Claudine Marron, a parish pastoral worker in Monaghan & Rackwallace parish and one of the diocesan religious advisors in Clogher, has volunteered to spend this week in Honduras with Trócaire to see at first-hand the conditions there and the work that Trócaire is doing. Over the course of the week-long visit, Claudine and eight others from dioceses across the country will view the agency’s work in relation to food and resource rights, justice and human rights, women’s empowerment, disaster risk reduction and emergency response. They will visit agriculture rehabilitation projects, water system projects and housing construction initiatives. The information gleaned will be utilised to make people more aware of the work of Trócaire on the ground in places like Honduras and of the ever-growing need for sustained support for its initiatives. This will form the background to the Trócaire Lenten campaign for 2017.
Honduras, a country with a population of 8.8 million people, has had a difficult political history over recent decades. Its economic situation is very precarious due to corruption and external commercial dependence. This is manifested through extremely high unemployment (27%) and illegal migration. Honduras is also the most climate-vulnerable country in the world. It is vulnerable to natural disasters including hurricanes and floods. All of this has been accompanied by ongoing concerns about human rights and violations against human rights defenders and social leaders. Trócaire began working in Honduras in 1975 following Hurricane Fifi. It opened an office in the capital Tegucigalpa in 1994.
Claudine and the other members of the group arrived in Honduras on Friday 4 November at the beginning of her week-long visit and has sent us the following update. Further updates and photographs will be posted during the days ahead.
Day 1 – Friday 4 November: We arrived in the capital Tegucigalpa. After a second security briefing about the reality of life on the ground we headed for a women of domestic violence project, a very common problem here. We also met some of the men who are being re-educated into recognising that both genders are equal through new masculinity workshops. They made us feel very welcome and even had some balloons in the Ireland colours. However, the project is located in an area where there are no latrines or sewage.
Day 2 – Saturday 5 November: Today we travelled to Omoa where we met the community and there was a particular focus on family for the Lent campaign 2017. This is an area heavily affected by climate change. The little girl who will feature on the Trocaire box is the same age as my son. This really brought it home to me about how certain circumstances affect the rest of our lives. I will go through this in more detail in the run up to Lent. In the afternoon we met leaders of another community project who are fighting to keep hydro-electric dams off their river as they need it to survive. They are very focused on the task at hand but it comes with its own risks. One group fear the devastating effects of the water, another need it to survive.
Day 3 – Sunday 6 November: Today we attended a local Mass concelebrated by the priests who are accompanying us. It had a real community sense. Then we made the long transfer to La Ceiba where in the evening we met the local Irish-born bishop, Bishop Michael Lenehan from Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, who has worked here for 32 years and was appointed bishop in 2012. He outlined the reality of life for most people here. Lack of basic medical facilities , no social welfare to name but a few. A real eye opener.
Day 4 – Monday 7 November: Today we made a long trek to Arizona where we met a community group who, in their own words, dream of a better Honduras. In a nutshell, their water source is being endangered again through the illegal approval of several hydro-electric dams on the river. The group is made up of many professional people: lawyers, teachers, farmers and a priest to name but a few. They know they are all under threat and risk a lot in their fight to change the system. One of the women travelled a great distance on a bus at 3am to tell us her story. This group also has a radio station which is the best medium of getting their message out. However, they need to get another transmitter so they can broadcast and haven’t been able to broadcast for about a month. They have very strong values and are not going to sell out to anyone. Water is a basic human right and perhaps one which we more often than not take for granted. After this we travelled back to the capital city Tegucigalpa.
Day 5 – Tuesday 8 November: Another early start! This time we headed for the southern end of the country, to a place called Zacate Grande. It took us about 4 hours to get there but it is located in an very picturesque part of the country. From the bay we were able to see Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Pacific Ocean was all around us. It is a part of the country tourists should be flocking to and are not. Why?
The reason for this is, again, illegal acquisition of land by a few. In this instance it is by people from their own country. We met a group of farmers who told us how their land by the beach was taken from them and they were forced to move inland. They took us on a boat journey around the coastline and it was quite obvious where the new landowners were living. The community outlined their struggles to keep control of what is legally theirs. What strikes you is the unity and passion among the people for justice and how they are willing to risk everything to keep fighting. We were made feel most welcome. In fact, they had a banner linking Ireland to the work of Trócaire with their community. They also provided lunch for us and as we walked back to the bus the stark reality of their living conditions was evident. Yet they say a visit from us energises them to carry on. For me I found it hard to see how they have any fight left but again I am very appreciative of the reality I will be returning to and the reality I have been privileged to be part of here. We are staying in Choluteca tonight and have another long trek ahead of us tomorrow.
Day 6 – Wednesday 9 November:
Today we were in Choluteca where we travelled to a number of community projects. Firstly, we met a group of women from the Amdv Women’s Project who work on the defence of women’s rights. Domestic violence is a very common problem here and statistics are high, at 90%. These women work on empowering others and also on educating men in new masculinity so that they can recognise that both genders are equal. We met one young man who spoke about how he wanted a different upbringing for his son than what he had, so he was being educated in new masculinity. Many of the women shared their stories, their struggles and, again, how they put themselves at risk by being involved in the group. They also showed us a solar oven which they have been using since 1991 which was very clever unfortunately Ireland’s climate is not ready for this!
We then met members of the committee for the defence of nature. Here is another group trying to prevent mining companies from destroying their natural resources. They promote agricultural techniques and cultivation of the soil as well as ensuring that chemicals are not being used on their land. Chemicals in the rivers and streams kill the fish. Because of climate change some areas are prone to drought and yellow plague.
Finally, we visited a local farm where the community (mainly women) are working together and educating each other in farming and farming techniques. They are growing a variety of crops and herbs which we were able to see as well – as eating some freshly picked corn from the farm. It was amazing to see what they have produced with so little and again their crops are free of chemicals and pesticides.
Tomorrow we begin the long journey back home. It has been an action-packed week and the Trócaire team, in Ireland and here in Honduras, have looked after us extremely well. I look forward to sharing these stories in more detail, as well as the numerous photos I have taken, on my return home.
Lord, I thank you
For food when many are hungry
For my health when many are sick
For my friends when many are lonely