Saturday, August 25, 2012

Let´s put a stop to violence

CRWRC held a two-day seminar earlier this week on the topic of Family Violence here in Tegucigalpa.  They invited representatives from all five community development partner agencies as well as several members from various Christian Reformed Churches around the country.  We all came together for lunch on Monday at the Christian High School run by MCM (Christian Stewardship Ministries) in order to start off the seminar with a time of fellowship, worship, and prayer for the task at hand. 

The Association for a More Justice Society (ASJ) provided the training facilitators for this event as they are working tirelessly in search of justice and healing for the victims of all types of violence – especially rape and murder.  We heard from one of their psychologists about the importance of respect, shared responsibility and fair treatment within the family, between spouses, parents and children, and siblings, because the absence of such things is also a form of violence against the integrity of the family and not what God intended for His children.   We played a lot of interactive games that allowed us to dialogue in small groups about these issues.  The psychologist also went on to alert us to signs of child sexual abuse and how to respond in a way that encourages the child to speak out without experiencing even more trauma. 
The second day ASJ sent a few members of their “Project Rescue” team; a lawyer that represents victims of violence and two staff members that psychological support.  Together they educated us on the four categories of violence that they use to identify abusive situations within the family.  Violence can be physical, psychological, sexual and/or patrimonial (relating to the family´s resources and livelihood).   I could tell that these categorizations and their examples really challenged some of the participants to broaden their definition of violence.   We came to see that anything that constitutes a lack of respect for any member of the family is vicious blow and prevents the family from functioning as a team. 

Once we had defined violence, ASJ gave us a crash course on how to respond using “Emotional First Aid”, as they call it.   The five-step process begins with the initial psychological contact with the victim by encouraging them to express their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.  Next is to analyze the various dimensions of the problem which leads to the third step of searching for possible solutions for the immediate priorities, such as personal safety, and longer term tasks like reporting the crime and legal proceedings.  The fourth step calls us to react and realize concrete actions in accordance with the previous phases.  Finally, we should follow up with the case and verify its progress ensuring that the victim is safe and resolute in proceeding with the decided course of action.

In the end, we learned a lot about a great many forms of violence and how to react to them with compassion, empathy and wisdom.  After hearing about only a fraction of the cases they deal with in “Project Rescue” I also realized how much faith and courage it takes to confront these horrific and often dangerous situations.  ASJ´s mission describes a call to be brave Christians in the pursuit of justice and they are totally right.  I think that without the key ingredients of bravery and faith their handy “5-step Emotional First Aid” just won´t cut it.  All in all, I thank God for all the people working for justice and restoration here in Honduras and for the privilege of hearing their stories and learning from them.  I hope that all of us participants took home some valuable tools so we can help put a stop to violence in our own communities. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Gender Issues in Transformational Development

Last month CRWRC hosted a two-day seminar on gender issues related to community development projects.  Representatives from all five partner agencies attended; from DiaconĂ­a Nacional, Alfalit, Christian Stewardship Ministries, Association for a More Just Society, and Harvest.

Together we learned how to identify possible gender barriers and how to overcome them while planning community development initiatives.  We worked through various case studies from around the world that detailed how an excellent project can ultimately fail to impact their target audience due to cultural practices and gender norms. 

The seminar, led by CRWRC veteran Robert Wood, outlined how to extract and analyze gender issues in 4 categories; Roles and Responsibilities, Access and Control of Resources, Power and Decision-making, & Needs and Priorities.  This seminar offered valuable tools for investigating and planning for new initiatives that will hopefully result in achieving more development goals and using our increasingly limited resources more efficiently. 

Next week CRWRC will be hosting another inter-agency training seminar on a related topic: Good Treatment within the Family/Domestic Violence.  I look forward to learning more about this very serious  issue that is unfortunately all too common in many Honduran households. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Olympia Team Shows their Continued Support for Los Charcos

Only a few short days after the departure of the Inglewood team we had the privilege of hosting the team from Olympia, Washington for the 5th time in the community of Los Charcos.  Olympia CRC may not send the biggest teams – ranging from 3 to 7 people – but they have certainly been faithful in their commitment to Los Charcos. 

