sábado, junio 10, 2006

Don Marcial - Representative to the Food Security Steering Committee

I may need some "train the trainer" classes........

Written Tuesday, June 6th
Today I had my last meeting with the food security steering committee, made up of elected community members to “steer” the food security strategy. Today I presented them the actual strategy as I will be presenting it, the new organizational structure, and started to plant the seeds for them to do participatory monitoring and evaluation of the interventions.

The dynamica, or ice breaker, to get them into the participatory monitoring and evaluation training is the tea making dynamica. You break the large group into four small groups with the task of finding how many different ways you can make tea. For example, first heat the water, pour it over the tea bag, then add sugar, or heat the water with the tea and sugar in it, and so on. The team with the most ways to make the tea wins the lollypop. The moral of the story is there’s lots ways to do one thing, but one process is preferable because it yields the best quality tea – like monitoring and evaluation program processes in order to improve them.

These kinds of dynamicas are always kind of tricky for me in Honduras because the education system does not train one to be creative first of all, and second of all, no one wants to get it wrong and they think there’s a right and wrong answer, and lastly I’m always nervous that my Spanish fails me when trying to describe abstract concepts like this. But I thought it was pretty straightforward and did not even check up on the groups because they all ran away so excited to get at it.

Well you already know that something went awry. All four groups came back with the longest, most detailed, creative stories about making tea I ever heard. IE – 6 of us were very tired and thirsty so we decided to make cinnamon tea. One of us went to get the tea leaves from the mountainside, another went to put the fire on, but there was no firewood. The horse hadn’t eaten breakfast, so another person had to go collect the firewood. And then we put the tea in the boiling water, but realized there was no sugar. So someone had to go to the pulperia (little corner store), but it was closed, so they had to walk 5 kilometers to the next village to get the sugar. We drank the tea and it was very good. And then more people showed up so we had to relight the fire, but the rest of the firewood had gotten wet, so we had to wait until the wood dried out. And then we realized there was no more tea or sugar. But by then the horse had eaten breakfast so two people went on the horse to get the tea from the mountainside and to the village far way to get more sugar. But we had to put out the fire because we didn’t want to use all the wood up. When they came back we lit the fire again and then made more tea.

And the stories went on and on and on. I know my mouth was hanging open, their stories were sooo creative, and yet sooo not what I had asked them to do at all. I didn’t want to smother their creativity though and the retelling of these stories was actually hilarious. The best thing I could think to do was to break for lunch. No one asked what the purpose of the activity was in any event.

Everything else went really well. The group isn’t convinced though that anything is going to happen with the food security strategy now that I’m leaving though. I did my best to convince them that the national office in Teguc is totally behind the project, and that I will be doing my part from DC to find some funding. I think their biggest concern is that no one is replacing me to come and play silly games with them that have no purpose.

jueves, mayo 25, 2006

Juggling, juggling, juggling

I'm really coming down to the wire now, just over three weeks left in Honduras and I have not finished my strategy or the detailed implementation plans, I still have to present all my work CCFH, to the projects in the field, and to the local mayors. The COPECO contract is going well, I'm trying to remove myself little by little in order to have time to get the strategy done and so that others take ownership of it. I was supposed to go to the field today and tomorrow to work on it, but Pedro went in my place with the engineer consultants. I think in the end it will turn out nicely, water harvesting systems in four communities, with lots of environmental protection trainings for the community members and school teachers. I still wish I was going to be here to manage it though. I tried to extend my time here but the Washington office asked to have me back because they've just lost two employees. Eddie is also really tight for time, he has to finish his practicum project and present it to everyone as well. Anyway, we're looking forward to visits in NJ and settling down in DC. More on the strategy and COPECO project later.

The Missing Link in the Great US-Latino Immigration Debate: Aid

Following the current immigration debate in the US from rural Honduras, I wonder how all the talking heads and editorialists can ignore the 500 pound gorilla in the room. I am here planning a food security strategy for Christian Children’s Fund, an effective and thoughtful NGO working in Honduras for over 20 years. Before coming to Honduras last year, and after my Peace Corps service in Choluteca, I worked for three years with undocumented Latino workers in the US, which probably makes me a bit more sympathetic to their plight than the average gringo.

The gorilla I am referring to international aid. While President Bush did not even hesitate to ask Congress for a whopping $2 Billion for border enforcement two weeks ago, official development assistance (ODA) to Honduras continues to decrease dramatically. Reasons frequently cited include an overgrown deficit and our continued presence in Iraq, in a war that was declared “mission accomplished” nearly 3 years ago. Latin America is close to being removed completely from the US aid agenda.

A Migration Theory Primer - Migration studies are based on a “push” and “pull” theory. Migrants are pushed from their home communities by economic and/or political factors. They are pulled to receiving countries mostly to fill gaps in the labor market. Both push and pull mechanisms fuel Honduran-US migration, and both forces are so strong that a taller fence is highly unlikely to have any effect on migration levels. The US’s strategy to control immigration from Latin America is just as misguided as the war on drugs – in which authorities try to extinguish supply from South American countries without even addressing the fact that US is biggest market for illegal drugs in the world.

Likewise, as long as Honduras remains poorer than its northern neighbors, and as long as the US benefits from a cheap, docile, deportable labor force – controlling the movement of people at the border is an exercise in futility. Not to mention the fact that history has proven, with every round of border reinforcement, the number of migrant deaths skyrockets. After the US increased border protection in 1998, the number of deaths gradually increased until in 2005 approximately one person per day died crossing the border. How many deaths per year will it take to prove to policy makers that this policy is misguided?

Honduran emigration is based on economic factors. I conducted a study on food security and migration in March of this year in the municipality of Curaren, Francisco Morazan. All of the participants mentioned economic reasons – lack of food, employment, and money. Many described the situation in the countryside as precarious and difficult. These people often have no alternatives. In fact, the situation of these families was so dire that over 60 percent said their families used all the remittances sent home to purchase food with nothing left over for investment. The 2006 UNDP Human Development Report in Honduras confirms our findings, and adds alarm to the discussion. They found that 80 percent of poor rural dwellers have plans to migrate.

The migrants who are forced to risk their lives via unscrupulous coyotes, the “train of death,” desert terrain, and armed xenophobic vigilantes, go in search of survival. The people we spoke to migrate literally to feed their families. Yet these same individuals are portrayed in the US as lawbreakers, high school drop-outs, gang members, and the worst fear of all Americans – terrorists! The poverty and hopelessness that sends them to the US is largely absent in media portrayals and political commentary – perhaps because if the goodhearted Americans really knew why these people were in their country, they would demand to know why their government isn’t doing anything about it? Why are we “liberating” countries millions of miles away who clearly aren’t excited about it, or searching for nuclear arms where there are none, when our immediate neighbors to the south are slowing starving?

It seems obvious to me that the most effective way to decrease undocumented migration to the US would be to improve living conditions in the sending countries. It’s that simple, decrease the “push.” Assuming that the US wants to maintain their own living standards, immigrants will always be needed to keep the economy dynamic and expanding. Our only policy solution is to improve living standards in Mexico and Central America.

