by Betsy Agle
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.