This is a tribute to Rob (Roberto) Tuebner, my partner in work, life and my best friend. Two and a half years. How can I begin to recall everything that we have been through? It was three years ago, this exact weekend that we received a last minute phone call from Ken Hutz asking if we could fly down to Honduras to meet him and the community of El Pital. Frantically and a bit unsure we quickly bought tickets and packed our bags and before long we found ourselves on a plane to Honduras. I remember we meet Ken for the first time at the counter of a bread shop/hostel located in downtown La Ceiba. Minutes later we were on our way up a dark bumpy road driving into the dark and not knowing what lied ahead on the beginning of this journey. Barely four hours in the country and we found ourselves sailing across a small basket suspended by a cable crossing over the roaring Cangrejal River. The next three days are somewhat of a blur as the new surroundings and intense stimulation overwhelmed us both, however the memories of crowing roosters, delicious tortillas, showers in the creek, interviews at a natural waterslide, long talks deep in forest, the generosity of the people, and children popping their hands in to wake us up every morning — stuck with us in a profound way. We were hooked. Unfortunately we had to cut short that first trip due to a family passing, while back in New York City we found ourselves thirsty for more of what the Cangrejal and Honduras had to offer us.
Our first year was filled with new challenges every day – camping out in the Un Mundo building, cooking over candlelight, evolving bathrooms, scrabble with flashlights, bucket baths, bats, minimal communication, biking up and down the Valley road from La Ceiba to El Pital, Haiti, Brazil, a hold-up, and house hopping. However amongst these many adventures, by the end of the year we managed to build a home together, first the stairs to let us in. Once we were in, we slowly got to know every detail of our new space, filling every crack, cleaning every dusty corner and becoming closely acquainted with all the creatures of our new home. Eventually we moved on to meeting the basic needs like installing water, a place to cook, electricity, a bathroom and finally a shower – me always begin the visionary and you my hero relentlessly making my vision a reality. We touched everything. Every book, every supply, every piece of paper in the Un Mundo shell that we had inherited – intricately learning the history of the organization and its pioneers through the scribbled notes and dusty files. While hard at work on the Un Mundo building we found ourselves also building a similar foundation in the community. There was rarely a night we didn’t spend hanging out in the hammocks getting to know our neighbors who soon became our family, playing Uno or talking about the world around us. We spent months immersing ourselves and entering quietly, searching for our proper place in this new environment. We made our way house by house through El Pital, sitting in peoples homes and hearing each of their stories. By the end of the first year, we finally had a hogar, a place to begin our work and a community that was starting to feel like home.
Year two, we grew from two to four as we hired our first two volunteer staff members and began to maneuver the dynamics of building not only a building or a community, but an organization and the Un Mundo family. We struggled with issues like defining our roles and strengths in a co-directorship, learned to manage ourselves and competed for success in and out of the office. We felt like parents, our focus shifting from each other to now the organization and our new staff, and later a puppy (the Un Mundo guard dog). We began to learn the excitement and disappointment of fundraising – and tried to find a balance between our distinct management styles. We experienced the challenges of working and living in the same spaces and the impacts that has on a co-directorship, a relationship and an individual. We struggled keeping up with the pace of the outside world without phones and internet, however missed the simplicity when cell phones were introduced to the Valley and we installed an internet satellite on the Un Mundo building.
Year three we had many lessons to pull from, finally finding a balance between life and work, between safety and security and more comfortably having carved out our roles and strengths within Un Mundo and El Pital. Just as we were finally feeling settled, our two and half year commitment was quickly coming to an end. I felt my time in Honduras was just starting. I had finally gained the respect I needed to be effective in my role, my Spanish was finally understandable and I had found a cozy spot living with one of the families in town. Our board was growing, our programs were progressing, and our mission and work was spreading throughout the Valley. I recommitted to two more years and you decided to return to the states to pursue your masters. As the months and weeks quickly passed my emotions fluctuated daily from fear, excitement, anger, sadness and abandonment.
Despite my mixed emotions about your decision to leave, I am so grateful for each moment I had with you, all the memories and lessons I learned from the two and half years we shared in this place and in our role. I have learned so much from you. You are a hero and “angel” to me and so many people in El Pital. You have touched so many hearts and opened so many eyes. Your humble, kind and soft approach was your secret weapon to instilling strength in so many hidden leaders in El Pital, but especially in me. You knew how to reach the people, meet them in their world and cross-cultural barriers, making you everyone’s best friend. You stood solid and patiently behind the transparency committee and the director supporting and encouraging them every step of the way. Your role in building the high school has been imperative and will forever change this region and the lives of hundreds of young people in the Cangrejal Valley.
Now that you are gone, I wonder if I will ever be able to fill your incredibly large shoes that you left here in El Pital. I am finally invited to join the men at the table – as they search for a way to fill your void. While I can hold my own as the only female, I know that I could never quite replace your place in their hearts. I feel overwhelmed, scared and alone, each day realizing how important you were to me, the community and the success of our work. Despite my fears and hesitations about taking on this massive role alone, I am slowing redefining myself here and everyday I discover a new strength and confidence within myself that was not there when we started this journey together two years ago. Your constant support and steadiness grounded me through the many challenges, and from that have given me all the strength to continue to move forward without you. While I know alone, I will never be able to fully provide the complementary leadership that we created as team, however, sharing a role with you gave me a model of the type of balance I hope to be as a leader for this organization and in my life. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share such a special place, life-changing experience and important role with you. It has been an honor. In this next chapter I hope to make you proud and carry on our collective vision, bringing to life the foundation that we built together. Con mucho respecto y amor. ~Elly
On behalf of everyone in the organization and in El Pital, thank you Roberto for your two and half years of hard work and dedication to Un Mundo. You will be missed.