Yet the US is doing exactly the opposite – aid budgets for Central America have been continually slashed for the past few years. Official development assistance (ODA) in 2003 was $55.80 per person in Honduras, or $392 million. Relative to GDP and population growth, ODA is shrinking dramatically. In 2003, ODA equaled just 5.6% of GDP, as opposed to 14.7% in 1990. Somehow we can manage to spend $300 billion dollars in Iraq, which would have funded global anti-hunger programs for 11 years (www.costofwar.com) – but cannot come up with the kind of money which would make a real dent in poverty in Central America.

When will the policy makers wake up and see the connection between aid and emigration? Or would they rather not?

jueves, abril 20, 2006

One of Comayagua's carpets during Holy Week

Semana Santa

Melanie C. came to visit us last week for holy week, or "Semana Santa" here in Honduras. Its a great holiday, the best part being practically the entire country shuts down for a week. We did a crazy road trip starting in Utila (Bay Islands), then Copan Ruinas, Santa Rosa de Copan, Gracias, La Esperanza, Comayagua, Tegucigalpa, and Valle de Angeles. There was a lot of beer drinking and a lot of corn-on-the-cob eating. We drove a great distance through the western part of the country, where I had never been and which has absolutely stunning landscapes. Comayagua, however, was the highlight. They still do the traditional processions during Holy Week and lay down beautiful intricate carpets made out of colored sawdust and organic materials for Christ to cross over. It takes them hours to do, and just a moment to destroy. Antigua, Guatemala is the most famous place for these carpets, but in my opinion Comayagua was much better. The carpets are not done for tourists, they are done as acts of honor and as part of tradition. And then the whole town joins in the processions.

After that long vacation I am back at work this week and busier than ever. CCFH won a government contract for some trainings and water systems in the Reitoca area that I applied for way back in September. With the change of government, we didn't expect anything to come of it. In March however, they called to let us know we won the contract and I have been busy with that ever since. The new administration is also apparently very interested in food security, or at least talking about food security. Which means I have been going to a lot of meetings as the food security point person. The new administration wants to start all over from scratch in every department, and come up with their own plans. They practically throw out all the old plans, documents, and bureaucrats, and start anew. This is not a critique on Honduran style government, but a critique on the two-party democratic system in general I suppose. In any event, at least they are talking about hunger even if there aren't any new plans coming out of it. More on that later.

The child actors took their roles very seriously all over town

miércoles, abril 19, 2006

Good Friday Procession in Comayagua

martes, abril 04, 2006

Interview on Compassion for the Starving Child

I'm doing a "podcast" interview on child hunger for Oakseed Ministries They have a blog for children with the theme "Compassion for the Starving Child." Its a long interview with lots of questions about my fellowship and working to end child hunger, I will post their link when it comes up, but the hardest question I had to answer had to do with compassion. I thought I'd post my answer here -

In light of the problem of child hunger, what does it mean for you to have compassion? What is the basis for your compassion?

"I think it’s very important to see the humanity inside each and every person, and realize they are absolutely no different from you no matter how dirty, hungry, smelly, or mean they may seem on the outside. In my case, I come from a comfortable middle class family and have been given great opportunities in my life, opportunities to study, to see the world, to try to change it, but I know that these opportunities came to me by the luck of the draw. I could have just as easily been born into one of the poor families I work with now.

I’ll tell you a story of when I was not compassionate. Honduras has a problem with street children like many third world countries. Here they are often on the street from a very young age and they sniff industrial strength glue to get high. It is very hard to rehabilitate these children; they’ve never experienced love from anyone. As a Peace Corps volunteer I was robbed by a group of 5 street children, all about 6 or 7 years old. I just stood there while they jumped all over me and took my money and backpack – my natural instincts were not to hit them and I was too shocked to run away.

This was nearly 6 years ago but I still get nervous when I see street children here. So the other day I was walking home when I saw a group of 3 dirty, aggressive street kids who I often see. I had an apple in my backpack on this day and as I hurried by one of the children asked me for it. I ignored him and hurried on my way, annoyed that they were even there. A moment later I thought about and realized I’d been carrying it for about a week and I had more at home anyway. I turned around and threw it to him, in order to not get too close. This mean, dirty, hungry street kid suddenly turned into a human child of about 7 years old – he gave me the biggest smile, his eyes lit up, and he thanked and thanked me. I was so ashamed of myself. This is what I mean when I say you have to look for the humanity in every individual, no matter how hidden it may be."

lunes, marzo 27, 2006

Sunset in Roatan

Catching our breath during a jungle hike

Chris would have preferred to cruise

Vacation in Roatan

Chris and Eric came to visit us last week, we met them in Roatan. We spent the first few days just laying on the beach in West Bay. My first favorite quote was Chris saying to the waitress, a black islander - You don't talk like you're a Honduran, where are you from? Are you from New York? He clearly hadn't read the guidebook. Then we took the ferry to the mainlaid. This picture doesn't really reflect how seasick Eric was. I don't get sick, I just get completely panicked when its rough. We stayed at Pico Bonito, at the base of a national rainforest park - awesome. Sitting on the porch in the evenings drinking Port Royal, the biggest fireflies I have ever seen in my life appeared. We took a good hike into the forrest, which took about 3 hours. I've realized that there is no machine at the gym which simulates hiking down steep trails. I don't go to remote villages now as much as I used to and get most of my exercise at the gym. We wisely decided to fly back to Roatan, the plane, however, was an ancient Russian made prop plane. Luckily they sell valium at corner stores in Honduras. The highlight of the trip was the fact that it started raining on Saturday - the day we were leaving, which made me feel very lucky to have gotten six days of absolutely perfect weather. Back to work today, oh well, Semana Santa is just two more weeks away!

jueves, marzo 16, 2006

Kids in Reitoca

Migration Project in Southern Honduras

Migration Project – March 14th
Today Rachel and I went to Chapparal – a CCFH project about an hour from Curaren – to do our immigration project. The huge rate of emigration from this area really startled me when I got here and started doing informal interviews. I mean I met people who’ve worked all over NJ, have even been in the clinic in Hammonton! (SJFMC where I worked in a migrant outreach program for 3 years after Peace Corps). There’s communities here – we’re near the border with El Salvador – where you call a general meeting and only the men come. One of the technical assistants – a young man – who was sent to work here couldn’t find a place to stay here because all the households are headed by women, their husbands are in the states, and it would be improper for him to stay in such a house. And now here I am working on a strategy for the long term development of the region based on agriculture, which begs the question – if there’s no men left, who’s going to farm? If there’s no crops being grown, what’s the use of talking about crop diversification or a balanced diet?

So Rachel is currently getting her Masters of Social Work at the University of Iowa and needed to do an independent research project. She decided to look into how hunger affects migration, principally Central American-US migration. She did interviews with migrants in the states and then is here this week to do them in Honduras. Today we did a focus group and then individual interviews with migrants from Chapparal. We heard a lot about why people have had to migrate – principally to earn income to buy food, to buy school supplies (primary school), and some went to be able to build their own house on a small piece of land. The surprising thing is that most of these individuals (13 married men with children, and two single mothers) went on H1B visas – those are short-term agricultural visas not unlike the immigration reform project that Pres. Bush is proposing.

