This poem, written by a good friend of mine, has caused me to go into a different, more internal and meditative state as I approach being eighty. And I wanted to get some of thoughts in writing.
This blog, called Spirit Flow, is a running journal intended for an audience of my “clan.”
The Priest Writes His Desire
By Jessie Dolch
Shadows on the scans. Nothing they can do, doctors say. So he sits with a pen in his hand to tell his friends. He is not surprised; he had been weakening every day.
And God has manifested in his good health for more than eighty years. Now, he writes, it is “a blessing to have things clear, with no need to make a lot of difficult decisions.”
Now, God manifests in his final illness “and this is great,” he writes, though perhaps no one will understand as they see only the loss and darkness ahead while he stands in the light of transformation.
Some may talk to him of heaven and comfort and the things to come. All this, he knows well, but now, he sits in the night with the pen in his hand
and thinks that with tumors and shadows in his stomach and lungs he has no interest in the land of the future. Why should he? when right now the moon is full
and even near midnight casts shadows in the dark – of the trees, of the parish house where he lives, of the chapel’s holy cross, of his own hand as he writes
What I really want is to become the Flow of the Spirit… to fully enter into the movement of Reality. No scenarios about what’s to come. Just live the Now.
Now, putting the pen down. Now, folding the paper just right. Now, breathing in. Now, rising in all the moonlight and walking with his shadow
Four of us went to Honduras in the early part of March, 2016, to spend time with villagers in five mountain communities that were a part of our ongoing support to the Trinidad Conservation Project. Three of the towns had previously been in the cluster, while two new towns had been added.
On previous trips, we had been engaged in projects and lived in the communities. And a part of our presence there had been to see changes in the communities regarding number of trees planted, fuel efficient stoves built, and house gardens planted. We gloried in how much organic fertilizer had been made, and how no one was using harmful tradition methods such as slash and burn, and chemical insecticides and pesticides.
This year, we experienced a different under layer.
Hondurans are going through tough times: a drought has pervaded the country; a plague is destroying the country’s pine forests, crops have failed, and a well known and respected environmental activist was assassinated. Some families may have to leave their villages because there is no source of income and food, and will migrate to urban areas if the drought continues Security, drugs, and corruption continue to be major realities.
Having to face all of this, it would be completely understandable if the people that we met were despairing. Yet, that is not what we saw. What we saw glimpses of were shining, smiling, faces and hopeful discussions.
There was also a sense of living in intergenerational communities (grandmothers and grandfathers, parents, children); much less attachment to things for a sense of well-being, non-attachment to physical goods for defining their happiness. But something else was evident, and that was their living in a faith that they are and would be cared for and empowered. And that is the power of the Vecinos Honduras presence, particularly in what Roy Lara does: he is a skilled agronomist, and he cares for the villagers. He himself is living into his calling, that work with people in small communities can make a difference.
Here is another observation about the trip. A two way interconnectedness exists between the Washington and Honduran communities. We do serve an important role each time we spend listening and observing time in our five villages and with both Roy and Edwin. It has to do with the caring qualities and energy that we bring to the relationship. So, we inspire by our interest and compassion. And, in return, we become inspired by what we are witnessing up close and from photos. It is truly a mutual exchange of energy.
One of the strongest principles of Vecinos Honduras (our TCP partner) is that outsiders can bring new knowledge of health or agriculture to a community but the people in the community must learn to teach each other campesino a campesino. To our delight, we found out in visits to the five TCP communities during our trip to Honduras in early March, that the people we meet really like to be taught by each other and to teach each other.
In early January 2016, a gifted facilitator for Vecinos Honduras in southeastern Honduras gave eight workshops to people in the five TCP communities. Her name is Balvina Amador and her surname (meaning “lover” in Spanish) gives a hint of the affection she generated in each of these communities. She taught people how to build a stove that consumes one tenth as much wood as a traditional stove. She taught people techniques to make their homes safer and healthier and she taught them how to grow and balance food in the three basic food categories.
