Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Empowering the poor and oppressed

This past weekend I experienced two sides of the efforts here to improve the lives of the people of Honduras.

Saturday I went to the parish of Dulce Nombre with a young woman who is studying in the Masters of Social Justice program at Loyola University of Chicago and with three Spaniards who are volunteering here for a month and staying with the Franciscan sisters who live up the street.

I showed them the silos and the ecological oven which were made in Dulce Nombre as part of the training program the parish has for teaching people to make ecological ovens and small grain silos to store corn and beans. After Padre Efraín celebrated a wedding Mass and spoke with the parish formation team, he took us out to Plan Grande. For a number of reasons the instructor, Marcos, had not been there to lead them, but some of those who had been trained previously came and helped the people make an oven. The multiplier effect is beginning already.

We arrived and found the people a little disheartened since they told us that the oven didn’t heat up. They fired up the oven and with the help of Padre Efraín and one of the Spaniards who is an engineer they discovered a few of the problems, some of which they fixed on the spot. After this the oven did heat up very well but there’s some smoke escaping where it shouldn’t and so they will probably wait for Marcos to come and help them make all the needed repairs. It was good though that we came, since they were much less discouraged when we left. They had thought that they did it all wrong.

We had expected to spend only a short time there, but they insisted that we eat there and so we sat down and eat beans, eggs, and tortillas.

Sunday El Movimiento Amplio para la dignidad y la justicia – the Broad-Based Movement for Dignity and Justice – held n assembly here in Santa Rosa as part of their hopes of building a national movement which is locally-based against corruption and for justice. The movement springs from the 38 day hunger strike of several prosecuting attorneys (part of the Attorney General’s offices) earlier this year.

Several hundred people were there, mostly from the local area. The leader of the fast spoke as well as attorneys and others involved in the movement. Several religious leaders spoke, including the local bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, an evangelical pastor, Dr. Evelio Reyes, and Padre Ismael Moreno, a Jesuit from El Progreso. The leader of the Mennonite Church in Honduras was also present. But the auditorium as full of a broad cross-section of Honduran society – campesinos, professionals, students, and women.

It was intriguing to watch the dynamics, especially when they opened the discussion to the floor. A woman spoke up strongly for the need to make sure that women are involved. When they proposed to form a committee, the process proposed was quickly amended when someone suggested that they caucus by towns and villages.

It will be interesting to see where this leads and whether this will really lead to a broad-based movement that can make some changes here. There were a lot of differences among the people gathered. Some suggested boycotting the up-coming elections, partly because they see the two major parties as part of the problem of Honduras, tainted with corruption, cronyism, and inability to make real changes.

But one proposal made by the Jesuit was accepted by all. He proposed that a public fast on the first Friday of every month. The hunger strike of the prosecutors inspired this movement as so it is an appropriate action to bring the people together and reinforce their commitment to work together, to organize for a better Honduras.

And so, this weekend I encountered two ways of empowering people. I pray that both truly help change this poor, poor country.

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