Empty Tortillas

One of the guys working on the house construction said, “Yolanda and Francisco have been eating empty tortillas”.house.JPG

Our church has been helping build a new house for Francisco and Yolanda in one of the communities where the Shalom church has been developing a church plant. A Hispanic church in the States had donated funds to help with construction materials. Church members from our Shalom Church in the city of Choluteca, Honduras were supervising the construction and local workers from the community were volunteering to help with the labor needed to build the house. With everyone working together, it would take about two and a half weeks to build a small secure cement block house.

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Francisco and Yolanda were selected by community leaders as the most economically needy people in the area. Their old adobe house had deteriorated over the years and the rainy season was about to arrive. With a leaky roof and broken down walls in the house, the couple did not look forward to enduring another rainy season.

Francisco is older and has chronic health problems. He is no longer able to work in the fields or go fishing along the coast like most of his neighbors do for a living. He and Yolanda have a few garden plants planted around their yard but it was not enough to sustain them.

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I couldn’t get the words out of my mind. I kept thinking, “They’ve been eating empty tortillas” with no beans, much less any meat to put in them. In 36 years of ministry in Honduras I had never heard hunger expressed quite that way before. I had known that the cooking stoves in rural southern Honduras are often kept cold during this time of year. By July, people in the country have finished their food reserves from the previous season’s harvest. During this time of the year, they still have not yet started harvesting the few crops that they are able to plant. During June through August, people often gather what they can find to eat from the trees nearby. There is little else available.

To make matters worse, the young people are not able to help. Many of the young people in the region work in the large agricultural farms that grow produce for export. Most of the workers are seasonal laborers who work long hours for part of the year, but are without work for long periods of time during the rest of the year. One of the local municipal leaders once commented that “a whole generation of young people in the region are losing all knowledge of how to grow their own food”.

Yolando and Francisco depend on others to give them something to eat occasionally when there is extra food in the community. Often there is very little extra to share from the neighbors. Our men from the church commented on how difficult it is to eat your lunch in front of someone who does not have food to eat themselves. When they stopped at noon-time on the first day of construction and began to eat what they had brought with them for lunch, they realized that Francisco and Yolando had nothing to eat. The fire place remained cold. Our men readily shared what they had and the next day they packed a little extra in their lunch bags.

On the day that I visited the construction site after several days of work, Yolanda and Francisco once again had a cook fire for lunch. It was only because family members had given them eight pounds of corn a couple of days earlier. That would be enough corn to make about 150 tortillas. Eight pounds of corn would not feed them for very many days. In order to get the corn, they had to walk most of the day to go pick up the grain in a neighboring village, and then turn around to carry it back home the same day.

It’s often a challenge to know how to best help the needy people around us. As Christians, we are often challenged to walk the fine line between continually giving relief aid and that of encouraging communities and local church members to find ways to help each other.

There are several ways that our regional church is attempting to help their neighbors. They are looking for sustainable solutions that are developed by local community members. Church extension workers are not only preaching in the surrounding communities now, but they are also being prepared to be effective health promoters. Health promoters are teaching nutrition classes in the communities where the church is active. At times there are vegetables grown in the community but some families have never learned to eat them. The health promoters teach families the importance of eating vegetables how to grow their own food. They then show them how to prepare the food for their families. Health promoters are also teaching families to grow new foods, like eggplant, that they never imagined would grow in the region.

Our men in the church have also been looking for ways to help others. In the years immediately following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, World Gospel Mission had helped build several homes in the region. Over the past 15 years, the church has been wanting to develop a sustainable model home project. The home needed to be secure, using locally available materials, and it needed to be cost effective. A source of funding was needed.

First, several men from our church have developed improved skills for building high quality homes using locally obtained materials. They have the skills in part from teams of university students who have come from the Ohio State University. Some teams have helped teach community development practices. Others have designed a model home that may be adapted to different client’s needs. The homes include a “healthy combo” bathroom and kitchen.

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Larry Overholt and his wife Angie have been involved in various aspects of community development in Honduras since 1982.   In this post Larry highlights the challenges found navigating between relief and development.   The Overholt’s process some of these hard and challenging issues in their blog.  What have been your challenges as you walk this fine line between relief, rehabilitation and development?

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