I’ve always been totally against the worker visa programs, the workers on those visas with whom I have worked generally have fewer rights than if they were to be undocumented. They have to stay with the farmer (in this case most went to work on pine tree plantations) that solicited them, they have to pay taxes which they don’t get back, they don’t have any recourse if they’re treated right, sometimes they can’t get health services because the farmers are supposed to give them insurance but don’t so they don’t qualify as uninsured, and if they leave their assigned job they’re given a big black X from getting visas later.

That said, I do think that in this case the worker visa program helps to give the poorest of the poor a chance to migrate. Unfortunately the great majority of people who are leaving Central America, South America, and the rest of the developing work, especially Africa, are trained individuals – electricians, carpenters, health care workers, teachers – which leads to “brain drain” in those less developed countries. Campesinos like those in Chapparal would never be able to go without papers because they’re too poor to afford the trip. The going rate from Honduras to the States is about $6,000 – with no assurance that they’ll arrive, and it’s a very dangerous trip through Mexico and the desert. If they do get a human trafficker, or “coyote” to finance the trip they become a trafficked person with $6,000 on their head – a very valuable commodity like to be sold to other traffickers several times over. So the temporary worker visa program at least gives these people a chance to make a little income in the states for a few months.

That does not mean that we didn’t hear stories of abuse and poor treatment today. They’re given orientation as to how they should act in the states – they should always look really nice and carry their papers on them at all times, they’re told not to yell or carry on in public, they’re not allowed to drink (which is what most young men who I know in agriculture in NJ most want at the end of workday), and it seems many are not allowed to leave the camp. This may seem a small price to pay for the opportunity to safely earn dollars but they are serious civil liberties issues. And its still not cheap for them to go – they generally borrow nearly $1,000 to finance their plane ticket and embassy interview. They’re only given 3-8 month visas, which is a short amount of time to make that money when they have to pay for room and board (not on an open market either, they’re usually charged exorbitant rates for an un-air-conditioned trailer and bad food). One young man I spoke to got an 8 month visa, was horribly sick for 3 months but had no way to get to the doctor, and didn’t even make enough to pay his friends and family back. The tax issue was a big question; everyone wanted to know why they had to pay taxes but never got any benefit from it.

Rachel and I wished that we’d come prepared with some information to share – some basic federal worker’s rights and wages information. We both felt that we were just taking information and not giving anything in return. And with the typical lack of communication, there were some individuals hoping that we were coming to register people for visas or something equally good. Instead all they got was a warm coke and chips. But being the beautiful, hospital Honduran culture that we know and love, everyone in the end couldn’t stop thanking us for coming to ask them questions, to take up 5 hours of their time.

Having worked for 3 migrant seasons with agricultural workers in NJ, and for an equally long time with the same workers in their home countries, the immigration issue continues to perturb and distress me. I came to Central America and was given food, shelter, and an unimaginable amount of concern, hospitality, and love. Immigrants come to our country to be invisible and do the work that others consider beneath them – I know, I know, I’m preaching to the choir, but today brought home (again) the unconceivable irrational injustice of it all.

Jose is the new supervisor of the agricultural technical assistants. He’s a great guy, young and energetic, and full of ideas for how to revolutionize small farmers’ lives here even if all they have is a quarter acre to feed a family of 6. At the end of the day he told us about an 8 year old boy from his town named Manuel. Manuel’s father left for the States in the early morning hours and didn’t wake his son to say goodbye. His father calls home every week to talk to Manuel, Manuel just cries and cries. He says he won’t talk to his father because he left him sleeping in his bed and didn’t say goodbye. His dad cries too.

Reitoca - March 13th

Reitoca – March 13th
These last two weeks I have spent in Reitoca – where it is now hotter than any other place on earth. It is so dry that everything has turned to dust – the land, the trees, the leaves, and especially the road. Eddie and I still constantly grabble with how to do “development” well in this corner of Central America. During this time of year you have to wonder if anyone should live here at all.

In any event, the heat and the dust are two large inconveniencies that you quickly forget about, instead only remembering the smiling faces, the grand welcomes, the few successes, and the melancholy that comes with moving on. That at least is how I feel about Orocuina which looks and feels very similar to Reitoca.

Last week I was mostly in the Reitoca CCF office, trying to work on a few proposals with a new colleague, Jose, who is supervising the technical assistants in the region. Over a period of three days, we had electric probably for a total of 12 hours – which makes doing excel spreadsheets very difficult. I was sooo frustrated. I had budgeted a certain amount of time to get the work done, carried my heavy laptop thru the heat and dust, only to fowled by the lack of electric. In the rainy season I thought they had a half decent excuse, massive electrical storms would knock out the power lines. Now in the dry season, it is the wind that does the damage. I seem to be out of luck in both seasons.

This week I was there with Rachel, who did her Peace Corps service in Reitoca, and who is one of my very best friends (she’s the one who spoke Spanish at my wedding mass). She left Honduras about 5 years ago. It was great to walk about town with her to see her old friends and acquaintances - to see some old friends tear up, others whose lives have changed dramatically, and others who remember Rachel fondly but her memories of them are now foggy. It’s not an easy thing to do – to go back to the site where you did Peace Corps. The time you spend there is so formative and with each year that goes by your memories become embellished, a bit exaggerated even, about how nice your life was there. Coming back is never the same, which is not to say it’s a bad thing. A good friend told me when I came back to the States after Peace Corps that you can’t live (mentally) in two places at once. The only thing you can do is cherish the memories you have and make sure the people you cared about here know how much you will always value their friendship.

And the funny story of the day…the place where I stay in Reitoca is at Dona Cepherina’s place, she has 4 tidy rooms she rents out and is usually super accommodating. I of course always bring her a small present, like baked goods or rosquillas, so that she will give the good room, with a table and a fan. Upon arrival we learned she was in Teguc and had left her old sister in charge, not a good sign. The room was not ready, she didn’t sweep or mop the room like Dona Cepherina, nor put the sheets on, nor could find a table or fan. I was so irritated, mostly because we rode here in the air-conditioned car and then got out to blasting 95 degree heat. We did our thing this afternoon and then I feel asleep for a bit, Rachel went out to do more visits but only after waking me up and taking the last cigarette. I woke up sweating around 6, and the lightbulb blew out. Now this is something that Dona Cepherina would have easily taken care of but her lazy sister is here in charge. I finally found a man to go get me a lightbulb and he was going to fix it. Except the only ladder we could find was made of two tiny tree trunks with big twig put in between for the ladder rungs. And it was not a stand alone ladder. And the man weighed like 300 pounds – so guess who had to climb up the ladder? With the man just holding it straight up into the air? And the ceiling is really high, like 15 feet I guess. Oh it was horrible. And then my legs started shaking so badly that the ladder was swaying back and forth. I never thought it was going to work and I was calculating how long it would take someone to get me to Teguc if I broke something. The lesson here is – it is possible to climb straight up a shaking ladder that someone is holding straight up, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

