I recently returned from another inspirational trip to Honduras. It is always good to visit with Linda Coello, her blood relatives and her extended family that comprise the organization of which she is president – CEPUDO. They are the people who do a great job of distributing the goods that we send for that country and who are our partners in projects that include the building of houses and water wells for the poor. Together with our excellent partners from the ICDF (Taiwan), CEPUDO manages the self-sustainable projects that we fund through the loving generosity of our donors. These projects include tilapia and shrimp farming, animal husbandry projects and agricultural projects.
Besides, my Taiwanese friend, Samuel, keeps me well supplied with a delicious Chinese treat pronounced “WAH – MAE” that I discovered in my years in Jamaica. It’s a dry salted plum that tastes a lot better than it sounds – and it’s very high roughage! :o)
Food For The Poor Honduras Tilapia Project.
Our first stop was in an area called Rio Lindo (Pretty River), in the neighborhood called El Borboton. Here the community had been giving a 20 acre piece of land and the government of the time had started to build cement ponds for the farming of fish. The funds ran out and the project was abandoned. The community waited and waited for help to continue the project, but the only thing they got was empty promises.
Along comes our caring donor and friend, Chris Cotter, and his generous contribution delivers the people from their 20-year bondage. Food For The Poor, in partnership with CEPUDO and ICDF (Taiwan), built two enormous ponds and filled the six existing cement ponds for the purpose of tilapia and shrimp farming. We inaugurated the project that day and we released 20,000 fingerlings into each of the new ponds. The fingerlings will mature in 4-6 months. I discovered that when the project is fully functional, it will produce 24,000 lbs. of fish every month! But that’s not all…
Chris also funded a third pond, connected to the two huge ones, which would serve as a catchment area for the water running off the fish ponds, containing the waste from the tilapia. This catchment pond would then feed a canal system that would in turn irrigate and fertilize a few acres of agricultural land that would be planted out with vegetables of different types. The men of the community would take care of the tilapia farming, while the women would be in charge of the agricultural part. We presented the women with a gas tiller and they were thrilled. They all looked so empowered.
You could cut the happiness with a knife – it was so palpable.
Pig Poo Power: Swine waste used to power homes.
The second stop was in Comayagua, in the neighborhood called La Isla. Here we saw an amazing pig project also funded through the generosity of our donors. Ten families in this community were selected for this project and each of them had two cement pig-pens built in their back yards. They were each given 20 high quality piglets to raise for meat. When the pigs reached 200 pounds each, they would be sold. The family would then replace the 20 pigs sold with piglets, keep the profit, and start the business cycle again. Our partners from Taiwan took care of the training and the butchering. What a great transformation, coming from extreme poverty to become self-sustainable entrepreneurs.
There was another aspect from this project that truly appealed to my environmentalist side. I was shown, first hand, how the waste from the pens would be washed, three times per day, into two large plastic containers. These containers would be rigged with a plastic tube that led out of the containers and into the house. The captured pig feces would produce the gas methane, which would travel through the tube and into the little kitchen. Here it would be connected to a stove and to a lamp, and so the methane would allow them both to cook and to see at night. I was amazed. Nothing was wasted – not even the waste!
The mother of the household was kind enough to cook some tortillas on the griddle with the methane gas and to demonstrate the use of the lamp. She explained that at any time they have a supply of methane that can last them in excess of seven hours.
I left La Isla feeling so good about our work and so thankful that we have caring donors who really want to transform the lives of those whom they may never meet.
By far, our most emotional activity was the inauguration of 159 two bedroom homes in the municipality of Danli, in the area called San Marcos de Abajo in the department of El Paraiso. In August of 2010, a number of communities of that area that were located by the side of the river because of the easy proximity to water, were severely affected by a two hour flash flood that caused the river to rise and devastated the entire community, damaging many homes and completely sweeping away 159 houses, leaving a large number of people homeless and six families mourning the loss of life of their loved ones.
Food For The Poor gives flood victims new homes in Danli, Honduras.
The country responded with an unprecedented display of collaboration – the Honduran Red Cross responded to the devastation, while the firefighters, the police, the boy scouts, the church and many other agencies, organizations and individuals responded with kindness. The mayor of the city went all out in his efforts to help and the municipality donated land on a beautiful mountain in the area. Our donors again came to the rescue and raised the funds needed to build 80 two-bedroom homes. Fortunately, SOPTRAVI (an agency connected to the Ministry of Housing) matches the homes that we build one for one. We were then able to build the 159 homes needed to help ease the emotional trauma suffered by our brothers and sisters there.
