Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Risks, disasters, organizing, and faith

Caritas Santa Rosa has a pilot project for community-based risk and disaster management in three communities in the department of Lempira. The people in the communities learn how to assess risks, make community development plans, and respond when disaster strikes. It is not only a way to prepare for and help prevent natural disasters, it's also a tool for community organizing.

In October of the first year of the project, a major storm hit the area and Cementera, one of the communities, experienced severe effects but since they had just been trained in what to do, they did a marvelous job responding. A village just down the mountain from them even came to them and asked for their help so that their community cold better respond. An incredible example of what these people can do.

Tuesday, Sasja Kamil, a representative of Cordaid, the Dutch Catholic agency which is funding the project, came with Rusty Biñas, the Filipino who designed the process, as well as Salvadorans from ASPRODE and Humanitarian Productions which oversee the project in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Wednesday we went out to Cementera so that Sasja and Rusty as well as the others could make a quick visit to see how far the community had come. We ended up starting in the house of Anselmo and Fidelina. Anselmo is a leader in the church and in the community and talked about the situation there and how they had learned how to organize themselves – even before the project began.

Two hundred sixty families live high up a mountain, right near a nature reserve. There are good water sources and they grow coffee and vegetables – most on their own lands. However, this is an area with some risks of landslides and washouts. Some folks would like to move them out – perhaps using the pretext of their proximity to the nature reserve as well as the risks of natural disasters – but the people have a recent law on their side and want to stay there. As Anselmo suggested, the people really want to move them because they have access to good water sources which others would like to control.

The community has had some help from the mayor who did not run for reelection but there are other political forces who do not respond to their needs. They have been able to help some families to move providing about $200 from church resources. Again, the poor helping the poor.

We were talking about the costs of helping families make their houses more secure and the lack of cooperation from authorities when Anselmo mentioned another possible cost of what they are doing –especially when they denounce injustices. Jesus, he said, was killed because he denounced the powers that were in his times and the injustices. Anselmo is ready to continue his work and denouncing injustice, even if it is risky.

Here is a leader, a simple man – in the best sense of the word – who has the good of his community at heart and he is willing to work for it, despite the risks. I know it’s his faith that sustains him.

We left after about three hours in the community, we walked up to the new water tank, we talked to folks we met on the road, we enjoyed the hospitality of the people. But what I won’t forget is that moment when Anselmo spoke from the heart about his faith, his commitment to the good of his community, and his willingness to risk – even his life – to live out a faith rooted in love, that seeks justice.

Anselmo is just one such Honduran. I know there are others. I've met them. They are the strength of this country and the hope for change – from their small communities.

In the midst of this I pray that the meek will inherit the earth. And I hope I have the courage to commit myself to help this happen, as far as I can.

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