viernes, febrero 10, 2006

Gaby, Mom's sponsored child

This is Gaby in front of her house. She has been my mother's sponsored child for the past 6 years, since I went to Peace Corps here actually. I finally got to visit her yesterday where she lives. Their house is on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, in a rather dangerous area. It is high up on the mountain and very cold; I was sad to see that it was made out of wood slats and a tin roof. They also lack running water so they have to purchase it from trucks that come around charging ridiculous amounts for water that may or may not be clean.
The good news is that she has a lovely family, a responsible dad who drives a taxi for work (its the only thing he can do since he slipped a disk delivering pepsi for a living), a pretty mom who works in a clothes factory, and a 6 month old baby sister named Gaby who makes goofy faces all the time. Gaby has successfully finished six grade and is now entering the equivalent of high school. Gaby is a spunky, confident young lady who I'm sure will accomplish her dreams of becoming a bilingual secretary and going to college. She turned 13 yesterday, amazingly we had no idea it was her birthday! Luckily we had brought some little gifts. The family was so excited to meet us and asked all about my mom and our family. They had made us lunch and had handmade gifts for my mother and me.
As for the NGO sponsoring her, Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, they don't do the kind of big sustainable projects that we do, but I'm confident that the help has allowed Gaby to stay in school and has kept the family healthy and well-fed. Its nice to see a big impact at the individual level for a change. I think its a good model for urban areas where people lack communal support and spirit but do have lots of opportunities given the right mixture of encouragement, support, and financial help.
I wasn't sure what to talk to her about so I showed her some pictures and told her about my family. Of course she knew all about my family from my mother's letters to her; it was weird to be talking to someone who knows your life history! We really enjoyed the visit and will go back. I'm also encouraging my mother to come visit her as well. It just amazes me how much impact one person can have on the life of another and not even know it.

Amanda with Gaby and Her Family

martes, febrero 07, 2006

CCFH Study Tour

This week a study tour here is from the states. It is a group of about 25 North Americans who have sponsored children here in Honduras. They are a fantastic group of well-traveled adults, many are retired. Having accompanied groups here to Honduras myself, the first things that I noticed about this group was how culturally-sensitive they were and nicely they were dressed!

Not the usual safari outfit but they were all dressed very appropriately. They all knew not to take pictures of just anyone without asking, to address people with a hello or good morning, and many had done a fair amount of reading before hand and asked very good questions about Honduras in general.

In all honesty, I had become very disillusioned with the groups that travel here for other organizations, every American airlines and continental flight that lands here is about half full of missionaries, medical brigades, and other assorted groups of Americans coming to "do good." Unfortunately, they often do more harm than good. Giving away things from clothes to houses that may cause conflict in communities, giving medicines away that people do not know how to use, undermining confidence in the local health center...I could go on and on here but won't.

I think this CCF model is a great alternative for people wanting to really see where their money is going (in terms of sponsoring the child), create a stronger relationship with their sponsored child and family, and genuinely learn more about a culture that they otherwise wouldn't experience. Its a good mix between nice hotels, restaurants, and important tourist attractions such as Ruinas de Copan, and getting a real feel for the great need and poverty that exist here. Its also incredibly educational. Many of the participants had gone on other CCF tours to other countries and went on and on telling me about those countries. I also think its a great sign that participants are coming back for more!

On Sunday I went with them to Valle de Angeles to do some shopping and have a great lunch. Yesterday we went to the National Cathedral, the first church in Tegucigalpa, and the museum of Honduran history through art (3 places I had not been to, I'm embarrassed to say). Tomorrow I will meet them in Santa Barbara where they will meet their sponsored children. Each sponsor and child has their own interpreter who also serves as a protector to the child - CCFH has been taking the child protection policies very seriously which I think is very important, not least of all because it gives the parents more trust and confidence in CCFH and serves as an example of valuing children.

For more info on the CCF study tours: http://www.christianchildrensfund.org/content.aspx?id=123

On Thursday I am going to meet my mother's sponsored child here in Tegucigalpa. She is with another organization (my mother had her since before I started with CCFH). More on that story on Friday.

martes, enero 31, 2006

Back in Teguc

Long overdue for a blog update. After a long vacation in the states, I am back in Tegucigalpa furiously writing up all my findings, and drafting the food security strategy and action plan. I just finished the part on hunger in Honduras and thought I'd post it here.

Honduras is among the least developed countries of Latin America and the Caribbean and in terms of per capita income it is one of the poorest countries in the region. It is also one of the world’s most unequal societies, with a Gini coefficient of 55.0, in the same category as Zimbabwe and Colombia. Over 60 percent of the population is classified as living below the national poverty line.

Indicator Honduras Latin America High-Income Countries
Human Development Index 0.667 0.797 0.910
GDP per capita (PPP US$) $2,665 $7,404 $29,898

Population living below $1 a day (%) 1990-2003 20.7
Population living below $2 a day (%) 1990-2003 44.0
Population living below the national poverty line (%) 2001* 64.5
SOURCE: UNDP, Human Development Report Data, 2005
*Honduran National Institute of Statistics, 2001 Household Survey

Poverty and food insecurity are structural problems in Honduras, linked to slow economic growth, low per capita income, unequal distribution of income, and production factors. Food insecurity is particularly acute in rural areas where the majority of households do not have the necessary resources to produce or obtain their daily food requirements, and have limited access to basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation.

Selected indicators for Honduras at the national level
Infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births: 32
Under-five mortality rate per 1,000 live births: 41
Maternal mortality ratio per 100,000 live births: 110
Life expectancy at birth: 67.8 years
Adult literacy rate (% ages 15 and above): 80.0%
Net primary enrolment ratio (%): 87.0%
Combined gross enrollment ratio for primary, secondary, and tertiary schools: 62.0%
Population without sustainable access to an improved water source: 10.0%
Population without sustainable access to improved sanitation: 32.0%
SOURCE: UNDP, Human Development Report Data, 2005

In addition to the socio-economic issues listed above, Honduras has a number of other risks to food security including climatic change, drought, earthquakes, damaging hurricanes and floods along Caribbean coast, deforestation, land degradation, soil erosion. The severe damage inflicted by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 for example was estimated to put Honduras back 20 to 30 years in terms of development, particularly infrastructure.

Both chronic and temporal hunger exists in Honduras. Chronic hunger has affected a significant percent of the population, about 20 percent on average over the last 15 years. Temporal hunger has been a problem especially over the last 6 years with recurrent drought and other climatic issues. Temporal hunger also exists during the hungry, or dry season, January through May.

