The Journey Conference in Gracias, Honduras

February 12, 2024

The Journey Conference in Gracias, Honduras

The trip to Honduras, where I facilitated a three-day conference on the emotional and spiritual impact of disability, went beautifully. For a quick overview, you can watch this video. For a longer explanation of all we did, continue reading.

The Travel

Travel went smoothly to San Pedro Sula. My only comment is no person should ever set an alarm for 2 o’clock in the morning. Shout out to Tony who picked Susan and me up at 3:30 to get to the airport by 4.

The only hiccup happened when we arrived in Honduras. Instead of bringing my chair to the gate, they sent my chair to baggage claim. I told them I needed my chair at the gate. “That’s impossible. It’s already at baggage claim.” I explained to the ground crew that according to the Air Carrier Access Act, I didn’t have to get off the plane until my chair was at the gate. I let a Delta flight attendant know what was going on. “You stay right there, honey. I’m not filling out another DOJ complaint.” I had my chair within about 20 minutes.

Green growth, large mountains in distance, and bright blue sky with puffy clouds.

Greg and Jean Hines, founders of FHD Honduras, met us at the airport and took us to Hotel Las Cascadas. We settled into our rooms, had a yummy dinner of roasted chicken and fried rice, then went to bed after a loooong day.

On Saturday, we headed to Gracias. The ride was full of potholes, curves, and miles of construction. We finally arrived at the hotel. I had to ask the hotel staff to take the door off the bathroom so I could access the sink and toilet. While not fully accessible, the room was do-able, which I always consider a success. Watch this video on Instagram to see part of our ride, and this one that shows how “accessible” the hotel was.

Greg and Jean live about an hour away in La Campa, so we decided that Susan and I would rest on Sunday rather than making multiple rough trips up and down the mountain. It was sunny and in the 70s, so I prepped for the conference outside.

The Journey Conference

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we met from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at La Casa de Ruben for the conference. I was nervous about how the material would work in a cross-cultural context with people with disabilities and caregivers.

Day 1

Unfortunately, a cold front had moved through. It was chilly and windy. The meeting area was outside, so staff at Ruben House had put up tarps to attempt to block the wind. The wind rattled the tarps. But we got started despite a rough start to the morning (see this post to read what happened earlier that morning.)

Despite the cold, we made introductions and worked on timelines. After lunch, we warmed up with seated Zumba with Loreta Seguro Castillo from Chile. I wanted to incorporate physical health in addition to emotional and spiritual health. Loreta recorded two videos for us to use. (Follow Loreta at @kineability.cl on Instagram and learn more about her online seated Zumba classes in Spanish.) We had a blast, and it temporarily took the chill away.

After talking about the losses we experience with a disability, we finished up the day with a game of beach ball—where we tried to keep the ball up in the air as long as possible. Everyone smiled and laughed a lot during this game. Laughter is definitely good for the soul!

Group playing beach ball at The Journey Conference

Extra bonus on Monday: I showed Greg how to adjust a pediatric chair for a little one. I miss distributing wheelchairs, so adjusting the chair was an added blessing.

We returned to the hotel and got out of the cold and wind. For dinner, I ate tortilla soup and ordered flan for a birthday treat! (Yep, it was my birthday!)

Day 2

We started the morning by doing seated yoga with Rachel Torres. Then we discussed The Grief Journey and had some great conversations. As the conference progressed, the participants shared more and asked questions. FHD Honduras had just received badminton sets. So, we gave it a try. In Afghanistan, I learned this is a difficult game as a chair user. But we did it! After those of us with disabilities played (somewhat successfully), those without disabilities tried playing. I have to say that the disabled players might’ve played a bit better than the nondisabled players. 😂

Four wheelchair users playing badminton.

We finished the day by talking about paradox: two opposite yet equally true statements. We had just experienced an example that life can be difficult, and yet we also have the opportunity to live abundantly. Opposite, yet equally true statements.

Day 3

Wednesday finished on a high note. It wasn’t as windy or cold (but I still wore three layers to stay warm). In the morning, we talked about stress, trauma, and coping strategies. In the afternoon, everyone shared their meaning and purpose statement. I don’t think anything is better in life than to see people discover hope and purpose.

Below are a few of the purpose and meaning statement the participants wrote.

  • I will use my talents in machinery to teach other people so they can run their own businesses.
  • I will use my talent of embroidery to teach so that other people can learn to embroider.
  • I will use my knowledge from working in the field to produce food so that other people can have food.
  • I will use my ability to listen to support my family so that I can talk to them about God.

The Rest of the Trip

On Thursday, we went to Ruben House around 10. I talked with the men with spinal cord injuries about bladder, bowel, and skin care. Since I had a bit of skin breakdown developing, I practiced what I preached and laid down on one of the mats after lunch, and then I spoke with Rosalina for quite some time. She is an amazing woman who has been through so much.

Rosalina and Jenny both use wheelchairs and wear red sweatshirts

The next day, we drove to Santa Rosa to see Teleton, a therapy center. Very few patients showed up for appointments since it was “cold” (it reached the 80s that day) and was coffee harvesting time. Greg and Jean took us to a mall, and we ate Honduran tacos, pupusas, and a gringa. (No, we didn’t eat an American, but a quesadilla-like Honduran dish.) The gringa was my favorite!

We made it back to the hotel and I got into bed to get off my tush for an hour, then headed outside where the temperature had warmed up, and I soaked in some gloriously warm sunshine.

Jenny in a sleeveless red top sitting in the sun wearing large sunglasses.

On Saturday, we headed back to San Pedro Sula. Thankfully, the construction and traffic weren’t nearly as bad, and we made it in 5 ½ hours, which included lunch. On Sunday, our flight back went smoothly.

A huge shout-out to Susan who traveled with me, Greg and Jean for hosting us, and to Lourdes who interpreted.

Concluding Thoughts

A little over two years ago, I had the idea of adapting cross-cultural transition and debriefing material to the world of disability. After three online sessions in 2023, this conference was another confirmation that so many people need support for the emotional impact after a disability. To say it’s an honor to do this is an understatement.

It’s good to be back in my accessible home, sleep in my bed with a soft and fluffy pillow, and drink cups of tea (made with tap water). It’s amazing to rinse my toothbrush with tap water, flush toilet paper down the toilet, and know that I can drive to get food from the store.

And yet, it feels a bit… unfair.

Why do I have access to wheelchairs, medical professionals, and transportation when so many millions of people with disabilities around the world do not?

This experience once again reinforces the desire to be exceptionally grateful for all I have. Even while life in the US with a disability can be frustrating, I have so very, very much.

Life is a paradox.

Click here to rgister for The Journey online group

A gifted athlete. An unthinkable accident. Will a wheelchair crush her adventurous spirit?

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Jenny Smith

After a spinal cord injury at 16, I discovered that a wheelchair could take me places I never dared to imagined.

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