Santa Barbara, Honduras
Brooke N. Griffith
What is World Neighbors?
"World Neighbors is a grassroots development organization working with the rural poor in hundreds of villages in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. World Neighbors helps people find practical solutions to the problem of meeting their own basic needs. The goal is to address the root causes of hunger, disease and poverty."
This is the definition given by World Neighbors which includes their program goals. They are one of the many NGOs (non-government organizations) concerned with third world people, but World Neighbors offers a unique solution unlike many of the other NGOs. They offer education and self-sustainability to a people who are in dire need of basic necessities such as food and shelter so that they can meet these needs on their own. Throughout this paper I not only want to inform you about the World Neighbors Project, but I also want to give you insight on how it is changing the lives of many people in Honduras.
World neighbors is a non-profit organization supported by private donations, since its beginning in 1951 by Dr. John L. Peters. As a Methodist minister Dr. Peters was greatly concerned with the impoverished conditions of third world countries.
Dr Peters' philosophy of "people to people" has created a unique organization with goals in the best interest of the people. The focus of World Neighbors is still the current 1/5 of the world population who live in remote areas of subsistent agriculture earning only a mere one to two dollars per day on average. Since the establishment of World Neighbors the goals have focused on two primary issues: 1. Health
Techniques of better health practices and self-improvement of site specific land management are taught by native, local leaders who are trained by a World Neighbors coordinator or already have the education through a university or vocational school. These local coordinators are also natives of the area whom are educated in best practices for health and natural resources. The local coordinators each have a team of specifically trained natives in certain aspects of the complete project. All work together as a team to coordinate each specific focus into an entire community development plan.
This is how World Neighbors gets involved with a community:
1.Community is selected by need
2.Local Problems are identified
3.Approach: the problems and people are approached with careful understanding and respect of local beliefs and knowledge in order to integrate these into the solutions.
4.Social Process: the community forms an organized system of town commities with local leaders where meetings and participation are vital.
5.Needs are prioritized by local leaders
6.Trained local leaders implement and test ideas, which once found to work, are implemented throughout the community.
World Neighbors in Honduras:
World Neighbors did not begin their first project in Honduras until 1981. At this time the key issue was soil conservation. They began teaching better management practices of farming and soil erosion-control techniques, but this was the time of the "Green Revolution." Even though the effects of the chemicals used at this time were not fully understood the people continued use of them to have a better crop.
Since 1981, World Neighbors in Honduras has developed their goals to not only include soil conservation but also to address an array of issues at hand in Honduran communities. The issues addressed currently are divided into five areas of general focus: health, agriculture, community, culture and education. "All of these goals are interrelated," Elisia Medina explained, coordinator of World Neighbors Program in Santa Barbara, Honduras, "and must be addressed at the base of the problem directly with the people." Thus, the philosophy of people helping people is once again reemphasized. "Not addressing one of these important issues could prohibit the development of another area of importance," Elisia emphasized.
The health program has five components: nutrition, production, health, family education and natural preventative medicine.
For World Neighbors, nutrition begins with promoting the consumption of local resources. They advocate the families to produce their own food in gardens and the fields. They teach the family the importance of nutritional and balanced diets, especially for the first five years of a young child.
Another concerning issue in Honduras is the poor quality of water. For prevention of diseases the people are taught how to treat their water by boiling, using chlorine, draining of small ponds and reducing the number of latrines. All of these help to reduce the possibilities of disease through their water resources.
In the small, newly developing village of Buenos Aires, a very pertinent problem for the women of the community has been resolved by the simple construction of a flue pipe and vent system in the kitchen. Women of this village often were seen coughing and having many respiratory problems. World Neighbors devised a new oven in which the black smoke and soot are sent out of the home through a flue pipe and vents. Women no longer are having trouble breathing nor are they coughing up black soot. The old ovens were not only risking the health of the women in the homes but they were very costly to maintain. The new ovens use less space and only use eighty logs every two weeks compared to the old ovens using 400 every two weeks. This is a remarkable difference and improvement of the family's lifestyle and definitely a step towards helping the environment with the reduction in wood usage.
Included in the health program are the issues of hygiene and natural medicines. Families are taught how cleanliness is prevention against disease, but in cases of illness, some natural medicines can provide a remedy. The methods of how to prepare and store these medicines are also taught.
Other subjects taught in the health area are family education and communication such as prevention of abuse and neglect and sex education. The health component of World Neighbors covers a great many issues but, each one is important to the improvement of the community.
Health education has a great link with agriculture in the scheme of the five categories because agriculture provides the source of nutrition. Campesinos are taught the methods of agroforestry using native species for crops. Diversity of crop species is important to ensure the survival of many species. Crops are selected according to their resistance to drought, plagues and disease as well as their nitrogen fixing and watershed capabilities. The project promotes only the use of organic pesticides, especially since the "Green Revolution" and does not allow slash-and-burn. Instead, they offer a series of techniques to campesinos that improve the site in which they live and allow them to remain on the land. Some of these techniques are crop rotation, farming along contour lines, use of earth worms to improve the soil, and use of grasses, plants, and woody plants to control soil erosion. They have also reinitiated trees in areas to create watersheds for the protection of water sources. Family gardens are implemented close to the homes where the family grows medicinal herbs, fruits, vegetables, and experiments with certain farming practices.