Indicator 1990-1992 1995-97 2000-02
Population (millions) 5.0 5.8 6.6
Proportion of undernourishment (%) 23 21 22
Number of undernourished (millions) 1.1 1.2 1.5
(Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAOSTAT)

As in the rest of the world, hunger in Honduras is more likely to affect the poor and rural. In Honduras, the very poor are those classified as not being able to afford even the basic food basket nor to satisfy basic needs such as housing, clothes, education, and health. The percentage of the population classified as very poor has not seen any significant change over the past 10 years. 73.8 percent of rural dwellers are living under the national poverty line.

Classification National Urban Rural
Living under the national poverty line 64.5 56.3 73.8
Relatively poor 17.0 20.3 13.3
Very poor 47.4 36.1 60.5
Not poor 35.5 43.7 26.2
SOURCE: Honduran National Institute of Statistics, 2001 Household Survey

An important measurement of hunger is Millenium Development Goal #1 – to halve the number of people who suffer from hunger. Unfortunately, Honduras is not on track to meet the MDG#1. In fact, the absolute number of hungry people in Honduras is actually growing. The indicators used to measure progress of MDG #1 in Honduras include: a.) Chronic malnutrition, measured by height for age of first graders, b.) Percentage of children 12 to 59 months old with low weight for age, and c.) The National Food Deficit measured in thousands of metric tons of basic grains. The progress of each indicator is described here:

Chronic malnutrition, measured by height for age of first graders
This number increased from 34.9% in 1991 to 36.2% in 2001, and should the same trend continue, will reach 38.1% of children by 2015. The problem is worse in the rural areas where 42.1% of children have chronic malnutrition.

Percentage of children 12 to 59 months old with low weight for age
This indicator has seen a minor increase, from 21.4% in 1991 to 18.4% in 2001.

National Food Deficit, measured in thousands of metric tons of basic grains
Honduras has had a growing national food deficit since 1960. In 1990 Honduras registered a deficit of 52.8 metric tons in basic grains. Ten years later, that deficit has been multiplied by 10. In 2000, there was a deficit of 550 metric tons meaning that Honduras is not producing nor importing enough basic grains to feed its population.

Most hungry people in the world live in developing countries, in rural areas, and are poor. Over 20 percent of the population in Honduras have experienced hunger consistently over the last 15 years, and most of them are poor rural dwellers. Inequality, slow economic growth, low income, and low production are part of the structural issues which contribute to hunger in Honduras. Limited access to basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation, and risks such as natural and man-made disasters only exacerbate the problem. Honduras will not reach its MDG#1 goal with current rates of progress.

jueves, enero 19, 2006

Giving diplomas at the the end of the PRA

viernes, diciembre 02, 2005

Conclusion of PRA

I finished up the participatory rural appraisal this week. Last week the PRA representatives had to work in their communities. They taught the people about food security and good nutrition, some even did timelines of the communities and conceptual maps of the community's problems. I was so impressed and excited. They also had the communities vote for the projects they most wanted.

Then this week the PRA representatives thought back on the food security training they'd received, what they'd learned about the past projects which had failed or succeeded, and the opinions of their communities. Then they voted for the projects they thought would most improve the food security situation in the short-to-medium term with the resources we already have. In other words, what projects would increase the amount of food they have, or decrease the amount of hunger in the communities. They voted overwhelmingly for training and assistance for projects that would help them have:

  • Chickens
  • Family gardens
  • Planting fruit trees in their yards
  • Fishponds
  • Organic fertilizer
  • Communal basic grain food banks
  • Trainings in nutrition, health, and baby-care
I am now in the process of writing the actual food security strategy and action plan. I go back to the field on Dec 12th to present the results and action plan to the PRA representatives as well as the parents' committees which is important because they are the ones who have to approve all the funding for such plans in the short term. Later I will be looking for additional funding. Very busy next two weeks, looking forward to resting in NJ in two weeks!

viernes, noviembre 18, 2005

Three weeks into Participatory Rural Appraisals

For the past three weeks I've been doing a "Participatory Rural Appraisal" or a PRA in the field, which is why I haven't been able to update the blog. It has been a great experience, and I think its really enabled the people to better understand their communities and identify what kind of projects they really need. The objectives of the PRA are:
  • Present the results of several studies to the people in the communities
  • Increase the abilities of communities to use information and make their own decisions
  • Train the people on food security
  • Understand the fluctuations of food availability (farming and work cycles)
  • Evaluate ongoing projects
  • Identify new projects
I will have pictures and more anecdotes up soon!

miércoles, octubre 26, 2005

Funny Stories from the Field

On Tuesday morning we arrived in Chaparral, a CCFH community about 1 hour away from Reitoca. It was to be my first presentation to the entire general assembly of parents. Most of them had arrived, and try as I may to mingle in, most people were staring out of the corner of their eye and trying to avoid direct eye contact lest I should approach them to strike up a conversation. I was in a corner trying to look like I fit in when a petite older woman arrived and walked right up to me. She said - oh, you’re Dona Fulano’s family aren’t you? The rest of the tiny crowd started giggling and put their heads down. The woman just seemed very confused and didn’t get it when finally another lady said very slowly in a theater whisper - she’s from the united states of America! The elderly woman literally ran away giggling.
Its so different here to be surrounded by children, there’s just children everywhere of every age. And Honduran kids really are beautiful. I just want to grab them and play with them myself, but of course there’s always the assortment of people who are actually afraid that I am there to steal children so I try to keep my distance. In some parts of the country, instead of telling children the boogeyman is coming to get them, they tell kids that the gringos will come and take them away if they don’t behave. Yesterday I tried to take a baby from his older sister, you literally ask if you can "borrow the baby." She got scared and took him away. After I got over being embarrassed I figured it’s a good sign that the cute baby has an overprotective older sister.
On a not-so-funny note, yesterday I walked up to woman, again trying to look like I fit in while 100 people were staring at me, and told her how beautiful her newborn baby was. He was 6 months old. I couldn’t get over it and also felt horrible for my mistake. The babies and children here are so small in comparison to the gigantic kids you see in the states. I of course don’t have kids so I am not the best estimator of children’s ages in any event. But then you see a better-off child and think they’re so old. My counterpart Sandra for example has a little girl whom I’ve met. I assumed she was five or six. In the grocery store this past Monday, Sandra brought cereal like for toddlers and I was thinking how strange and asked her why she still bought toddler food. Turns out, her daughter is actually just three but the size of a five year old in the rural areas.

martes, octubre 25, 2005

Day 1 of Participatory Rural Appraisals

Today was a great day, the kind of day where you’re sure you’ve chosen the right job and you just love it. On the way to Chaparral, I took in the green liveliness all around topped off by a sea blue sky; I even saw nearly fluorescent blue butterflies. I convinced myself that I was a competent professional who spoke Spanish well enough, was dynamic enough, funny enough, and kind enough to address a general assembly of over 100 parents and convince them to believe in me, and more importantly, to do extra work.
The people really listened, asked good questions, got excited, and then elected their three representatives with much care. The basic point of today, and all this week actually, is to explain our food security strategy, convince the people that its important, explain the participatory rural appraisal, and get them to elect 3 representatives per project. With additional explication from Sandra, my counterpart now in the field, I think they really got in and bought into the process.
The nifty part of this process has been telling people straight out that I want them to figure out their own projects; that I’m just here to help them thru the process. I’m so appreciative of this opportunity, it’s like I’m actually practicing all the "participation" and "ownership" and "bottom-up" jargon we learned in AU, and I think its working!
To top it all off, its not raining here and there’s electric!

