He was the oldest of 5 brothers. Sometimes they had food, sometimes they didn’t. Most of the time their clothes were in tatters. For some reason, his father didn’t love him. When he was 8 years old, his family gave him to another family to work. He worked for that family for 3 years when that family gave him to another family about 4 hours away. He worked with cows and pigs on their farm for a couple years when he escaped and returned to Tegucigalpa. His family would not take him in so he lived on the streets and did odd jobs – selling tortillas, working on a public bus, whatever he could find to survive. At 13 he started working with a mason, learning the trade. He never went to school, never learned to read or write.
I met Jose Luis about 4 years ago. He is a happy go lucky guy. I remember him laughing about not sending or receiving text messages “porque no puedo leer ni escribir!” (because I can’t read or write!) This did not hold him back in the construction world, however. He is a natural genius at construction. He oversaw the construction of the new medium boys home. He managed up to 8 workers, calculated and ordered all the supplies each week, designed and built several architectural elements such as archways, “wood” pillars, etc., taught younger workers how to do the more sophisticated building techniques, and, despite language barriers, taught many Northamericans how to lay blocks, make concrete by hand and just about every other job on the work site.
A couple years ago, Jose Luis shared his dream with me for the first time. I had been watching him singlehandedly place a guideline for the future roof so they could lay block on the outside wall. That guide has to be precisely correct or the roof will fall. I commented, with much admiration, “Man, you ARE an engineer.” He looked at me with a melancholy expression, “I always wanted to be an engineer but I could never go to school.” Soon thereafter, Julio, whose senior service project was adult literacy, began teaching him how to read.
Last month, Jose Luis confided in me that he was going to school. He found a program that teaches grades 1&2 in one year, then 3&4, then 5&6, then “I will go to high school and then to university to get my engineering degree!” A few days later, he told me he would take a test to see if he could skip grades 1&2 and enter directly into 3rd/4th grade. He had 3 days to study for the test. Kathy Kelly and I took him to the prayer wall, placed a prayer in the wall and prayed over him. He took the test and passed! Now he studies all the time. He wolfs his lunch down and studies, he records himself practicing material to learn for a test or his teacher giving a lesson and then listens to it while he works. He already helps Julio with his architecture projects. “The plans just have numbers on them. I know how to read them.” He is determined. Nothing will stop him. “I will do better than the other engineering students because I know how to build buildings.” I cannot wait to attend his university graduation ceremony!
Jose Luis is one of the most inspirational people I have met. Best of all, he thanks God for every step forward he takes.