Thursday, September 03, 2009

What Caritas has wrought

Wednesday I accompanied Kirsten (a representative of Caritas Norway), Celia (a Caritas Honduras national staff member), and Brenda Medina (our local Caritas worker in citizen participation) to meet with parish leaders in Lepaera, in the department of Honduras, as well as to visit a rural village which has benefited from Caritas projects.

The parish leaders spoke very highly of Caritas. The list of projects went on for quite some time. Then Kirsten asked them to talk about results, what had they done with all the training. (By the way, the Spanish word I’m translating as “training” is ‘formación’ – literally, formation.)

Petronila has been involved in Caritas projects since 1967. “I was nothing,” she said, “just a submissive woman.” I didn’t know how to lead a meeting or speak in front of others. We received training in baking, cooking skills, family gardens, and more. She learned sewing and soon became a teacher. She was involved in a literacy program in her village. Now her garden is a demonstration plot. She also is involved in a women’s cooperative of 120 women, 30 of whom have family gardens. One of the women in the cooperative is running for mayor of Lepaera.

Orbelinda talked first about the need for education. Before, many asked “Why study – even six years in school?” Boys only need to learn how to use the machete and the hoe. And the girls….? Now many go beyond sixth grade. She also told how people who learned about natural medicine now can make their own and don’t need to buy as much expensive medicines from the pharmacies.

Juan Angel, who is the Lepaera parish coordinator, told how the training sessions have led to the desire to organize.

Mervin, from the village of Cementera, talked about the work of the community-based risk management project in his village of Cementera, a Caritas project being facilitated by Norma Cruz. Eight days after they had gone through one of their training sessions, the October 2009 “Tormenta 16” hit and they had to put what they learned into practice. Their work probably saved lives. A nearby village, knowing that Cementera was organized, went up to them for help during the storm.

“Organization is essential,” Mervin noted. He also added that he had learned to help out in the house and to value the work of women in the home.

By training in political advocacy, he proudly said, they know how to approach the mayor. We are not afraid of the mayor – or of the police!

Mervin and others noted that before there were not well-organized local water project associations. Now, if the mayor wants to privatize water, they said, these groups will defend these public projects. “We’re the owners now.”

One other remark stood out. We now know how to analyze the reality better. We don’t just follow one of the colors (i.e., one of the two major political parties.)

It was refreshing to hear these people, some of whom I’d already met, most of whom have six years of formal education or less. They have begun to do what’s really needed for a democratic and just Honduras – to organize, to take responsibility for their lives and for their communities, to live as signs of the Reign of God, a reign of “justice, love, and peace.”

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