miércoles, septiembre 28, 2005

San Marcos, Curaren

On Wednesday I finally made it to San Marcos, the only project in the south I had not been to because of poor driving conditions. The bridge is out and the road is really something like I've never seen. My respect for the landrover has grown - see pictures below. San Marcos is about 3 hours further out from Reitoca, but is a nice community with latrines, water system, health center staffed by a Cuban doctor. The altitude is pretty high, and the community is surrounded by pine forest. I went to see some of the agriculture projects they are working on, the technical assistant there has had great sucess. Every family has planted a family garden, many have demonostrative parcels of basic grains, and many more have done soil conservation projects. The families who do these projects are assisted by the World Food Program's "Food for Work" program. They receive rice, corn, beans, and oil for the work they do. This is currently the subject of controversy in the World Trade Organization Doha round - the Europeans want to include food aid as part of agriculture trade, the US does not. Too detailed to get into here, but judging from CCFH's work here, I do think that food for work can be done well.

Dona Maria, Xiomara the technical assistant, and myself in San Marcos looking at Dona Maria's tomatoes

martes, septiembre 27, 2005

Survey Training

Tuesday the 27th, I trained the 25 educators (field staff) to carry out the nutrition survey I designed. It took about half the time I had planned. The field staff have continually surprised and impressed me; instead of arriving in Latino time, every single one was on time at 8 AM and many had walked great distances. I did a nutrition review which went well, and the actual food security explanations and activities also were positively received. The big surprise was the fact that they had carried out a ton of surveys for CCF and other institutions such as the WFP on many occasions so the survey training went by very quickly. They were already well trained on how to interview, but not on the principles behind random sample surveys. The parts where I tried to get them to “think out of the box” about how their interventions influence food security, and what possible interventions we could do in the future to impact food security, were a bit more challenging. Overall I was pleased, although by the end the heat was becoming oppressive and I was rapidly losing their attention. I’d forgotten how hard it is to train people in the heat, especially now that it is so humid. I showered this morning and 8 hours later my hair is still wet. The rest of this week I will be going to different projects to supervise the interviews and assist as needed.

miércoles, septiembre 21, 2005

Nutrition Overview in Honduras

Food security is of course directly related to nutrition - if a family is food insecure, they are hungry and their nutrition is poor. Since my assignment is to work on food security, I also have to look at nutrition in order to measure need and our future interventions. While my surveys and data collection are not yet complete, I have made a few assumptions based on the information already collected, the academic literature on the nutritional problems in Honduras, and information gleamed from key informant interviews.

Chronic Malnutrition - Chronic malnutrition comes from having few calories over a long period of time rather than a sudden food shortage such during a famine. Children in Honduras suffer from a constant shortage of food but not enough to bring on acute malnutrition like may be seen in parts of Africa. Chronic malnutrition has long-lasting lifetime impacts especially in children. In the rural areas here malnutrition reaches 36.4 percent of children.
Problem of stunting in children under 5 - Stunting is low height for age. Children and adults are shorter than they should be due to chronic malnutrition, poor health, and poor care giving. It is a big problem in Honduras, particularly in the rural areas. In under five-year-olds low height-for-age is 32.9 percent due to chronic malnutrition. Stunting here is often passed from one generation to the next.
Poor Nutrition - Quality of diet is more likely to be a problem than inadequate quantity. Most people here have enough calories from basic grains to survive but they do not have enough diversity. Rice and beans for example makes a perfect protein; the body can survive practically forever on it. But without additional vitamins, proteins, and micronutrients, the person cannot thrive, especially as a child.
Lack of Micronutrients -The Ministry of Health here argues that the deficiency of micronutrients is a leading cause of chronic malnutrition. Lack of iron leads to anemia, raising the risks of maternal mortality, slowing motor-physical development, reducing learning capacity and the ability to take advantage of school, diminishing physical resistance (resistencia fisica), and productivity in adults. A lack of folic acid leads to congenital deformations. Lack of vitamin A, iodine, and zinc are also problematic. A lack of zinc is often found in populations with a high prevalence of stunting and a where maiz makes up a disproportionate amount of daily calories; a lack of zinc has been found to be related to depressed immune system and the treatment of diarrhea.
Caregiving Practices - Poor caregiving practices also lead to malnutrition among children. Examples include: poor feeding practices for sick children (ie. withholding food when children have diarrhea is common), low prevalence of breastfeeding, inappropriate introduction of whole foods, , feeding children small portions and not often enough,poor hygiene practices and a lack of water and sanitation services.

These preliminary conclusions suggest a population where ill health, poor caregiving practices, and perhaps dietary quality are likely to be major constraints to nutrition security, but an absolute deficit of dietary energy is not likely to be common. We will see what the nutrition survey reveals after next week (see below).

martes, septiembre 06, 2005


On Saturday Eddie and I went with CCF to visit two communities which belong to Reitoca but are easier to get to by going through Ojojona. This has to do with the proposal we are working on to get funding for drought-related projects; these would be two new communities for CCF. I was able to visit with my '"family" from Ojojona, whom I stayed with during training. I saw Josue first and did not recognize him, at 16 years old he's a giant. He's studying computers in Teguc. The dad, Francisco, remarried just last year (his wife, Dona Ada, passed away while I was still here). And the new wife has 3 young children (2 are twin boys). Karen, now 20, had a baby girl, Ada Guadalupe, who is now 6 months old. She's had to stop working to take care of the baby, but has plans to get back to work once things settle down. She's moved out of the house and is living with the father in a rented room. It was good to see them all, and I hope I get to spend more time with Karen and Josue while I'm here.

miércoles, agosto 31, 2005

Cerro del Señor

On Tuesday, Pedro and I went to an aldea (village) outside of Reitoca, called Cerro del Señor. 2 hours uphill on foot. My arms hurt the most today from holding onto the hammock bridge so tightly. Again, I was thinking of how tourists do such adventurous things for fun, but with a safety cable. Without a cable, its just ridiculous. Anyway, we are applying for a 3 month contract to do capacity building in 4 communities which are aldeas of Reitoca, but very far out. The idea is to train people how to cope with drought, and to conserve water. There are also plans to cosechar agua - literally, "crop water." You collect rain water and store it for the dry season. It seems pretty expensive but where there is literally no water during the dry season it could be an alternative. Below are the pictures from yesterday.

martes, agosto 30, 2005

CCF Honduras - "El Fondo"

A bit about how CCF works and what the projects are like. Each project (9 here in southern Honduras where I’m working) has children who have sponsors, or who are just affiliated because they haven’t found a sponsor for them yet. The money the sponsors pay for their child goes right to the project. Parents committees are elected from the community and they are directly in charge of that money, which is pretty unique. Each project has 2-4 educators who work with the families, one technical person who trains the people on farming, gardens, etc, and one assistant or accountant. The parents committees have the final say on everything, they even write the checks to pay the employees. The big projects going on in the communities right now are soil conservation (building terraces and barriers so the earth doesn’t slide down the mountain), family and community gardens (to diversify people’s diets, they lack the important vitamins that come from vegetables and fruits), reforestation, fish farms, and trainings in seed selection and other farming issues. These projects have been successful largely because of the World Food Program’s “Food for Work” program. The people who do these projects get small food rations from the WFP. Quite unsustainable, but the idea is to prove these projects work so the people will adapt them in the long run. And that food is also really needed before the crop comes in. There are also volunteer guide mothers (madres guias) who check on the children’s health, weigh them every month, and report to CCF.