In February 2016, another experienced facilitator, Melvin Molina, gave six workshops on techniques to conserve and reuse water—various techniques for constructing a filter for gray water out of common materials such as used tires.
By the time we four arrived in March, half a dozen members of these five communities had already taught one or more workshops to other families. In total, local people in the communities had taught eleven additional workshops, passing on what they had learned from Balvina or Melvin.
The local leaders who taught these workshops included men and women and young people ranging from as young as 13. All of them expressed great satisfaction at being able to pass on what they knew to their neighbors or to people in nearby communities.
After her stove was created in a workshop taught by Balvina. Lucinda Martinez, a mother of four in El Puente, taught other families how to build a wood-conserving stove. After years of struggle in this community with poor access to water, Lucinda said the experience of working together gave her confidence in her community’s ability to make life better.
In El Cablotal, Mercedes Rios, another mother of four, taught three other families how to build a stove. She told us of her satisfaction that El Cablotal families were working together to make progress. She was just named an officer of a newly- formed rural credit union for El Cablotal.
Antonio Gamez, a farmer in La Majada, travelled to Agua Zarca to show several farm families there how to build a chicken coop. Natividad Peña, a farmer in El Puente, teamed up with the youngest community trainer, middle school student Byron Bueso, to conduct a workshop on how to build a wood-conserving wash basin and filtering system to turn gray water (from washing clothes and dishes) into water for a garden. Byron lives with his grandmother and two uncles, while his parents work in the city, and has expressed a strong desire to learn everything he can about how to build improvements to their lives.
We could observe that the value of local families teaching each other how to build a wood-conserving stove, or a chicken coop, or a gray water filtering system goes far beyond the value of the thing that is built. The experience for the participants creates satisfaction and even joy and the desire to work together again to improve the whole community.
Drought over past several years is causing a national emergency in Honduras. The drought is caused by climate change, possibly aggravated by El Niño. Without rains in May and June, many families will be malnourished and even hungry. Some family members will be forced to leave the communities to search for city jobs or even to leave the country. In communities that have been in the TCP program for years, improved soil and water conservation practices are providing some protection against the impact of the drought.
During a recent trip to Honduras, TCP members saw scattered fields of dead cornstalks. Corn and beans are the staple crops and together are a source of complete protein in the daily diet. Drought reduced the planting done last December. Farming families are now praying that the annual May and June rains will water the seeds planted this spring. Two poor crops in a row will spell severe hardship for all the families and disaster for some.
Florentino Amaya told the TCP visitors during their recent visit that the agricultural practices he has learned from Roy Lara are “excellent” because they have helped protect his crops from climate change. Antonio Gamez says that turning the material he slashed down at the end of last year’s harvest makes good mulch and protects this year’s planting. A simple tool made of a wooden A-frame and a plumb line enables farmers to plant seeds in contour lines across the mountainsides to catch and hold the water in the soil. Placing recycled plastic bottles filled with water provides drip irrigation through pin holes in the cap to individual plants with almost no water lost to evaporation.
Their fields and vegetable gardens of long-time TCP farming families are now demonstration plots for others. New families are eager to learn these new practices and in some communities farms belonging to new TCP participants are already being used for training.
The number one home improvement which the women in the new communities want is a water-conserving sink. Traditional sinks store water in large basins for later use in smaller sinks with drains. Scarcity of water and loss of water to evaporation make these large holding sinks impractical. Both communities depend on water brought to the villages from far-away water encatchments in tubes that have been heavily damaged by fallen trees and mudslides. In one community this public water system delivers water only intermittently and in the other never because it is completely destroyed. In the second community they bathe and wash clothes in the nearby river.
Altagracias Pena, like the other women in the village of El Puente, brings water up from the river to cook, clean her home, and water fruit trees and a small garden. She treasures this new water-conserving sink that was built for her by other members of her village, who had learned how to make them from a demonstration by a Vecinos Honduras staff member. After being used and then passed through several layers of gravel and rocks, the filtered water is drained into a nearby family garden.
