“Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong” (Psalm 90:10). Honduran women on average live to be about 74.  But what if you live near a garbage dump, where the life expectancy is only 35?

Iris, the mother of our sixth-grade scholar Bryan, died after struggling to breathe in her sleep on March 15, orphaning Bryan, age 11, and his younger siblings, ages 7 and 2.  The unofficial cause of death is a lifetime of working in the dump.

Iris with Bryan and her other children. Taken in January 2023.

Iris was only 29.  She began working in the dump when she was eight.  She had an opportunity to attend school a few years later, but then her father was abducted, never to return, on her 15th birthday.  His loss forced her to return to find work in the dump.

Bryan’s dad was killed when Iris was pregnant with Bryan, so Iris was a single mom.  She worked in the dump at night, leaving her children with her mother.  She often went without eating and worked even when she was sick.

An image from the dumpsite in San Pedro Sula, where Iris worked.

Early in 2023, Bryan was accepted into our scholarship program due to his excellent grades.  Iris wanted her son’s schooling to be exceptional.  Like all sacrificing mothers, she wanted her children to have opportunities to study and to be children.

At 7:50 a.m. on Wednesday, March 15, we received a call that Iris had fainted in front of Bryan the night before and was taken to local hospital in San Pedro Sula, where they found her heart was only performing at 40 percent.  As soon as I heard, I went to Bryan’s home.  When I arrived, a neighbor told me they learned Iris had died at 9 a.m.  I waited with the family until midnight for the body to be returned—a very long and sad day.  Our team took care of feeding everyone who was waiting.  We attended the funeral at their home on March 16, only two days after Bryan found his mother struggling for air in her bed.

Bryan told me his mom was everything to him, and he feels responsible for his brothers.  He said his mother left him several memories, including her cell phone, a watch, and a drawing.  Then he hugged me and thanked me for being there for him.

The children will live with their aunt, and we will continue supporting and loving Bryan and his family.  I don’t know why Iris died, but one thing I know is true:  29 is much too young to die.

Bryan writes, “I miss you so much, mom. Thank you for being the best mom in the world. I love you.”

Erika Cuevas, IntSam Program Manager

Erika serves as International Samaritan’s Program Manager in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. She holds a degree in Management and Social Development. Erika has dedicated herself to working with vulnerable children and at-risk youth with the goal of eradicating child labor in garbage dumps.

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