Overall, I can honestly say that I am incredibly impressed by the successes I’ve seen here in the field. A few notables….The project staff do not have motorcycles or cars as most NGO workers here do. So many NGO staff with their own transport end up disappearing. Here we have found everyone where they are supposed to be all the time (fyi - my visits have not been pre-announced). While the lack of transport may be an extra burden for the staff, it also keeps them more closely connected to the communities. Heads of family, or committee members, will often come to project headquarters to accompany the educators (many of whom are women). Because they’re walking, they will probably stay longer and share a meal with the families. Secondly, almost all the staff here are from this area. Both Alubaren and Reitoca have secondary studies in agriculture, so CCF actually has a great labor pool unlike many communities where you have to bring outsiders in. The low pay, however, may be causing problems. And lastly, lets see how I can explain this - a sense of humility from top to bottom. Its that CCF, unlike so many NGOs, doesn’t seem to go around bragging or tooting its own horn about the great work they do. Its probably a combination of answering to the parents committees, being from the area, and a fairly young staff, but I think it does contribute to a sense of empowerment or solidarity among the beneficiaries, rather than looking to the NGO staff for all the answers. Of course we’ll have to see how much that holds when I come back to do the participatory rural appraisal, and in effect, ask people to come up with their own interventions to improve food security.

Bridge to Reitoca coming from Tegucigalpa, it was destroyed after Hurricane Mitch and only reconstructed recently. You can see the pedestrian hammock bridge to the left. Posted by Picasa

CCF Office in Reitoca Posted by Picasa

Most of the CCF projects also have sewing classes. It is a good alternative for those who cannot go to high school. This is the workshop in Reitoca.

CCF has kindergartens in most of the communities where they work. These are students in the Reitoca kinder.

miércoles, agosto 24, 2005

Tiny Obstacles......

Its raining in my little rented room in Reitoca. I am in the process of drafting a very exciting report which will be taken to the DC and Richmond CCF offices in September on my work here, and where we stand on the food and nutrition security strategy. This is serious stuff, not to mention I hope to go with the delegation to DC!! Except it is pouring here like the big man himself just wanted everyone in southern Honduras to remember that thunder and lightening can really scare the crap out of you. I’m not sure how to put into words how loud the thunder is, but honestly, its really really really loud. And then there’s the rain which is now entering everyone’s homes, and its basically raining on me, in my bed, and on my laptop. At some point this afternoon, when I was taking myself and my report sooo seriously, I looked around and said to no one in particular, “You’re kidding about this right? It’s really raining on me!”

Today is Wednesday, I’ve been in Reitoca and the surrounding areas since early Monday, (and half of last week) and its been a good reminder of why things are harder to get done in developing countries. There’s the rain, yes. And a few other minor inconveniences …….no electric – no electric means no laptop, no internet (couldn’t call my dad on his birthday); candlelit nights which kills your eyes to read; no bathing after work because its already pitch dark; rivers which grow and you can’t cross even in a land cruiser, or rocks in the way which have to be moved manually – that was a new one for me; and mud which makes it exceeding embarrassing to walk because only gringos fall in the mud.

And lastly, the reminder of how much illness takes away people’s productivity here. I had another minor case of something like cholera today. The doctor here fixed me up and after sleeping all afternoon I feel almost like new, the hours spent in the latrine this morning far from my mind. In all seriousness though, I’ve been here about 7 weeks and have lost at least 1 week of work. Multiply that by an entire country and you have a lot of lost work days. And days spent barely working. Dengue is rampant right now, as is a lot of flu-like outbreaks which come with the rainy season. Add unhygienic conditions, poor nutrition, and scarce medicines and you can do the math. The clinic here in Reitoca is actually really nice, but notably, in one community I visited, the nurse (no doctor) hadn’t been to work in nearly 2 months.

viernes, agosto 19, 2005



Oh my gosh I am so mad and jealous at my friend Rachel who did Peace Corps here in Reitoca because it is sooo beautiful! And green! And mountainous! And I’ve seen so many crazy birds!

I am based out of Reitoca for at least the next few weeks. It is about 2-4 hours from Tegucigalpa (depending on what kind of vehicle you're in), just far enough to have to stay here. Reitoca is the municipality in between the municipalities of La Venta, Alubaren, and Curaren, all four of which are covered by CCF. There are 9 projects here in total, in 45 communities. The farthest is nearly 3 hours further out from Reitoca (San Marcos) and on a road like I’d really never seen in my time here. Or if so I was on a burro. All I keep thinking about (as I brace myself to flip at any moment) are those land cruiser or hummer commercials where they take the car to a manmade obstacle course, and how totally stupid that concept is. There is a little hotel, with four rooms to rent. Its fine, clean and safe, but communal toilet and the water is really really cold. The town isn’t too different from other Honduran pueblos, and it makes me miss Orocuina horribly. Its strange being in a different town where you don’t know anyone – although I have looked up Rachel’s friends who have been ridiculously nice to me. The views are incredible, full of trees, crazy mountains, and I have seen a lot of birds. Overall, it’s a great place to be based and nice to be out of the city, but its just awful that Eddie can’t come too.

Click here for a World Vision on ongoing work in Reitoca.

viernes, agosto 12, 2005

Key Informant Interviews

My trip to the communities was postponed, again. The CCF regional officer for Central America is coming in next Tuesday from Richmond and its important that I meet him. This has given me more time to really plan out my research methods, as well as put everything into English and Spanish which is soooo time consuming but is really useful in the long run. This is an excerpt from the guide I am developing, as well as my actual plan more or less. Comments are very much welcome!!