Over the years the church has kept in contact with the community by exchanging photos, letters and cards.  Undeterred by their limited economic resources Olympia has always committed to some type of construction project per year.  In the past they´ve done everything from pouring cement floors, constructing latrines and building pilas for washing and water storage.  This year the eager Olympians took on a big challenge in pledging to construct an addition on the local Christian Reformed Church to be used as a Sunday School classroom.  Armed with their largest team yet (7 participants) and a lot of prayer and financial support, they were ultimately able to achieve their goal. 
Unfortunately I was unable to join this team when they came last year as I was recovering from my appendectomy.  That was really too bad because they are a great group of people and they even accepted me as one of their own – despite being Canadian!  
Olympia prefers to stay with host families rather than altogether in the church or schoolhouse.  It was amazing to see how close they´ve become to the families that host them every year.  One of the challenges, however, in using host families is of course the language barrier.   We solved that problem by hiring three wonderful ladies from Tegucigalpa, Dilia, Miriam and Karla, to help us as translators.  The three of them and myself ended up rotating through the host families at dinner time so that the team members could chat with the family in the evenings. 
In terms of the work project, every day was different as the addition involved a variety of tasks.  The first day was spent digging the perimeter of the foundation and stacking an endless pile of blocks.  The next day involved hauling rocks and mixing cement to lay the foundation.  We spent another day hauling lumber on our shoulders down from the mountain to the church – a task that was a lot harder than it sounds!  The team also shovelled and carried buckets of dirt from a nearby field to level the floor while others mixed water, sand and cement for the masons as they began to lay the bricks.  It was hot and the work was hard but the team remained in good spirits.  It was very interesting to see the construction from the very beginning but it was also sad to have to leave before it was finished.  But, in the end, we were all proud of the progress we accomplished!

Friday, August 3, 2012

New Partnership in the Works with La Avispa and Inglewood CRC

I had the privilege of joining Inglewood CRC´s work team in La Avispa this past month.  The five team members arrived in Tegucigalpa pretty tired after flying all night but were definitely eager to meet the people of La Avispa.  Their goal was to spend their ten days in Honduras helping 10 families pour cement floors in their homes – a task some found daunting.  Marina, Coby, Rose, Tracy and Sim were also commissioned by the church council to get to know the community and report back.   Inglewood is interested in developing a long-term relationship with La Avispa like New West CRC and Coyolar or West End CRC and El Naranjo. 

There are quite a few people out there with very strong opinions about short-term mission trips for a variety of reasons.  One argument states that they benefit the “giver” more than the “receiver” as the project is too short to have any real impact on the community.  As an alternative, CRWRC-Honduras has been encouraging church-community partnerships with a commitment of at least 5 years.  The church signs a memorandum of understanding with CRWRC and the local partner agency (DiaconĂ­a Nacional for example) setting out definite terms for how many times a work team will visit, what are the needs and priorities in the community, what projects can be achieved together, how often will communication be exchanged, etc.  The goal is not to have a single 10-day life-changing experience for a handful of church members – the goal is to build a meaningful relationship between two groups of people from different cultures but the same body of Christ. 

Some people may characterize this type of partnership as rich people helping poor people.  The truth is that both communities possess a richness that the other lacks.  A rural Honduran community can teach us a lot about faith in the face of extreme adversity, compassion and care for one´s neighbour, and the profound joy and humility that comes with total dependence on God´s providence. 
Many times North American team members struggle with the urge to give money, articles of clothing, their sleeping bag, or work gloves to the people in the community.  As CRWRC representatives we have to remind people they don´t need to give material gifts – they are the gift!  Building floors, pilas for water storage and latrines will help meet the basic needs of the community but what they will remember most is that a special group of people travelled hundreds of kilometers sacrificing work and time with their families in order to work alongside this community in its development.  It is honouring to know that someone would rather swing a pickaxe or mix cement with a shovel for a few days under the hot Honduran sun than do anything else with their precious vacation. 

Well, I can say that after being with the Inglewood team and getting to know the people of La Avispa, these two will make an excellent partnership.  “La Avispa” may literally mean “the wasp” but the inhabitants are quite the opposite of such a menacing namesake.  They were so welcoming and eager to work with all of us.  The team stayed with host families and enjoyed typical home cooked meals with plenty of fresh fruits and handmade tortillas. 

Together we worked on 10 floor projects and got to know the families, play with their children and learn of the community´s tragic history.  We walked through the relief housing constructed following Hurricane Mitch and then the terrible landslide in August of 2008 for the households that lost everything.  It was amazing to hear how the people in the community and outside organizations banded together to provide housing for those unfortunate families – even if they are quite small houses for a family of 5 or more. 

