Elphin Deacon reflects on visit to Honduras with Trócaire
Third Sunday of Lent, March 19th 2017
Honduras: A land of people thirsting in a flood
We are all affected by climate change in some form – in recent years, here in Ireland, we have seen unprecedented amounts of rain fall, more Atlantic storms and rising sea levels resulting in coastal erosion. For the most part we seem to escape the worst of climate change and its effects however because of the location of Honduras it is certainly not so lucky and is much more severely affected.
A short plane journey from Tegucigalpa to San Pedro Sula (northern Honduras) revealed a countryside quite similar in appearance to some parts of Ireland. Green hilly countryside with rivers cutting through the landscape. However, looking down at the world from 15,000ft makes for a very pretty picture compared to being on the ground. After landing San Pedro Sula we travelled in a convoy of three 4×4 jeeps to a small community living in an area called Omoa Cortes. This area is very isolated and to get there we had to travel along the sea shore and through dirt tracks to reach the community. Looking out onto the Caribbean Sea you would consider the location to be very picturesque and idyllic. This impression was short lived as soon the truths were revealed and it demonstrated in a very clear way the effect that each person, through their carbon footprint, including anyone reading this article, can contribute to the hardships of others. Meeting the people, they spoke of the rains and floods that now batter their small community and the rising sea level on the other side it has now become a very hazardous place to live. Increased rain storms and the rising sea levels, all as a consequence of climate change, can leave their village marooned – trapped between sea and now marshland turned river and as the water rises their dwellings, very simple in structure and design, are flooded. Faced with only one option to evacuate, as to stay would certainly mean death, the people that own boats bring the people upstream to escape the rising waters. Upon return the community is faced not only with the devastation to their homes and surrounds. Their land also becomes unusable as it has been poisoned by the sea water and there is also the added complication of waste that has been washed in or carried downstream by nearby rivers. I witnessed one child, aged 6, called Maria playing beside a pile of rubbish in which I could clearly identify hospital waste and syringes!
Maria lives with her mother Miriam Marivel Campos Perez, aged 30. They are featured on this year’s Trocaire Lenten box and as we spoke with Miriam she told us that because of the continuous rising of sea levels (due to climate change) she felt that she may have only a few months left in her home. Her struggle each day is to provide for her daughter Maria and after each flood to try and restore her house to being habitable. Dampness, mould and mildew were clearly visible on the walls, and it had been some time since the last evacuation. Sadly, we learned that about two months after our visit the house close to Miriam and Maria was destroyed in another of the now all too common rain storms. It is only a matter of time now before Miriam and Maria also lose their home.
Trocaire is working with this community in collaboration with the local Municipal (Council) by supporting emergency response teams, creating safe routes for people to escape and providing vital supplies and shelter. Through the support and donations of people during their Lenten and other campaigns, the opportunity is created to help empower communities to be proactive and organised, to educate and give hope to Miriam and her community in their struggle.
As I reflect on the Gospel for the third week of Lent, the first word that springs to mind is thirst. At the well Jesus’ discussion with the woman leads her on a journey into a deeper more human way of life. Her spiritual thirst is quenched by her encounter with Jesus. Miriam, Maria and so many like them in Honduras, and indeed across the world, are also thirsting for safety, security, a better way of life. The destruction that is brought about by climate change is as a result of how each of us use and perhaps abuse our environment. Our carbon footprint in not having a local effect it is having a global effect. This lent, like the woman at the well, let us be open to allowing Jesus into our lives, to open our eyes to what we could do to reduce our carbon footprint and to see in what small way we can help Miriam, her daughter and their community, to satisfy their thirsts.
‘anyone who drink the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.’ (John 4:14)
Second Sunday of Lent, March 12th 2017
Honduras: A country of violence, transformation and love
My role within the Trocaire organisation is as Diocesan Representative for the Diocese of Elphin. Each year a number of diocese are chosen to select an individual(s) to travel with a group to a country that will be the focus of the Trocaire Lenten Campaign. Along with 9 others we undertook at weeklong journey to Honduras with flights taking us from Dublin – New York – Heuston – Honduras. On the face of it this may sound like a great ‘getaway’ however, without a shadow of a doubt it proved to be the toughest week both physically and psychologically I have experienced.
Upon arrival we were greeted by those working with Trocaire who are based in Honduras and introduced to the local currency – the Lempira. In exchanging 50euros for 1,250 Lempira I almost felt rich holding all these notes and indeed in comparison to many people living in Honduras I was, considering that the average daily income for over 5millon (62%) of the population is just €2 per day. Imagine your total earnings for a day being the price of a cup of coffee! That 50euros was the equivalent of working five days a week for one month!