As shown in the photo above, in El Cablotal which receives diminishing supplies of water from functioning water pipes, water-conserving sinks made of recycled tires and cement are valued. No matter what material the sink is built of, the water is used sparingly, filtered, and then drained to water plants.
Emphasis on workshops on practices to conserve soil and water will continue during 2016. The specific practices will differ, depending on the needs and wishes expressed by participants in the community.
On March 1st, a small group of TCP members from Capitol Hill arrived in San Pedro Sula and was met by Roy Lara in his family pickup truck. During the next 9 days we traveled many hours and many miles. “We” includes Roy Lara, Betsy and Collie Agle, Mary Procter and Bill Matuszeski — it was a snug fit!
One of the reasons for the trip was for us to become more familiar with Vecinos, a Honduran NGO that has sustainable agriculture programs in areas southeast of Tegucigalpa. We were introduced to Vecinos by Steve Brescia of Groundswell International, which is a US NGO that supports sustainability programs around the world. Roy Lara has met Edwin Escoto, Executive Director of Vecinos, several times, and they have been discussing the possibility of working together.
The first night we spent in Trinidad. The next day we set out for the Vecinos office in Tegucigalpa,where we were greeted warmly by Edwin Escoto and the Vecinos Board of Directors. Over the next three days we went way far east and way far up to the communities of El Guano and Azabache . What we saw and heard was exciting.
We got a good overview of the organizing model of Vecinos. While there are many interesting comparisons with Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) work, these points seem particularly worth mentioning:
both organizations emphasize sustainable agriculture and environmental protection. In particular Betsy appreciated seeing worm composting operations in both SHIand Vecinos communities;
rather than picking a few families to work with in a community, Vecinos works with all the existing organizations to develop leadership and community empowerment important to that community (such as the town council, the water council, the rural bank, and the network of “campesino” organizations devoted to bettering life in rural communities);
Vecinos starts in one community and expands its work as nearby communities express interest and there is adequate staff; for example, they are now working with roughly 17 communities and over 700 families in and around the central communities of El Guano and Azabache in department of El Paraiso;
two instances of community organizing: 1) encouraging women to start family planning and to take leadership roles in community organizations, and 2) establishing rural savings and loan banks with initial training and capital loans from Vecinos which is paid back at the end of the year and which diminish year by year as the amount invested from the bank members increases.
Everywhere people shared meals made of produce they had grown and chickens they had raised. They were delicious!
After returning to Trinidad, we made our way up to the communities of La Majada and El Tule. In La Majada we heard testimonials from families about how they are sharing what they have learned from their participation in the SHI program with neighbors and in class rooms. In El Tule, we heard excitement in the voices of the families who told us about a small watershed protection project and the potential for a revitalization of the local rural bank. In both places we passed out beautiful Certificates of Appreciation to all the families.
We did feel we had accomplished something important as well. There was clearly rapport between Edwin Escoto and Roy Lara. What will come next is the drafting and adoption of a written agreement of major points for a three way alliance between the Trinidad Conservation Project, Vecinos and Groundswell. Roy will have responsibilities in both the Vecinos and TCP areas. The TCP leadership, including representatives from all the churches, will have a chance to review this agreement before it is signed. Roy will need TCP financial support to continue his work under this agreement.
Sunday night we finished off the trip by treating our Trinidad hosts to ice cream from the store on the park. Monday we headed for the airport and bought Roy more than a dozen donuts to take to family and friends. Sweet endings to a sweet trip.
Honduras has two problems that have engaged me professionally and personally for well over thirty years: the high rate of poverty that exists in the small rural communities of the country and the continuing destruction of the environment, particularly as it has related to the country’s forests.