"In the first few visits, or an extended visit to the communities, key informants are sought out from recommendations by NGO staff, as well as by wandering the communities. Key informants are typically leaders in the community, but it is beneficial to also seek out other people who may not be considered leaders in the traditional sense. The questions should be open-ended and not leading. The questions I will ask include:
Livelihood: What do the people do here to survive? Farming – What crops? Why? How much do they sell? How much do they consume? Livestock? Commercial activities? Migration? What do young people here hope to do?
Health: Are there health centers? How are they staffed? What role does the MOH and other institutions (CCF included) play? Are there health volunteers? Midwives? Are they trained? What are the principal health problems of babies, children, mothers, fathers?
Education: What are the resources? Nurseries, kindergartens, schools, high schools, vocacional schools, university? Libraries? Are there parent-teacher associations? What role does the MOE and other institutions (CCF included) play?
Water and sanitation: Where do you get your water? Where does your family go to the bathroom? What do you know about the water and sanitation systems in this area? What are the problems? How could it be improved?
CCFH: What does CCFH do here? The parentsÂcommitteeses? How are the projects seen by the people? What are the strengths? Weaknesses? What could they do to improve their program? What could they do to contribute to food security in the community?
Other institutions: What other NGOsinstitution'ses, religious organizations, government entities are active here? What do you think about this? What works well and what doesn’t? What other help from the outside is needed if any?
Political and Community issues: Are there civil society groups here?
Food Security: What does that mean to you? Is there enough food? Why or why not? This is more of a way for me to understand how people in the communities conceptualize hunger."

Wednesday I should be headed south for sure this time. In the meantime, Hillary and I are going dancing tonight!!

jueves, agosto 11, 2005

First Visitor

I keep promising pictures on the blog but have been experiencing technical problems. Hope to have some up in the next few days.
My very good friend Hillary has been with us since last Wednesday. We were planning to go to the communities Thursday and Friday, but unfortunately I got sick - again. This time a sore throat but with a fever that made me sure I had dengue. Hillary headed to Copan while I recuperated.
Saturday Eddie and I went to Choluteca for his grandfather´s 90th birthday party. I met all of his family there, which made me have a lot more sympathy for Eddie and the times he had to deal with all of my family in the beginning. I was also still kind of sick, and with so many loud people talking at the same time, I could barely understand anything. In any event, they were all nice and it was great to finally put names to faces.
Sunday morning Eddie and I flew to La Ceiba on the north coast. I guess neither of us had been on a small plane in a while, but I also died and Eddie nearly had an all out panic attack. Tegucigalpa is in a valley which always makes flying in or out especially adventurous, but when its particularly cloudy and you´re in a tiny plane it can be nearly death defying. We went to Sambo Creek, a garifuna village a few kilometers outside of Ceiba and met up with Hillary there. Then spent 2 and a half lovely days on the beach. Fresh fish, lots of ceviche just the way I like it, and plenty of time to read and relax. Tuesday afternoon we came back - the long way. Eddie refused to fly so we had to take the bus.
Yesterday I went to a great conference on human rights and the environment, spearheaded by the Center for International Policy, a policy org in DC. They have a new Honduras program on the environment which looks very promising. I made some good contacts and also ran into Molly McMahon and Luis from Peace Corps. Both doing well. Molly is working on the library projects still, it was great to see a familiar face.
Today, Thursday I am back at work while Hillary and Eddie are in Valle de Angeles. Not sure what she´s planning on doing next. We may go to Choluteca to get her to the border, she´s meeting people in Nicaragua on Sunday morning.
The good news is - after so many delays, I am definately going to the sites on Monday and will probably stay there for a few days. I feel completely ready to do some key informant interviews and set up the nutritional survey. More on the technical stuff tomorrow.

viernes, agosto 05, 2005

Food Security Strategy

A bit of background of what my scope of work here is...................
Christian Children´s Fund Honduras (CCFH) works principally in the regions of Santa Barbara (western part of the country) and Francisco Morazon (south of Tegucigalpa). see map My task here is to help develop their food security strategy. More precisely,

To develop and implement a food security strategy in the communities where CCFH works and will expand, to be used as a guide for CCF operations in the rest of Latin America.

While Santa Barbara may be poorer in certain terms, it is the southern region of the country which has truly suffered in the last few years due to drought. So I find myself back in the southern, hot, dry and dustry part of the country. My expected outputs for the year include,
  • A document outlining CCFH´s food security strategy, including the process of developing the strategy to be used as guide,
  • Implementation of the food security strategy, including monitoring and evaluation systems, and
  • Strategic allianzes with other NGOs, interational institutions, government of Honduras departments, and other potential donors, in order to collaborate on a regional food security strategy.
What is food security anyway?
Food security can be defined as the condition in which a population has the physical, social, and economic access to safe and nutritious food over a given period to meet dietary needs and preferences for an active life – carries with it an important implication for development practitioners, namely the need to measure food security outcomes at the household and individual levels. USAID includes food utlization (in addition to food availability and food access) as part of its defition of food security. FAO, IFAD, and UNDP include only food access and availability.

In order to address food-security problems, (1) the populations which are food-insecure must be identified, (2) interventions must be identified to address the causes of food insecurity, and (3) those interventions must be evaluated by their impacts on the food security status of project beneficiaries.

miércoles, agosto 03, 2005

San Marcos de Colon

On Friday evening, Eddie, Ellie, Barbara, and I, headed south to Choluteca. This was Barbara´s first time in Southern Honduras, so she was a bit surprisedd by the heat. Saturday morning, along with Eddie´s parents, we headed towards San Marcos de Colon, for their annual feria. We spent some time wandering the colonial, cobblestone streets, buying rosquillas (cheese and corn baked snack) and chineria (crap) from the merchants. Amado took us to the see the cow exposition, where the prices of these prized milk and meat cows range in the thousands of dollars. After a good meal of carne asada and chorizo, accompanied by music played on the marimba and bollos dancing, we headed back to Choluteca.

Saturday night Barbara had her first experience with Honduran bollos, and la punta (the typical dance of the north coast). Too bad the video is too dark to attach here, but it was a riot. There´s a great place in Choluteca where regular people go to dance, as opposed to the discotechs which can get a bit crazy.

My friend Hillary gets in today. Eddie is planning on showing her the sights of Tegucigalpa while I´m at work. Hopefully tomorrow I will be headed to the field finally for a few days. I plan to take Hillary with me unless she has more touristic places planned. I feel like I have done about as much prep work as I can here in the office. I have my "key informant" questions written out, an outline of the rapid rural participatory appraisal done, questionnaires for field staff to undertake are drafted, and I´ve already met with a fair amount of NGO and government officials who are working in that zone. It´s time to head south.

jueves, julio 28, 2005

Settled In

Half-way through my second week of work and I´m beginning to feel pretty settled.
We arrived on July 7th, a Thursday. Stopped in the office to a very warm reception on Friday. Over the first weekend, Eddie and I caught up with people in Orocuina and Choluteca.
The highlight was my comadre had another baby - that makes 11 at age 41. So it looks like Eddie and I will be godparents again. That was after I landed in the hospital on day 3 of my stay here!! I´ll spare you the details, suffice to say I was severely dehydrated and needed a few rounds of anti-parasitos. Then getting the house in order. Teresa (Eddie´s mom) had done a lot of work on the house, but it was missing some important furniture items and we had a lot to unpack. Started work last Monday. The first week was exhausting as first weeks at new jobs usually are. Over the past weekend we signed up for the gym. Cybex. Where the rich and famous go to be seen not actually to work out. I´ve never seen sooo many people talking in a gym rather than working out at all. Between the gym, the nice airconditioned office with cable internet, and cable with 90 channels in the house, its hard to remember where you are sometimes.