I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Hannah Bryant, LMI’s Executive Director, to dive into her enthusiasm for LMI’s mission, women, and vision for the future. From starting as a nursing major in college, to living in Honduras for three years, my conversation with Hannah revealed how she discovered her passion to partner with young Honduran women.
What drove your passion for nonprofits?
“I had originally gone to undergrad for nursing. Right after high school, I took a gap year to work with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Nepal. We were working in rural areas and we were teaching healthcare to people up in the mountains. I loved my time and really saw the urgency of creating pathways towards healthcare access for people living in rural areas. Then, I was three semesters away from finishing my nursing degree in undergrad and ended up spending a summer in Uganda. We would set up clinics in very rural areas, working with people from sunup to sundown treating all kinds of things that could not be resolved in only a few days.
“At the same time, I was reading a text recording of the stories of several Sudanese refugees in camps close to the Ugandan border. The voices of Sudanese refugees were powerful: ‘How can we go back and rebuild our nation in peace when our children are illiterate?’ There is no life without education.’ Creating infrastructure and moving a society forward is nearly impossible with an illiterate generation.
“It was at that point that I remember thinking, ‘I can treat symptoms all day, everyday for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t actually create long-term change in peoples’ lives.’ That was when I started to realize the power and sustainability of education.
“I went home and changed my major. I feel a strong sense of calling to open people’s minds to new ideas and empower them to perceive new opportunities in their futures, and to develop the skills and capacities necessary to pursue those opportunities. Once I became a teacher, I absolutely loved my time in the classroom but was also driven towards learning more about the pathways of people living on the margins. I worked closely with a Seattle-based nonprofit supporting women involved in prostittion, which then led me to time in anti-trafficking organizations in eastern Europe. I was doing case management work and a lot of work with women who were living on the streets or who were in really transient situations and violent relationships.
“I worked with them in the jail system, through the legal system, in hospitals, and through recovery situations. It was that work as well as my work as a high school teacher that really helped me to see how formative those early adulthood years are and how vulnerable women often are – especially women who didn’t grow up with a strong family or community structure. I saw how easily people can get stuck in systemic labyrinths of injustice with complex causes and challenging exits. That led me to a graduate degree in International Community Development. It was then that I really got to consider what it would look like to be on the preventative end. I had spent a lot of time with women who were already pretty entrenched in unjust systems, and I felt curious about how to develop partnerships with young women to give them tools that would allow them to gain voice and opportunity in society. I felt strongly that education was a big part of that.”
How did you convert that passion into specifically focusing on women in Honduras?
“My friend and peer in grad school, Joseph Rahm, had been living in Honduras at The Leadership Center for two or three years, and kept saying, ‘Hannah you’ve got to come spend time here; it’s everything you are passionate about — creating partnerships to find solutions for women to be able to create long-term sustainable community change.’
“So much of personal transformation is healing. We talk a lot here about God’s ability to transform somebody’s spirit so that they can really understand how deeply they are loved. At The Leadership Center, women are given tools to start small businesses and create sustainable sources of income, but it’s so much more than that. They’re given an opportunity to also recognize their own strength – their own identity – their own capacity – and their own belovedness. Our goal at every level of the organization – for the women we work with, their communities, our staff and board – is to create freedom from shame, with a level of confidence and self-awareness about how to operate with integrity in the world and make a lasting impact on the communities around us.
“That is how I landed [at TLC]. My first trip down was actually in February of 2014. I fell in love. At that time Cohort 1 was still on campus. Then I came again in June with a team of 9th grade students from the school that I was working for in Seattle. In August, I moved to Bolivia to start learning Spanish. I was really passionate about being bilingual and having the tool of another language to use in relationship building and community development, whether that was with LMI or in other capacities. After Bolivia I came [to TLC] to teach for a quarter, but I was hungry for more Spanish so I went back to Bolivia in January. I was then connected with a missionary group there, and a job opened up as the director of a different educational access non-profit on the other side of Honduras. My role was to help support communities establish thriving community-led bilingual schools in rural areas outside of San Pedro Sula. I felt in large part that that would help me to have a deeper grasp and understanding of the country. I definitely learned a lot about Spanish but I also learned a lot about culture. I built strong friendships with a lot of the women in the community. Some of the graduates (from TLC) came to work with me while I was there – one of them, Mirian, has stayed for 5 years.
“During my years outside of San Pedro Sula, I became even more passionate about the plight of young women … and God ultimately led me back to Leadership Mission International to serve in a more full-time capacity. TLC has changed my life in innumerable ways, and I want to continue to learn from and move forward with the women we partner with around Honduras. I am unbelievably grateful to them for all their stories have taught me.”
What is your favorite meal on campus?
“I love Baleada night of course (flour tortillas, beans, avocado, eggs and cheese). I love making baleadas even though mine are still shaped like various different continents. That is my favorite meal here at TLC, but my favorite meal in Honduras is Pollo Chuco which means ‘dirty chicken’ in English. It is fried chicken with tajadas (a sauce). It is so delicious – nobody makes fried chicken like Hondurans!”
Tune in on 10/20, to hear the 2nd part of this series, as Hannah reflects on LMI’s strengths and weaknesses that led to a 25% increase in students on campus.