Previous to my involvement with my friends from Washington, I was working with the Diocese of Honduras in the undertaking of environmental work in small, poor rural communities. My commitment has, for a number of years, been to develop skills, knowledge, and awareness among community leaders in issues such as the protection of watersheds, wildlife, and ecosystems. I also have taught stewardship and the necessity of protecting the environment to students in the local schools. Part of this work was to directly involve the students in the planting of trees in endangered watersheds.
My relationship with four Washington churches started in 1987. And we started a joint relationship called the “Trinidad Conservation Project (TCP).” As a result of my relationship with TCP, I joined the staff of Sustainable Harvest International as the lead field trainer for Honduras.
I treasure my relationship with my TCP friends in Washington. They have contributed both their time and financial resources to helping six small, rural villages learn good forestry and sustainable, organic agricultural practices. Through on-site visits to the communities over these years; they have developed close, supportive relationships with a wide number of men, women, and children who often feel as if no one cares. And their time and financial resources have made a difference in increasing local vegetable production, improving family nutrition, and empowering these residents. And I also believe that the youth and adult trips have touched and changed my friends from Washington. So, it really is a companion relationship.
I am grateful for this relationship for myself and for the countless villagers who have felt its supporting presence.
The Trinidad Conservation Project has enabled rural communities around the town of Trinidad, Honduras to address the intermingled problems of poverty, deforestation, and malnutrition. These communities are located in the department of Santa Barbara where nearly half of the population is considered to be malnourished. Many families must make intensive use of very small land holdings. Without help, even the farming families are often hungry or malnourished. Families who are landless suffer even more.
In 2006 TCP started a reforestation project with the Episcopal Church of Honduras to protect water resources. In 2008 TCP teamed with Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) to broaden its impact to include sustainable agriculture as well. No longer tied to destructive slash-and-burn farming techniques, families now care for their fields and crops with compost and other local materials so they can use the same plot year after year. No longer eating only beans and rice, the children are now eating more varied and much healthier diet. After seven years of participation in the SHI program, these families will complete the SHI program in the first half of 2015 and SHI will start its program in new communities in other parts of Honduras.
The story of Noé is an example of the transformative power of TCP’s partnership with SHI and the six villages. Despairing of the living conditions and dangers in San Pedro Sula, Noé returned to his village even though he had no land. Participants in the 2009 adult trip were impressed with Noé. When TCP raised the funds to buy land for a half dozen families. Noé jumped at the opportunity to become an owner of about acre of land. The price was sweat equity — it took months to clear the land of weeds and the first harvest, months later, was meager. Three years later Noé has crops to feed his family and small coffee seedlings to sell for cash. His family now lives in small house on the property that he built with help from neighbors and recycled roof material from a church in Trinidad.
We know there is still work to be done in these communities. Families are eager to share their knowledge about sustainable farming with others. In some communities the local schools go only to the 6th or 9th grades. The families want more education for their children. The global problems of climate change, unequal access to financial and educational resources, and the current level of violence pose other problems for these farming communities.
The Trinidad Conservation Project is a partnership of churches and individuals, in Washington DC formed in 2006 with a common goal to stand by the people of rural communities Honduras. Between 2009 and 2014 we sponsored more than 9 youth and adult trips to Honduras. From these trips we formed bonds. We saw the program made a difference in their lives.
The person who made this connection possible is Roy Lara, a dedicated Honduran-trained agronomist and passionate environmental educator. Before TCP met Roy, he was already working with local public schools in his hometown of Trinidad to build community nurseries. Forests were replanted and students were given seedlings to take home. With support from TCP and SHI, Roy developed the leaders in a half dozen rural communities dedicated and trained to restore and protect forests and farmlands. Roy is an effective field trainer — teaching, motivating, inspiring. As lead trainer and later as lead field trainer in Honduras, Roy also helped arrange meaningful service trips for volunteers from Washington DC. In addition he proved himself an effective spokesperson for the SHI, coming to DC on an annual basis to report on the program. During these visits to Washington D.C., funds were raised and friendships were made and renewed.