On the afternoon of our arrival we were brought to the Trocaire head office, which is located in what I would describe as a compound – behind a high 10ft walls. A common sight was to see armed security positioned outside many business and office premises, as a protection and deterrent against robbery and attack. This set the tone as to the risks and dangers that we faced each time we moved around Tegucigalpa and indeed throughout Honduras. Security and safety were always upmost in our minds and our reliance on the staff of Trocaire could be compared to a child and its mother. Following the security briefing at the head office we were taken to see our first project supported by Trocaire – ‘Alternativas y Oportunidades’ (AYO). This project began in 1990 and contributes to try and reduce the social risks faced by children and youth working in the markets and streets of Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela (another population centre just outside of Tegucigalpa). It is achieved through alternative health services, education programmes and activities. The project supports not just the youth but also the entire family as so many women suffer domestic violence at some point in their lives. The group we met were all quite young and many of them stood up and spoke, in Spanish, but very clearly and confidently about how beneficial the benefits that this project, supported by Trocaire, has been in transforming their lives and their outlook. Young men and teenagers had been thought how to respect their female counterparts and to understand what it means to be a man rather than carrying the macho culture – they described this education or new view as ‘masculinity’. Women and young girls learned how to be proactive and gained confidence within themselves and so this permeated to the wider community. It was beautiful to see that from just this one project the change and transformation that was taking place within this community and its youth. What we often take for granted, and is accepted as the ‘normal’ is so new and fresh in Honduras.
As I reflect on last Sunday’s gospel – that beautiful description of the Transfiguration, on mount Tabor, I can’t but see some parallels between it and this first group of people. It was wonderful to have visited this group and to see first-hand the brilliant effect that this project, through the support of Trocaire, can have on people’s lives. The welcome we received, the desire for happiness and stability that the people longed for. The transformation and change of attitudes that was brought about. On this the first day of our visit I could clearly see just how important the support of people like you, who read this, is to Trocaire, as it is not Trocaire, the organisation, that we are supporting it is the young men and women, the single mothers, the men open to attitude change and the community they all live in – that is a transfiguration that can only be brought about through our support and care for our fellow man.
‘There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light’ (Matt 17:2)
First Sunday of Lent, March 5th 2017
We have a prayer that we often recite to our Guardian Angel, asking for care and protection as we begin our new day, enter into the darkness of evening or before we close our eyes at night. The Gospel reading for this first Sunday of Lent speaks of the temptations that were presented before Jesus as he spent those 40 days in the desert. Each temptation would have removed all the hardships and pain that Jesus faced upon his returned to Jerusalem. But he chose to the more difficult path – he fought the temptations and won and the final sentence in our Gospel passage tells us that ‘angels appeared and looked after him.’ (Matt 4:11)
Sadly, today’s world is so full of temptation, could it almost be said that it is almost a fact of life? Is our world controlled by the temptation of money, greed, corruption, power? Is the list in our modern society almost endless? Oftentimes temptations can be very subtle and almost unnoticeable whilst on other occasions they are so obvious and result in unimaginable hardships and pain for others. I was a part of group of 10 people connected, in various ways, with the organisation Trocaire recently travelled to Honduras to experience and see first-hand the tragic effects that temptation and greed can have on an entire country and how people-power through the assistance of Trocaire, the Irish Church’s response to world injustices, i.e. your response, stand up for what is right, through peaceful, legal and diplomatic means.
Honduras is located in central America and is about one and a half times the size of Ireland with a population of approximately 8.5million. The country has recently featured on our television screens with Hector on TG4, travelling through Central America visiting Honduras’ capital Tegucigalpa (Tee-gues-e-caulpa). Also a programme aired just a number of weeks on RTE1 called ‘Toughest Place to Be: Honduras’. The program’s blurb describes Tegucigalpa as ‘one of the most violent places on earth’. It is in this setting that we find that temptation, that greed, that corruption at its greatest. However, within this setting we also find people, groups and communities of love and great faith, who are willing to risk their own lives to peacefully fight against this temptation and to say as Jesus said in our Gospel ‘Be off, Satan!’ (Matt 4:10)
Over the coming weeks of lent I will tell of my experiences as I visited Honduras. The people and groups I met. The hardships and pain they have to endure on a daily basis. The difficulties that face them and how through your donations to Trocaire, a difference can be made to the people’s lives. Currently available in all diocesan churches are the Lenten Trocaire Campaign packages. Within this package you will find a Lenten Trocaire box, an envelope should you wish to use it instead of the box, and some information pamphlets. As someone who has visited a country in which Trocaire works and has seen what they do first hand I know, and hopefully as you follow along over the coming weeks you will also know, the outstanding work that is done, all thanks to your very generous donations during this period of lent, or indeed at any other time. This lent each of us can, in our own small way, become a guardian angel to those less fortunate.
Deacon Damien Kearns, Diocese of Elphin
(Each Sunday of Lent 2017, Deacon Damien will share his experience of his visit to Honduras with us).
To learn more about the work of Trócaire and their 2017 Lenten Campaign see www.trocaire.org
Deacon Damien Kearns (2nd from right) travelled to Honduras with a group representing Trócaire in November 2016.