The Help

There is this very bizarre thing swirling around us as people discover we are staying here for longer than 2 weeks. I had been warned about this cultural expectation by a friend who has served God in Honduras and other third-world cultures. In my mind, I kept thinking that there was simply no way we would ever participate in this expectation … the expectation that I would employ someone to help me take care of our home.

It sounds very diva-ish, doesn’t it? Exactly my thoughts. There was a bestselling book this summer entitled The Help. My ideas about this subject are absolutely tainted by the book and its depiction of racism in the South in the 1950s.

And yet, since we’ve started meeting people and explaining that we are staying, they immediately ask if they can work in our home. I thought it was just an odd thing until the 5th person asked me.

When I found out the missionary family who has lived here for years has a ‘worker,’ I was shocked. And then I had conversation with her that went something like this… ‘You are culturally expected to help other families by allowing them to work in your home.’ Say what? Yes, there is an expectation that any person living above the poverty level help those who are not by giving them work. It sounds totally backward to me.

Just to clarify, by poverty, I mean something completely different than anything that I ever laid eyes on in the US. To be poor in the US is to be wealthy here. I’m being completely honest. The poorest person in the US is allowed to collect a check from our government. Here, as in most countries in the world, that safety net is not an option. A person works every day until the day of their death because they must.

So, today the 6th person asked me and I said something stupid like ‘I’m able to work in my home, thank you.’ Instead of that person saying ‘good for you,’ they looked at me sadly and perceived me as a proud woman. It was obvious. And I wanted to say, ‘but I’m a Christian.’ It was obvious on her face that I couldn't be a generous, giving, helping person when I wasn't even 'allowing' someone the opportunity to work so that their family could eat.... to work at a respectable job so that she wouldn't have to work at the disrespected profession that consumes so many single women here.

There is one woman that I could spend my days with. She has a mentally-challenged mom. She then had a baby who is basically what our world would consider a vegetable. This woman supports them both. Would it be better for me to give her money or to allow her the dignity of earning her own money by her own hands?

What would God have me do? I will not allow myself to be deceived into believing that my time is worth anything more than hers… my ‘ministry’ here is not any more important than her ministry to her mother and child.

I still don’t know where I stand on this topic or what we will do. It pains me to offend either way… with or without help.

Would love your thoughts!


Araratacres said…
Laura, I can totally understand both sides of this issue. As a new Honduran resident, I think you have to follow some cultural norms (that are morally just, of course). However, (and I always do this at work and in some other life situations), make sure that your new employee knows that any jobs/opportunities that you give her is something that you yourself will also do (ie- if cleaning the bathroom together, you clean the toilet while she does the sink that she understands that you find her as an equal. If it's a yucky job, do it together etc....does all that make sense?). I truly believe you can make a friend and blur some otherwise assumed class differences AND give this woman a chance of a lifetime. (I did not explain this as well as I should, but hopefully you got my jist :)). hugs, Liz
Mrs. Edwards said…
My folks had several excellent workers in Africa who were very, very blessed to be employed. This is not condescending or patronizing. It is reality. There was no loss of dignity for Peter in working for my parents. To take American prejudices about house-help and apply them to Honduras seems completely incongruent to me. Ask other expats how they relate with their workers and trust their advice, at least until you have enough of a grasp of the culture.

We're praying,
Laurie said…
Laura, follow the advice of those who have been here. And who says they need to be there all day? My housekeeper comes and leaves within a few hours. Houses in Honduras get dirty more frequently than American houses b/c we live the windows open all of the time. And cleanliness here can make the difference in the health of your family. The floors need to be disinfected often as does the kitchen and bathroom. And unless you have a washer and dryer, that task alone is worth the help.
Holly (me.) said…
I'm going to offer you an example that's a smidge more modern, and personal, than The Help. The nurses who have come and gone over the years have each performed an invaluable service to our family, and I fail to see why domestic help is less valuable than medical help. I don't recall ever taking the nurses for granted, and I'm pretty sure none of them felt like less of a human being as they used their abilities to earn a living assisting in our home.

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