I walked around talking to the families that would soon be enjoying their new homes and their stories were heartbreaking. One woman survived with her 3 children – one was blind and a paraplegic; the other was going blind and losing her ability to walk; the third did not have disabilities. Through her tears, she explained how they had all survived because of God’s unfailing grace. I met another family where the mother grabbed the two younger children and told the older daughter that she would have to do her best to fend for herself. She worried that she would never see her again and through tears explained that God had saved her older daughter, as she was lifted unto the back of a crowded pick- up truck as she was attempting to save herself.
The Vice President of Honduras attended the event. The mayor of Danli had us all in tears as he broke down emotionally himself when he addressed the crowds. The mayor of Tegucigalpa gave a warm tribute to the donors of Food For The Poor, without whom that inauguration would not have been possible – especially in less than one year since the disaster. I was moved and humbled by the poor, who displayed such patience, faith and strength. Also by our staff, by our partners, and particularly by our donors who never disappoint us in our greatest times of need.
We made another visit in an area a good hours drive out of Tegucigalpa. Here we met a dynamic Italian priest, Fr. Ferdinanado, who had served the poor for years in Africa and was now devoting his time and efforts in helping the destitute in Honduras. A strong devotee of Padre Pio, he credited what he had been able to accomplish there to his miraculous interventions. Single-handedly, he raised the money from family and friends in Italy for a magnificent hospital that he has built in an area where there are no medical services. He has designed it with huge hallways where he will put cots so that the family of those who are ill can stay close to their loved ones. Only one problem, the hospital was completely bare of furnishings. He asked for our help.
Again, one of our gifts-in-kind donors has come to the rescue and we will be sending him container loads of hospital room suites to properly furnish this magnificent structure that will do such good for the poor of that area. As you might imagine, Fr. Ferdinando is very happy!
After touring the hospital, he took us to meet some of the people of the nearby communities that he has helped with housing, a home for the aged, and a center for troubled youth. But he also wanted us to meet some of the ones that he had not been able to help.
He took us to the home of Antonio Alvarez, a good husband and father of eight. Antonio is a “segador” (a harvester or field hand), but he does not have steady employment. Every day he goes out to the fields looking for work, but most days he returns home feeling defeated as he is not able to find any. On the few days when someone gives him employment he earns less than a dollar an hour. The oldest daughter, Maria Ester, is sixteen and takes care of the 3 youngest siblings who are yet not of age to attend school – Onaida Jocelyn, Maria Guadalupe, and the baby, Leonidas Ferdinando (yes, named after their beloved priest!) We asked Antonio for the other kids, and he replied that two were running errands and the other two were playing with neighborhood friends.
Their adobe shack was truly wretched, but they made every effort to make it a home. I wondered how they could afford to send the oldest five to school, as on one of the walls they had end-of-year photos of all the kids. Antonio showed me that with pride. I looked up at the corners of the walls, near the roof, and was horrified to see huge termite mounds inside their tiny home. On the termite mounds there were a number of cockroaches crawling around.
We enquired after the mother. The father was hesitant to answer. When Antonio was out of earshot, Fr. Ferdinando asked Maria Ester to tell me the truth about her mother. This 16-year old, way too old for her age, explained sadly that her mother worked everyday, seven days a week, a double shift at a local restaurant bussing tables. She left home at 6:00 AM and returned at midnight, only to earn in a month of double shifts what a busboy here would earn in less than a week – but it was enough to send the oldest five to school. My heart broke for that poor woman, working 16-hour days without respite. My heart also broke for the husband, who looked so embarrassed that his wife was the breadwinner of the family, while he often was forced into the role of Mr. Mom. This family so deserves our help.
My last visit, the day we were returning home, was with Sadie Yvette Rivas and her mother, Sadie Janelle Ramirez. If you remember, Sadie Yvette was the little girl that was featured in our newsletter who had a tumor near her intestines that was making her malnourished and stunting her growth – at 3-years old, she was almost the same size as her 10-month old little brother. The doctors felt that she needed to have surgery, but the family did not have the $1200 needed for the operation to remove the tumor. Again, one of our wonderful donors comes to their rescue. Scott Montgomery was so touched by their story that he sent the check to cover the cost of the surgery.
When I saw the mother and daughter, they had good news for me. The tumor had completely dissolved (a miracle?) and Sadie Yvette had gained two pounds, which is a good amount for a little girl of her size. I asked them what was their greatest need, and they told me it was a home, but they did not own any land. Scott decided to use the money that was no longer required for the surgery to buy them a piece of land and he has also offered to donate the money for their home.
Needless to say, Sadie Janelle is so thrilled at the wonderful generosity of someone who loves her family without ever meeting them, and she prays daily for Scott’s health and happiness.
I will sign off here with this beautiful happy ending!