Thursday, August 21, 2014

Busy weeks

Even though I haven’t written much this month about my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy.

About 108 catechists attended one of the four catechists workshops we had in the four different zones of the parish. They shared what they were doing in their villages – with limited resources and, often, with not enough catechists.

Catechists' training
I knew that there were three groups of young people meeting. There are about three others in the works – and perhaps we’ll be able to help other communities work toward more youth groups.

However, we are trying to avoid the idea of mere “youth groups.” The idea is that the young people would form their own base communities of young people, with youth leadership. I have suggested that we have a few training sessions for four young leaders from each community where there is interest and some organization. What is critical in my mind is that we have young people as the leaders. The catechists and delegates of the Word should accompany and assist the youth – but not be the ones responsibility for the group.

Padre German has asked me to see what we can do toward this – finding or preparing materials, finding people to help us with training sessions. I’ll be busy.

I’ve also attended the parish council meeting as well as the meetings of the councils in two zones.

I’ve also been monitoring the work on the house in Plan Grande. The roof should be on in a few days.

One beam for the roof in place.
 I also attended the meeting of the small coffee farmers cooperative in El Zapote de Santa Rosa. They chose a name “Cooperativa Café Hacia El Futuro” – Cooperative Coffee toward the future. They prepared a list of needs and I am assisting them in looking at places where they might find help.

Four members of the cafe producers' coop
I also had to take a trip to Tegucigalpa – about 5 hours away in car – to get a new residence card. Though I have a permit fro five years of residency (ending in 2017) I have to get a new card each year.

I dreaded the trip. I don’t like Tegucigalpa; there are often long waits in the migration office; and its two to four days away.

I decided to drive, but to cut off one hour by staying Monday night in Gracias with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters.

I arrived at the Migration Office about noon. I got my form, paid my fee (about $20), and went back to wait to be seen by a migration worker. I waited a few minutes and a very friendly woman saw me, took my fingerprints and photo. she told me that I would have the card at 1:30 pm, that day. I was amazed.

Of course, it didn’t arrive at 1:30 – but at about 1:50. That’s the shortest time I’ve ever spent there – less than two hours.

I then decided to get out of Tegucigalpa and head home – figuring I’d have to stay the night some where between Siguatepeque and Gracias.

But I got lost in Tegucigalpa – which is a confusing city. I thought I knew the way out – follow CA5 north. However, the roads are not well marked and the map I had was very poor. So I wandered, lost, in Teguz for about an hour. I asked at six gasoline stations and got directions, but I was confused.

Finally I made it out of Teguz and stayed the night in Siguatepeque. 

The trip back was rewarded by some amazing views in the Jesús de Otoro valley.

Rice field near Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá, Honduras
The next two weeks are not as busy as the previous ones, though I’ll visit a number of communities and take video’s of the cooperative’s fundraiser on August 30 – a horse race. José wants me to put the videos on the internet!

September, though, should be busy.

Padre German has asked me to work with the catechists and the liturgical ministry in each place where we will have confirmations – all seven of them.

There is also a meeting of the delegates of the word, where I’ll help in the formation.

I will also try to connect with some of the youth group leaders as well as try to find good material for youth – as well as for First Communion.

And I’ll have to monitor the building project as it winds down.

In all this, I continue to feel as if this is where God wants me to continue my ministry – and living out in the countryside will help.

Monday, August 11, 2014

More on the children and adolescent migrants in the US

Yesterday I read an interesting blog entry on the “surge” of Central American child and adolescent migrants in the US by a young man working and living in La Ceiba. Read it here

Mateo has first hand experience of the life of the poor there, especially the young, and provides an interesting perspective.

He notes that much of the commentary from the US concentrates on the high levels of violence in Honduras as the “push” for the migration. However, his experience and mine (albeit limited to a barrio in La Ceiba in his case and to a rural area in my case) is that many young men (14 and up) leave mostly seeking for a better life. They experience life here – in their barrios (urban neighborhoods) or aldeas (rural villages) – as a dead end.

Yes, there is major violence in Honduras, especially in the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. This does push many to leave and seek refuge abroad. They are truly refugees from violence, compounded by poverty.

But there are other causes.

One thing Mateo noted is that there are many families with one or both parents in the United States. Is it a wonder that children seek to connect with their parents, especially as economic and social conditions deteriorate in Honduras? As the numbers of adult migrants has increased, is it not understandable that many young people seek to connect with relatives who seem to have achieved a better life in the US?

The causes are many and complicated. Mike, on Central American Politics blog, summarizes an article on the complexity which has a fascinating graphic. Read it here

Yet as I reflected this morning on the situation I wondered whether reducing the causes to violence may be a way of avoiding a careful analysis of a crisis that is rooted in injustice and oppression, in injustice in which the US is complicit.

The US has been involved in Honduras economically and militarily for many years, going back to the banana companies and US military invasions in the last century and a half. It has included the establishment of a military base here in the 1980s (which now is claimed to belong to the Hondurans, though about 500 US troops are there and other troops arrive throughout the year). It has included aid to governments with very questionable human rights records. It includes aid which militarizes the police.

