Saturday, July 01, 2017

What's the social situation of our parish?

The past two weeks I have met with the coordinators of social ministry in the four zones of the parish of Dulce Nombre de María. The attendance at the meetings was not as good as I had hoped. Some may be due to lack of motivation, some due to the weather and the difficulty to travel because of the roads.

In each meeting I asked them to share what was good and what was not so good. What didn’t surprise me were the differences in the zones. Here is a summary of some of the points of our discussions.

For those unfamiliar with the parish, the parish includes four municipalities (Dulce Nombre de Copán, Dolores, Concepción, San Agustín) and parts of another municipality (Santa Rosa de Copán.) There are five municipal centers (towns) and more than 45 aldeas (villages).

In terms of education, all the villages and towns have primary schools, grades one to six. Most have kindergartens. But education beyond sixth grade is hard to find. There are about twelve centros básicos, seventh to ninth grade, plus six weekend programs for those grades. There is only one high school which has classes from Monday to Friday and that’s in Dulce Nombre. There’s another that might open, if students sign up next year. There are, however, three places that offer classes on weekends. Access to education beyond grade school is difficult.

In terms of health, there are at least twelve health centers and one in construction. They have nurses but there are only five doctors working in the centers, including one who is in his year of social service. A major problem is the lack of medicine in the centers. Also, in at least one place, the nurse is in danger of losing her job because she is not willing to support the political party in power.

In terms of infrastructure, there has been real differences among the different municipalities. Two have been fairly good in maintaining roads, seeing that they are leveled and graveled. One has been more concerned with paving in the municipal center than in repairing or maintaining rural roads. As a result, there have been two serious problems because of the recent rains. In one place, the road dropped a few feet. In the other, there was a landslide that virtually blocked traffic and prevented transportation by bus from distant villages in other municipalities. There have been repairs, but they seem to be stop gap measures, sometimes left without real solutions, even temporary ones.

I asked the people why there were serious problems with the roads. The responses were lack of maintenance, little attention given to certain areas by authorities, landslides due to poor use of land as well as deforestation.

I asked about water. The majority of communities have water projects; several have new projects in process. But there are problems of contamination. Some of the water sources are in the middle of coffee fields and the use of chemicals and certain actions of the coffee workers (throwing trash and defecating near the water sources) have contaminated the water at the source. There are also problems of houses near the water sources as well. Waste water from coffee processing also contaminates the water in the ravines. Deforestation and the burning of fields also affects the water sources and the quantity of water available.

Migration has had its effects, though not as in other parts of the diocese. Most people here leave because there are few sources of employment. Very few here leave for reasons of violence. Many of the young migrate seeking work – or in pursuit of the North American dream. Many send back money and this does help the families. But there is also, in some places, problems of families without one or both parents.

I brought up the problem of violence, asking them to identify how many murders there have been in the past three years. One major municipality has had fifteen and a neighboring town has had ten. There have been about ten in one of the distant zones, in six of the twelve aldeas (villages) in the zone. In all, I think there have been more than sixty in the last three years.

I asked them why. The causes are mixed. Many are connected with the abuse of drugs and alcohol. There are some that are related to conflicts –whether of land, between or within families, jealousy. There is also the problem of the presence of weapons. I would add the lack of a judicial system that functions. In one zone, someone mentioned the fear that people have to denounce crimes and even murders to authorities.

Other issues were mentioned, including the environment. Problems of trash, contamination of water, deforestation, and burning fields were mentioned.

This exercise was very helpful as we consider how to respond to the needs around us. I just wish we had better representation. Of the five municipal centers we only had representation from San Agustín. The best participation was from the most distant zone. But I think we have made a good start.

Now, how to respond?

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