With the coming of the equinox, spring is in the air for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Along with Easter, they mark a time of resurrection and renewal. New Life. New Hope. New Opportunities.
I was reading Dr. Samantha Nutt’s book recently on the problems with war, mineral resources, child soldiers and development in Africa. “Damned Nations” is an emotionally difficult read, but highly educational on the root causes of conflict and poverty. An excellent book and one I highly recommend. Nutt noted, as have I, that when you work in this field there are times when the problems of poverty seem so insurmountable, you wonder if what you are doing is really making a difference.
At such times it really helps to hear from those people who have been working hard with your assistance to bring changes to their lives. On a recent trip to Guatemala and Honduras I had many opportunities to meet people in the programs you have helped to support. I want to try to answer the question, “are we actually helping?” by sharing one of the stories that, in particular, stood out for me.
I went to Honduras with new World Accord board member, Chad Dailey; to help him become familiar with our work there. Our visit coincided with that of the February Construction Expedition. So our trip began with a great meal shared with a fabulous group of construction volunteers, followed by a couple of hours of genuine manual labour with the crew building new class-rooms for the local high school. I admit it was awesome to work my muscles and build up a sweat with the gang.
When Pablo Zelan and Mainor Pavon, from World Accord’s local partner PRR, came to take us to the mountains to see their work, we were joined by two friends on the construction work crew, Alfredo Zelaya, and John Morgan. Both Alfredo and John have supported World Accord for as long as I can remember, and were eager to experience first hand the work taking place “in the field”.
After a brief drive covering a long distance on the highway, and a much longer drive covering a much, much shorter distance off-road, we arrived at the short and slippery hike leading to the village of El Barro (The Mud).
Meet Jose Reynaldo Castillo. He is the current president of the El Barro farmer/researcher group called Sembradores de Esperanza (Sowers of Hope). Such groups are the main focus of the efforts of PRR’s work in Honduras. Sowers of Hope is such an appropriate name for this group. Just 10 short years ago all the people in El Barro made their living as hired farm labourers. They earned a meager 25 cents per day. Yes per day. No one in their group owned any land. After forming a group with the help of PRR, and learning how to work and make decisions together, they took a massive leap of faith: they borrowed $3,500 from PRR to buy a piece of land. They worked hard. They also made improvements to their land. They planted fruit trees, and adopted organic farming techniques to protect the soil and water. They used part of the crops they grew to feed their families, the rest they sold to pay back their loan. Three years later they paid off their debt and were the proud owners of that first piece of land.
By the time they bought their second piece of land, the price had risen substantially. The same sized parcel now cost them $8,000. But with continued hard work, care and a bountiful growing season they managed to repay half of this second loan within a year. With the improvements they made to both parcels, the group’s holdings are now estimated to be worth nearly $50,000.
Jose was able to purchase his own land using his share of the group’s earnings. His wife, Lourdes, and their children are highly involved in the group and working the land. Jose says “it is important for them to learn in order for them to have productive and successful futures here.” Young people are usually forced to emigrate to find work.
But Jose emphasized that their group’s vision for development and change includes their neighbours as well. For instance, the group now hires its own farm labourers, but treats them much better than they were themselves. Their workers earn about $6 per day, and are provided with meals to keep them strong. They have built a small house on the property to store seeds and for their workers to take lunch. They also provided about 3,500 lbs. of beans for seed to the south of Honduras after the terrible flooding there last fall.
The group also shares its knowledge and experience with others, and encourages them follow a similar process. They have even received visitors from Norway, Africa and Cuba who come to learn from their experience.
Other local farmer groups uphold this one as a shining example of what can be achieved when people work together to tackle their collective challenges. Sowers of Hope has become a model group. They are reaping the rewards of their faith and hard work, and in turn are providing Hope for thousands more who have seen that change CAN happen.
At this time of resurrection and renewal, take a minute to reflect on the new life, new hope and new opportunities created by the awesome people of El Barro. It was a seed planted many years ago by PRR and made possible by you, our supporters. I hope you’ll agree that YES, we ARE making a difference! Thank you for your support. Together we’ll roll up our collective sleeves and get down to the job of doing what works – bringing new life, hope and opportunities through long term partnerships with local organizations working towards long term sustainable development.
For Peace and Prosperity,
David Barth, Executive Director