I also am concerned that reduction of the causes to violence deflects any consideration of the roots of the crisis in the policies and politics in Honduras where the police and justice systems are dysfunctional, to put it mildly. Calls by the president of Honduras for more aid to Honduras may hide the need for real reform of the political and economic systems of a country with one of the greatest indices of economic inequality in Latin America.

Furthermore, the emphasis on the violence of gangs and drug traffickers obscure the violence of daily life and the lack of a functional justice system, which I addressed a few months ago in a blog entry, available here.

Yes, the immigrants are fleeing violence, but they are also fleeing poverty. They are fleeing situations of injustice, of structural injustice that can only be dealt with by real changes in US and Honduran policies, not just about migrants but also about such issues as free trade, human rights, militarization, and more.

In the meantime, young people will leave, seeking a better life.

And so I will continue to try to dissuade them and work to find ways for them to live decent and full lives here.

I want these elementary school kids in Plan Grande in the photo below to grow up to a life which is full of love, in a community in which they can develop and use their God-given gifts to serve and build up a real community of solidarity and justice.

--- Slightly edited on August 12, 2014.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Signs of hope in the youth

Sunday afternoon I went to the village of Yaruconte to meet with the young people.

I had met some of them at the meeting they had with the youth of El Limon. I told them I’d drop by. I wanted to get them to share what they’d like to discuss in their meetings

I got to the church and found a good number of them waiting. I talked to two of the leaders, Kevin and Edin, and told them what I planned to do. They also expected me to do something.

When I was in El Limon, Kevin and I had talked and one issue was the problem o relations between young men and women and early pregnancies. He wanted me to do something about the issue of relations between young woman and men.

I hadn’t planned on this and wasn’t ready. I first told him that this was a bigger issue and I’d only do something to introduce this.

Well, God inspired me. That’s the only way I can explain what we did.

I divided them into young men and young women on different sides of the church.

My first surprise was that there was almost an equal number of guys and young women – about 15 of each. So often the guys just stand at the back door of the church and listen from afar – but here there were many young guys.

I asked the women to make a list of qualities of a good young woman. I then asked the guys to make a list of the qualities they’d expect of a good young woman.

After they had done this for about 10 minutes, I asked the guys to list the qualities of a good young man; the women had to list what they expected from good young men.

The sharing went really well with a general agreement on most points. But when I opened it up people began to speak their mind – especially a few young women and men. There was disagreement and some challenging of stereotypes. It became heated but respectful.

What I found most encouraging was their openness as well as their respectfulness. They could disagree without getting all that defensive. They could challenge each other without attacking the other person.

I plan to write up the activity so that other communities of young people can use it. But I think it will only work if there is already a sense of trust in the community.

I’ll get back to Yaruconte later this year.

But our dream now is to form youth leaders from each community so that they can work with their peers.

Today left me very hopeful.

Learning more about coffee and exporting

I mentioned in a previous post - here - that I am accompanying a cooperative of 15 coffee farmers from El Zapote de Santa Rosa in their efforts to produce high quality coffee for direct exporting to the US.

As part of that effort, I arranged to have four of them go with me to La Unión, Lempira, to see and hear what they are doing there. You can read more about the work of La Union Microfinanza [UMF] on their website here

We were there for about 48 hours – well spent, I believe.

We spoke with the team of Hondurans and the US director, Patrick Hughes, when we got there. Our coffee producers had lots of questions. It was great to see such enthusiasm.

The first afternoon we went out to the beneficio, the coffee processing facility that UMF has, partly as a training and experimental center – since it is only used by 4 producers.

Patrick (left) explaining the beneficio

Betio (left) explaining the fermentation tanks
Fermentation tanks
Patrick and Betio explained their facility and emphasized the importance of good processing, clean facilities, and much more.

a solar dryer
After we examined their solar dryers, they showed us their biogestor experiment to process and use the coffee pulp and the residual water (called aguas mieles) without contaminating the environment.

 Patrick, Betio, and others from UMF also emphasized the importance of careful coffee harvesting, emphasizing quality over quantity.

If you want high quality coffee, you pick the mature coffee berries.

Often in harvesting coffee, the harvesters are paid by quantity and therefore they pick green, ripe, over-ripe, and almost ripe berries. These all get processed together and are sold for Honduras consumption. But mixing these together won’t give you good coffee for export.

The second day we visited two producers in their fincas (coffee fields) and talked about a lot of different themes related to quality coffee production. I was very pleased to hear the guys I brought with me asking good questions as well as sharing their experiences.

with Bernardo (left)
A homemade trap for coffee berry borer beetles
The "road" back from one of the fincas
The final day the guys from El Zapote sat at a coffee shop talking about the process of exporting coffee with the staff of Unión Microfinanza.

Lots of information was shared – and many questions were raised. It was a good step to helping advance what could become an important way for these and other small coffee farmers to work together for a better life for their families and their communities.