With Elisia Medina we visited the "parcela." It was a small parcel of land owned by a poor family on the rural countryside outside of Santa Barbara. The son who worked the farm was gone, working in the coffee fields. He was the one who had begun to implement the practices encouraged by World Neighbors in his area. Even thought the son was not there to share his work with us, a sense of pride and happiness could be seen in the sweet smile and generosity of his elderly father as he led us to the cornfield behind their home. World Neighbors' coordinators explained that before these new practices the son said that his land was infertile and the work was too difficult. He had very little motivation. Little by little though coordinators and the man began to see very good results on the small demonstration plots. Now the man has abandoned the practice of slash-and-burn on his land. Instead, he uses manure to fertilize the soil and grasses and pineapples to prevent soil erosion. No chemicals are ever used. Once the corn stalks have grown, he bends the corn in half to help it dry faster and prevent birds from eating them. This bending technique allows him to harvest the corn once it is dry and avoids greater damage to the crop during the hurricane season. After the crop is harvested the remaining corn stalk is mulched as residue for the soil. The man's father is proud of his son. His son has created a self-sustainable crop and a way of life to support his family. Even neighbors have begun to ask how he has improved his crop so much, but still have yet to adopt these practices.
The small village of Buenos Aires was damaged by earth tremors triggered by the heavy rains of Hurricane Mitch that filled abandoned mine shafts and lubricated geologic faults beneath Santa Barbara Mountain in central Honduras. Though no one was severely injured, most of the homes there were destroyed or damaged to the point that they became unsafe for further habitation. Recently, the residents of Buenos Aires set out on their way to recovery. The community was given land, donated by an organization. Immediately, with the help of World Neighbors, the community began to organize. They formed committees for areas of development and each committee has a group of leaders, such as a secretary, president, treasurer, vice president, etc. The areas of development are divided into five main committees:
PARENTS AGRICULTURE CHILDREN
The newly founded community finds the task of leadership difficult but, very worthwhile. The task of leadership is difficult only because it is a challenge to find willing leaders within the community. The town did say that there are not enough leaders but the leaders that do exist are active and making giant steps.
Through these committees the town is able to meet and discuss problems and solutions. Proposals are written, budgets and income are managed, the community gets involved, proposed projects are monitored and small businesses are established. The whole community benefits from helping one another.
The division of community development I found to be most interesting and amazing was the children's committee. The school children elected representatives in their class to be officers as a representative body. From this process, the children learn to be leaders at young ages. The most current project is "Bosque de Los Ninos" or the "Children's Forest." This project exists behind the school building as a small tract of forested land where the children are taught about agroforestry. They are building a fence, cleaning the area and coordinating a plan to plant seeds received from ESNACIFOR. All this will be done through the guidance of the parent/teacher committee. The final goal of this project is for the children to learn how to plant and grow vegetables in a manner that protects the soil and habitat through agroforestry. The children will then be able to sell and eat the vegetables thus, creating a budget and income for the children to learn to manage.
Maintaining the traditions and beliefs of any people is so important, especially in today's society where we see so many people lose their roots. We all seem to mesh into the mix of cultural backgrounds. World Neighbors is a strong advocate of not changing the beliefs of the culture but instead encouraging the society to recognize their unique backgrounds through the arts. Dances, music, and festivals are held and to aid in the need for income markets are sought in which handicraft and fine art can be sold. All of these aspects are vital in retaining closeness to ones culture.
Outside the World Neighbors home of Santa Barbara, in another small village in the rural mountainside, a young mother spoke to us about what World Neighbors is doing for her. They offer a program over the radio called "Maestro en La Casa, " which literally translated to "Teacher in the Home." This young mother of four girls never had the opportunity, like many other women in her community to finish school. Maestro en La Casa allows her and many other to finish school. For ten minutes everyday, except Sunday, the lesson is explained on the radio. The mother can listen at home, not have to travel not leave her children. There are two to three classes per month and a curriculum book of assignments is followed with the classes. An advisor from the area periodically grades the assignments and gives exams. This program is primarily directed towards the women in the house. As a young mother, she hopes to not only continue to finish her highschool degree but also, to become a nurse through a local vocational school.
Education is the key to the World Neighbors project. In every aspect of their program, health, community, agriculture, and culture, they use education. This tool provides people with knowledge and skills of their own which cannot be depreciated. They earn a sense of self-worth and pride in their lives. For these reasons this program works. Coordinators want to see people happier, healthier and working together as a community. This is what World Neighbors is about, "people helping people."
As a firm believer in helping one another, I truly am astonished by the philosophies, values and pro-active achievement World Neighbors has initiated. They are making a difference through the true realization of what help is, the irreplaceable value of offering a gift that can never be taken away…education. Through education they have taught so many people how to adapt and improve their standards of health and living with what they have. The people are given confidence to think on their own by creating solutions for their own problems. In Honduras, where so many people are malnourished and struggle daily to support a family, the situation is changing. For a small village, like Buenos Aires, hope is more than a thought. World Neighbors, in my opinion, is an amazing program, accomplishing great feats on a low-income budget. This program has not only changed the thoughts of poor villages. I am sure that in seeing what changes can be made through education and motivation, a few "gringos" also have a new appreciation on the value of learning. I know that I do.