Thursday, April 16, 2009

What’s to be done?

In the face of so much poverty people often ask, what’s to be done? Often we want simple answers to quickly get rid of poverty and hunger – perhaps so we don’t have to face need in their lives and ours. A magic wand would be nice, but we have to work with real people whose lives are often quite difficult.

But there are small efforts being made here in Honduras.

Wednesday I accompanied two CARITAS workers to the village of San José Quelacasque in the municipality of Gracias, Lempira.

The village is way off the road and only the careful and ingenious driving skills of Manuel enable us to get to the village, over rocky paths which were, in many places, barely wide enough for a car to get through. This is like many other remotely scattered villages in this part of Honduras. Many of them, though, can only be accessed on foot (or horse).

Norma has been working with the community for a year and a half to help organize the community to deal with natural disasters, since the area is subject to landslides during the rainy season. Much of the work is to get the people to organize themselves, to develop plans of development and action in order to confront their problems. One of their projects for disaster prevention will be setting up a nursery and reforesting the area to prevent further erosion and landslides.

This meeting was to introduce the people to participative practices of monitoring and evaluating projects. These were hard concepts for many of the people. Not only are the concepts somewhat foreign – and the explanations not always expressed all that simply. (Which is harder since many in the community have less than a six grade education and I would guess that about 30% are illiterate.) But fifty people took part – in a village with 71 families.

Usually only 20 to 30 show up but more came today because Manuel was going to explain about a new program that CARITAS was offering for 40 families in the village. Many of the people here had lots crops due to a major storm that hit Honduras last October – called “tormenta #16”. Caritas España is funding a one year project to help them catch up after the loss.

The chosen families will get seeds for half a manzana (about .83 acres) as well as fertilizer) They will have to pay back the costs of the fertilizer, without interest, with either cash or crops. But 3% of the payment will go to the local parish for the project and 3% will return to the village for further agricultural projects.

To help decide what families will benefit and how the money will be used, a board of directors was elected. They will pass out the application forms to the families chosen.

It was interesting to watch the process and to listen to the questions. The first one was whether there really was no interest for the seeds. They are so used to outrageous rates of interest and so this was a relief (and also a practice of biblical economics!) The other question was whether the families had to be Catholic. Manuel explained that the criteria for benefits were based on need, not religion. I could almost hear the sigh of relief as this was explained. There is so much competition and bad faith between Catholics and evangelicals in many places. Thank God the program won’t acerbate the divide.

As I left some asked me whether I’d be back. I will probably go in a few months to see what advances there have been, since this is part of my ministry as associate director of Caritas.

But I left with a sense that some thing good was happening there. But we need to find ways to expand this.

For this purpose Father Efraín Romero, the director of Caritas, and I will be going to the US next week to connect with persons and groups that may be able to help us expand the work of Caritas.


Before we left we stopped by a yard where they were boiling sugar cane syrup that will be made into "dulce" - dark sugar. I had to taste the boiling syrup, as did lots of kids as well as the two Caritas workers.

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