A book of poems written by the girls of an Episcopal orphanage in Honduras has been published. The release of the anthology, Counting Time Like People Count Stars, coincides with the screening of a film about the girls and the poetry project at major film festivals. The film, produced by Hollywood actor James Franco, was originally called Las Chavas – home girls – but had been retitled Voices Beyond The Wall by the time it premiered at the Miami International Film Festival earlier this year.
The anthology was prepared by the Revd Spencer Reece, who currently works supporting the bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain in Madrid. “Seven years ago I worked as an emergency room chaplain at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut,” he told ACNS. “Gang violence filled our nights. Half the gangs or their families did not speak English.
“One night I stood in the morgue unable to speak Spanish with a grieving Puerto Rican mother whose only son had been stabbed to death. Next morning I told my Bishop I had to learn Spanish. He said: ‘go to Our Little Roses in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.’ I said: ‘Where’s that?’
“Never saw poverty like that: children with bloated stomachs, everyone behind walls and locked gates. Never knew joy like that: seventy abandoned girls hugging me while we languished over dripping mangos.
“After two months I thought I was done with Honduras – I was ready to move on. Yet the night I left, one of the girls came to me and said: ‘don’t forget us.’
“It shocked me those girls thought they would be forgotten. I couldn’t let that go, didn’t want that to be true.”
He returned to Honduras and spent a year there with “broken Spanish and a dim sense of social justice”. While he was there, he helped the girls to put together the anthology of poems, and took part in the filming of the documentary to ensure that the girls would never be forgot.
“I’m proud of this book,” he said, “maybe more than other things I’ve done. More is at stake. This book contains a country trying to speak to the world.”
The anthology, Counting Time Like People Count Stars, is available to order online from Northwestern University Press, priced $19.99 USD (approximately £14.75 GBP).