Sunday, September 30, 2012

Many stories to tell

These past few days have been somewhat busy and there’s a lot I’d like to write. So this will be a somewhat unfocused entry.

Wednesday I went to La Labor to see the work of Caritas there. I met briefly wit the two workers there and we went to see a little of the countryside. We passed over a widened bridge that was part of the project's effort to mitigate natural disasters, but we passed on to another bridge where three people had drowned a few days before when a flash flood passed over the bridge and pushed their car into the riverbed. The Caritas workers told me that this often happens this time of the year and the municipality will build a double bridge so that the water can pass under the highway and thus avoid other preventable tragedies.

The bridge where three people in a vehicle were swept into the river

Thursday, the director of Caritas asked me to go to San José Quelacasque to pick up a worker who was doing a study there. It's a long ride to this remote community but it is good to see what they have done. They are almost finished with a major water and sanitation project which has brought lots of good, clean, drinkable water to the people living there who now also have sufficient good latrines. It's great to see a community that has come together to improve their lives.

Friday, there was a workshop for new preachers. Sadly, only one of those who had been there last month returned. I don't know why. Also it was a small group but we worked together from 9:15 to 2:30. Next year we hope to have a more systematic training for them and some continuing formation for all those now preaching at the Sunday celebrations of the Word in the villages. All were men except for one woman who just moved to the area from Choluteca. Brenda was most impressive and I hope we can continue to encourage her participation and leadership.

Sunday morning I went to Mass at the San Martín de Porres church up the hill where Padre Fausto Milla presided. His homily was long, but it held my attention since he connected the readings with the reality of life here and also invited the participation of the congregation.

For the third time in three weeks he mentioned a friend of his, a 105 year old man, who died. He has written an article which may be published in El Tiempo,  which I’ll translate. What impressed me was the way Padre Fausto revered this man as a just and generous man, full of wisdom. He was, in the eyes of the world, an insignificant farmer, a campesino who devoted his life to planting corn, beans, radishes, and other vegetables. He told Padre Fausto that he had not done any harm ever with his hands. He was ready for death – in more ways than one.

Padre Fausto also talked about an Australian Marxist who came to his office some forty years ago and ended up devoting himself to the poor, especially during the aftermath of Hurricane Fifi. He was an example of some one, not of the church, who really did God’s caring love. But he was expelled from the country for being a Marxist. (Padre Fausto related this to today’s Gospel, Mark 9: 38-48.)

As the offertory began he mentioned the death of a woman whom he knew, the wife of Salatiel. All of a sudden I was struck because I know Salatiel – an 89 year old-gentleman – and his son Olvidio.

With Don Salatiel

I met his wife once about 4 years ago, when I went with Olvidio to meet them. His father, Salatiel, greeted me as he was coming in from the fields carrying a load of firewood. He dropped the wood, hugged me, and then proceeded to ask me questions. When I told him I was born in Pennsylvania, he asked me if Harrisburg was the capital of Pennsylvania. Astonished, I said yes. Every time I meet him I feel like meeting an  old friend who welcomes me with great love. The death of his wife of many years will be hard. Keep his family in your prayers.

Yesterday, Saturday  I spent time with a group of five persons from Manos Unidas, a Spanish Catholic aid agency, which has been aiding an agricultural project in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

We went to three villages (of the eighteen working with the program.) It was great to hear the people speaking of their work together in an organized group, of their gains in improving the health of their families, and their efforts to decrease or eliminate use of chemical fertilizers.

The first group, in El Ocote, Vera Cruz, was composed of ten women and two men. We found them working on a hillside where they had planted their second crop of yucca.

Women in the El Ocote group, weeding the yucca field.

We talked and you could hear the pride these people had – but also some frustration. We met in what was meant to be a coffee beneficio – a small processing plant which had begun but never finished. A group came in with funding for the project, had the people sign, and then left the work unfinished. (So goes one type of corruption here.) Padre Efraín, the pastor, urged them to get together and ask the mayor what had happened, trying to expose the corruption and perhaps get the project up and starting. (This might be a good project to start a coffee project in the Dulce Nombre parish.)

They also spoke of their groups fund, which they have put together, that can help make small loans to members. The fund has 3,500 lempiras – about $180. But it can help for small loans when people need to pay for transportatrion to take someone to the hospital or other small needs.

The last community, Colonia San José, Dulce Nombre,  had eleven members in the group, in a community which had eleven houses. It seems that all the families were participating. The people had been able to take advantage in 1975 of a new land reform law that enabled campesinos to obtain land with a land title. (Since then the law has been changed and now favors the concentration of land, rather than the redistribution.)

One field of the Colonia San José community

Their work was impressive with a large plot of about 3.5 manzanas which they are planting in crops that they try to sell to various markets. There is also a small school garden of vegetables.

The school vegetable garden.

This community also has a fund – but it is much larger.

It was great to listen to these stories, to see their pride in what they had been able to do; yet  there are needs. The one community needs a pump to activate their irrigation system. The pump would cost about $750.

The team from Manos Unidas was impressed and encouraged the parish to seek aid for the future. The importance of an agriculture that responds to the needs of the  campesinos  for the production of food for a healthy diet is an important goal of such programs. But what is also important is the organization of the people to work together for a better future for their communities. This program encourages joint efforts, combating the individualism that is often at the core of some programs. It also is a way to help the people promote ways to protect nature – cutting back use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides, teaching the people the use of natural barriers when they plant on hillsides, promoting local production of food stuffs.

The goal is that the people can live a good life – in all senses of the word “good,” not just the material.

I think it is also one of the ways to start working toward the revitalization of rural villages to stem the flight to big cities or the US. But this is a larger challenge, that I’d like to explore: how do we make rural life a “good” life so that people don’t feel compelled to leave to support their families and so that people don’t feel tempted to the “good life” on the cities and so that the villages are really places where the young feel at home and where they want to stay.

That’s a big challenge, but one that I think is essential for the future of rural Hondurans. But there are many people who have leadership skills or potential.

May God give us the wisdom to work together for the truly "good" life.

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