximately 15 miles from the border of Guatemala. It is the heart of the narco-traffic corridor between the drug growing countries and the US border.
“Plan Escalon” loosely translates from Spanish to “a plan to elevate” and is used to describe the efforts to help children to move beyond poverty, broken families, and hopelessness. The school offers 600 students 3 meals a day, classes 7 days a week, and the path to a secondary education. Students who attend the school also live on the Plan Escalon campus. As a part of the core curriculum, the students receive job and life skill training and are involved in micro-business opportunities such as: building and operating a business (ie: bakery, coffee farm, retail stores). The students are being taught Marketing, English language, computer and technical skills, office and interview skills in addition to the usual Math, Science, etc… The end goal is to give the students the opportunity to learn necessary business or technical skills, which would enable them to become employable, contributing members of the economy and ultimately, able to positively impact the future of Honduras.
Retail ROI has been involved with Plan Escalon for about 6 years and has had a significant impact on the lives of the students. Through donations and fundraisers (Super Saturday during NRF, March Gladness), Retail ROI has built a multi-purpose building including a gym, meeting room and chapel that houses one of the few commercial-grade kitchens in the country. Additionally, it has built computer labs in 3 classes, each with 18 networked PC’s. They next fundraiser will benefit the building of a boy’s bathroom/shower in this building. The current facilities are 25 years old and were designed to accommodate just 125 total students.
The absolute highlight of my experience was a trip we took to deliver food, medicine, school supplies, and toys to a small mountain village about 2 hours outside (and up a mountain!) of La Entrada. These poor families were the epitome of what Plan Escalon is trying to change – children who should have been in school but weren’t, kids with rotting teeth, and barely teen moms with babies. Each of these little faces were smiling because there were visitors (and we were “gringos”, apparently quite a treat!). They were all so excited to receive a thin backpack with 2 pencils, a notebook, an eraser, and near hysteria to get a sticker on their shirt and coloring or storybook.
The RetailROI team on the trip consisted of Randy Cucerzan & Cory McDermaid from Genesco, product marketing & marketing staff from SAP and Tomax, the CIO of Rooms to Go, an industry consultant from C-Core Consulting, and about 6 teens aged 13-19. In addition to the obvious satisfaction we all derived from the trip itself, I had the opportunity to engage with peers from the retail community and developed contacts that we might not have been able to make in such a relaxed and informal way.
I don’t believe it is really possible to adequately share in words what my experience was like and the impact it had on me. There is of course the personal gratification of having helped a worthy cause, but there is so much more and I am looking forward to increasing my involvement with the school and RetailROI.
If you have a chance, take a look at the work of RETAIL ROI http://www.retailroi.org or Plan Escalon http://www.tolm.org/plan-escalon
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