UMCOR Update 28 Nov 1999: Honduras

Tegulcigalpa , Honduras(UMCOR) November 28, 1999: "The gods punished us for being bad," said one local Honduran mother. "A lot of forces are telling us that the hurricane hit us because we deserved it, said another. These words were common in Honduras more than a year after Hurricane Mitch demolished half the country and deprived many of homes, food, jobs, and loved ones. "My thoughts are with these victims," said UMCOR's Deputy General Secretary, Paul Dirdak. "They are being told by local authorities, neighbors and family members that they are somehow to blame for the disaster which occured here a little over a year ago."
Dirdak went to Honduras last month to facilitate UMCOR's involvement in the disaster recovery process. UMCOR, in collaboration with its local implementing partner CCD(Christian Commission for Development), continues to support hurricane victims through financial contributions, volunteers to rebuild homes, and health counselors for devastated families and communities. "In the rural areas, there are whole villages lost. UMCOR and CCD have replaced over one-hundred and fifty homes since the disaster, and the resources are in place to rebuild more new homes," Dirdak said.

UMCOR and CCD are currently negotiating a new housing development plan with local government authorities and the church community. This innovative plan calls for every family sponsored by UMCOR funds to sign housing contracts which will guarantee long-term security for women and children. "These new housing contracts will ensure that the house cannot be sold until the youngest child in the family is eighteen years old," said Dirdak. In collaborating with a local implementing partner and the church community, UMCOR hopes to rebuild new homes for the people while establishing child shelter protection programs. As Dirdak explained, "Housing will no longer exist primarily as a right to property."

Said Oscar Bolioli, National Council of Churches Director for programs in Latin America, and part of the delegation who joined Dirdak, "Through the reconstruction process, the locals described how the long battle to rebuild homes had brought them closer together as a community."

The delegation went to Tegulcigalpa and sites in the north in late October to investigate the areas where UMCOR/CCD
had rebuilt nearly 200 homes completely destroyed by the hurricane. To date, CCD has rebuilt eight-hundred homes. "People had a chance to hear the voices of the community desperate for their needs to be met. One woman described how her home was destroyed, and expressed her sense of frustration, hopelessness and sheer anger. Her children were now forced to play in the overpopulated and unsanitary shelters," said Bolioli.

During the visit by the delegation, hurricane victims expressed their doubts, frustrations and fears about the horrible destruction. Many victims lost family members, neighbors, and co-workers. As Bolioli explained, " I met a twenty-five year old woman with two children, who lost relatives living in her home. She spent a long time talking with the delegation about her fears. She was tired of living in the shelters and wanted her children to have some place to play. She thought she had done something terribly wrong and was being punished. The storm was not a question of bad weather, but whether God loved or hated them."

A gathering of the delegation was held at the Pentecostal church in the capital city. Three hundred fifty people, representatives of twenty-two denominations from Honduras and other countries along with government officials, participated in worship and listened to hurricane victims from different communities speak about their concerns and troubles. The theology behind the disaster was a focal point. Participants raised questions about the meaning of the disaster and how people can move toward a feeling of hope. "The people started to understand and got a sense that the path toward recovery would be a long one, but they needed to walk the path," said Bolioli.

"UMCOR/CCD, together with local people, realized that going to fix a home after a disaster means a lot more than fixing the home, it means really helping to rebuild the victim's life emotionally and eliminating their fear, insecurity, and sense of unknowing," said Dirdak.

Noemi Espinoza, Executive Director of the CCD explained, "{We are} thinking of the thousands of men and women of all ages who won't sleep tonight because they are worried about what will happen with the latest rounds of rainfall." Espinoza denied the accusations of others that the hurricane was brought about by the gods to punish the people of Honduras. "Mitch would never have been so deadly if our country hadn't been permeated by inequality and environmental destruction that converted Honduras into a vulnerable, fragile and impoverished country."

Micahel Rivas, Deputy General Secretary of Planning and Research of the GBGM, added that the visit by the delegation made a significant impression not only on the minds of the hurricane victims, but also on the minds of the church leaders and international relief agencies. "They had a chance to meet the victims and see that although they were deeply affected, they came out of it not as victims, but as survivors. The work of UMCOR/CCD is geared toward dealing not only with the immediate needs of the people, but to help rebuild lives for people in the future. The outcome is that victims become stronger people both personally and communally," Rivas said.

Communities came together to escape the sense of being victims. The people of Honduras struggled with an unfortunate situation, but are moving ahead. UMCOR and the CCD addressed the housing needs and added a component of protecting families--particularly the women and children left behind. This contract and process of negotiation came out of people's own
experience. This innovative approach happened because UMCOR/CCD were flexible enough to listen and understand needs.

Local mothers with no formal education developed quite a bit of wisdom in displaying the needs of the community. These women recognized the needs of their children and organized the community in the shelters. As Rivas explained, "It was in the shelters that these powerful women started to take things into their own hands. They requested help from the church and received ecumenical cooperation on the ground. This is when the communities began to work together, regardless of denomination. These mothers and fathers, children and neighbors, got to know each other's stories in the shelters and this experience empowered them to surpass this terrible disaster."

Espinoza thanked UMCOR and other church agencies for their unyielding hard work and dedication. She described the work of UMCOR volunteers, staff and other ecumenical agencies as those "who recognize Christ in each woman and man who struggles to defend their rights and the rights of others."UMCOR's implementing partner CCD, was recently awarded an award by the Human Right Commission of Honduras. Commissioner Leo Valladares who presented the CCD with the distinguished honor last month referred to CCD as, "An institution with great ability, and the willingness to put into practice not worrying just about immediate assistance, but searching for ways to promote human development."

UMCOR and CCD are not only solving immediate emergency needs of the people, but are giving hope to people who felt hopeless when faced with the task of rebuilding their lives after the hurricane. Together with UMCOR and CCD, the people of Honduras have responded to their own needs with a sense of dignity and solidarity. They now have a sense of purpose and are willing to move forth with their goals.


For more information on UMCOR in Honduras, please contact Tala Dowlatshahi,
Communications Officer, UMCOR, Washington D.C , 202-548-4002