The people of La Avispa were also very eager to share information about the local economy and agriculture in the area.  Due to its elevation, La Avispa is ideal for harvesting quality coffee beans and many families have plantations up in the mountains surrounding the village.  We visited one of the lower plantantions but there wasn´t much activity as the harvest doesn´t begin until late November.  The bean fields, on the other hand, were incredibly busy as the farmers scrambled to plant the last bit so the sprouts can grow strong before the rainy season can drown the seedlings.  Planting beans is hard work from 5am to 2pm with only a pointed rod and a whole sac of seeds to sow.  Workers from outside of La Avispa  are hired to help during the short planting season.  The other main crop in the area is corn which was planted already in May and should be ready to collect in late August or September. 

All in all, the Inglewood CRC – La Avispa trip was a success and hopefully an indication of 5 more years of fellowship as we work together towards the development  of La Avispa, spiritual growth and service at Inglewood and, above all, honouring our Lord and building His kingdom on earth.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

King´s Water Project 2012 - Gracias A Dios! (Thanks be to God!)

So you might say that the King´s Honduras Water Project is all wrapped up for this year but the project won´t be totally complete until the people of Gracias a Dios have water in their homes.  After three weeks of hard labour by 14 King´s students mixing cement and digging trenches, I can definitely say that the water project is well on its way.   According to the team of masons in charge of the project, they estimate another month and a half to complete the tank, dam and lay the rest of the piping.  It looks like smooth sailing from here on out but we´re all praying that no complications pop up along the way. 

So, May 2nd I met up with the team as they arrived at the Tegucigalpa airport.  The next day we head out to Olanchito (10 hours away by bus) to meet up with the Alfalit staff for orientation.  After a day of intense preparation and a lot of good questions about the social, political and environmental issues in Honduras, the team finally made their way up the mountain range to the isolated community of Gracias a Dios. 

This little village of 35 homes and about 150 inhabitants was formed about 4 years ago when the government endowed the land to a cooperative of poor landless farmers from around the country.  While it will be years before the community pays back the 4,000,000 lempira loan but they are so grateful to have their own land on which to cultivate and raise their families.   It´s no wonder they named the community Gracias a Dios – Thanks be to God!  This community was blessed last year with a team from the United States to build a new school and they were overwhelmed with gratitude when they found out earlier this year that CRWRC and King´s were interested in doing a water project with them. 

The Gracias a Dios water system consists of a dam at the top of the mountain stream, about 1.5kms of tubing to the distribution tank and then various branches of tubing to each of the 35 homes.  The 14 youth from the King´s University worked side by side with the locals digging about 1.3kms of the conduction line, prepared the site for the dam and laid the two-foot foundation for the tank.   This made for a lot of hard work – especially when you have to hike for an hour uphill just to get started working at the dam site! 

Besides all that hard work under a hot sun, we did have some good times!  We went for walks around the community to get to know more families and how they live.  We attended church services throughout the week at both the Baptist and Catholic churches.  We played games with the kids, hiked to some amazing caves, learned to make tortillas, took in a tour of a local´s onion field and some of us even learned to play chess and several fun-filled variations on Chinese checkers. 

We had planned an excursion to El Coyolar to check on last year´s King´s water project with Alfalit.  We were all so excited to see what the finished product might look like in Gracias a Dios and also to swim in the nearby waterfall.  However, it turns out this team had terrible luck when it came to transportation and one thing after another led to an inevitable change of plans and we went to a river in Olanchito instead.  Elizabeth and Melissa noted this hilarious series of events with an entry in their Honduras joke book – coming soon to a store near you:

                Q:  Why did 14 Canadian students cram into a tiny van drive 2.5 hrs into rural Honduras in 35°C weather and then turn around before reaching their destination?

                A:  To see a Honduran geyser explode from the van´s engine in the front seat!

All in all, May was an eventful month that may people will never forget.  The 14 students went home with rewarding experiences, amazing friendships and a well-developed understanding of the challenges and triumphs of transformational development in Honduras.  Ana and I were impressed with their valuable comments and insightful concerns during the CRWRC debriefing at the end of the trip.  They are all now equipped to be ambassadors for Honduras and the work of CRWRC around the world. 

And although these students might feel that they received much more they gave but I know that the people of Gracias a Dios will be remembering them fondly for the next 10, 15 and even 20 years from now.  It means so much to them to know that students from so far away sacrificed their time and energy to fundraise for materials, travel to Honduras and work alongside them in their all but forgotten little village.  I hope everyone on the team will go home and tell all of their sponsors and prayer partners of the profound love, gratitude and hard work of the people of Gracias a Dios.  The 2012 King´s Honduras Water Project is just another example of how King´s students are blessed richly to be a blessing to others.