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Sometimes you need a splash of cold water in the face.  Like most of us in the United States, I find myself complaining if one of the 250 cable channels does not come in clearly, or if the service on my smart phone isn’t up to par.  And heaven forbid if my tea glass ever gets empty in a restaurant.  And my 23-year old son often complained about a class or a professor while he was in university.  But recently my son and I had the opportunity to really put those things into perspective.

From Tuesday to Saturday of last week we experienced some things that were truly heartbreaking, humbling, and even amazing. 

We travelled with the Retail Orphan Initiative team to Honduras; in particular to La Entrada, near the Guatemalan border.  Along the way we saw beautiful countryside amid rolling hills and mountains.  The farmers are required to plant corn, coffee, and other crops on the hilly inclines, many of which look greater than forty five degrees in slope.  We saw shanties made out of scrap wood and mud, rusted pieces of tin, and with no plumbing.  Electricity was scarce.  The stark contrast of this beautiful green country and the poverty of its population were heartbreaking.  When we arrived at the San Carlos hotel, it was easy to see we were staying at the most ‘Americanized’ and best possible accommodation in the area.  It was small, fairly clean, had good food, and was directly on the Pan American highway.  Standing on the third floor balcony you could see the occasional mini-cart taxi go by, and a steady stream of trucks, but the mass of people got where they needed to go by foot.  Most people were dressed in a style that befits our image of a third world country, many without shoes.  But for the most part they chatted, laughed, and seemed happy.  A couple of days later, I was humbled as I realized that the people I observed were the ‘well to do’ citizens of Honduras.

The next morning we took a short bus ride to the main reason for our trip, Plan Escalon.  In the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, which happens to also be the most dangerous, there is a haven for kids hoping to change a country.  Run by Pastor Guy Henry, Plan Escalon is a school of six hundred kids who are mostly orphaned or abandoned by their families.  Many are rescued at an early age from a life on the streets.  Every year there are several hundred interviews conducted by the staff which results in less than a hundred being admitted to the school.  Once enrolled, the children share very tight accommodations, have daily chores, and attend classes.  They are mentored in not only the traditional school subjects, but also in life; to build integrity, honesty, teamwork, community and faith.  It was amazing to me to witness six hundred kids between the ages of ten and twenty-one sit through an assembly for close to two hours and never talk, misbehave, or interrupt.  They intently paid attention and often took notes.  Their desire and discipline to create change in Honduras is truly amazing.

I have always admired and respected the culture of my employer, SAP, and its continuing drive to give back to the community with corporate social responsibility.  In the last eight months we have twice partnered with relief organizations to pack food for the needy and hungry, specifically focused toward children.  At our North American Retail Forum event last August, and again at our Sapphire event in May, we called upon our employees, partners, and customers to join and we packed almost two hundred thousand meals.  I can’t tell you how gratifying it was for my son and me to pass out these packaged meals in two very poor villages in Honduras.  To feel the gratitude and hear the thanks from the women and children we served was beyond words.  Retail Orphan Initiative (ROI) is truly working to bring help and hope to children and families around the globe.  They support many of these schools and do the outreach to villages with food, clothes, books and medical care.  During this trip my son Nathan, my manager Lori Mitchell-Keller and her son Jake, and one of our great Industry Principals Matt Garvis, and his son Ben and daughter Madeline, participated in, and witnessed, this outreach.  I am so thankful for the exposure that ROI has created within the retail community with NRF’s Super Saturday and the opportunity to experience their outreach. 

If you haven’t already done it, I challenge you to get involved and experience this true blessing.  If you are an SAP Retail employee, I expect to see you at this October’s Retail Forum event in Dallas where we will be supporting ROI.  If you are a retailer, I hope to see you at the Super Saturday event in NYC before NRF.  If you are not signed up to attend this free event for retailers, please reach out to me and I will get you connected with Greg Buzek. 

Thanks to Ted Jackson at Sport Chalet for the donation of the soccer balls.  And special thanks to Pastor Guy at Plan Escalon, Andy Lehman at Lifesong, and Greg Buzek and Randy Cucerzan with ROI for giving Nathan and I a life changing experience, and helping us put it all in perspective.

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6 Comments

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  1. AMIT AGRAWAL

    Mark – Thanks for the splash of cold water! We all need it every so often to keep us grounded and to think beyond self. Look forward to hearing of and getting involved in future ROI initiatives.

    Amit

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  2. Louis Bridgman

    Awesome that you can witness this firsthand and expose your son to what happens when we share our resources in this global community.  Great read!

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  3. Barry Adam

    Most excellent!!!  Not easy to make a difference these days, sounds like the efforts of our company and the retail community are paying off and witnessed first hand.  Great to know and thanks for the perspective.

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