Honduras Travel notes July 10 - 16, 2011
My passion for travel never included dreams of visiting Central America. Not even the tourism campaign for Costa Rica has made me want to dip my toe in their waters. Too many years, too many stories of violence and political unrest had dampened my interest.
Sitting on the Heifer International LA Leadership Council these past few years, I have been gently urged to take one of their Study Tours. It would be a chance to see their work up close, to see the faces, the animals, the pride, the progress - a real chance to see how Heifer does it first hand, how they actually use 76 cents of every donation dollar for their mission: to end hunger and poverty while protecting the earth.
So in the middle of a very unusual year, one with ten trips planned, this would be trip number five.
I signed up for my three hepatitis B vaccines, took my four caps of anti-typhoid meds, and started the 15 day regime of anti-malaria pills as I boarded the plane. I hated having to take the pills because it means I will not be able to donate blood to the Red Cross until after July 23, 2012. I take my 40 years of donating very seriously.
I had a 18 hour layover in Houston which meant a happy reunion with my Wichita, KS, childhood friend Debbie Umsheid Mulvany. Mass, a fabulous meal at Pappas Seafood, and then long talks into the evening.
On a flight of less then 3 hours from Texas, I was in Tegucigalpa, the capitol of Honduras. Once the tour group of 11 arrived we headed for our lodging, a camp-like setting with bunk beds, small dining hall, small community room, low lighting and intermittent hot water.
Our first two days were spent covering the “study” portion of our Study Tour. We got an overview of Honduras: 40% unemployment; subtropical temperatures but cool in the mountains; about 8 million people; water supplies and sanitation facilities vary widely between the urban cities and rural villages, as do infrastructure, education (84% illiterate), land ownership, food; per capita income $1300 per year; and eighty percent of the population live in rural communities, mostly in the mountains.
Life is precarious there. Medicine and health care practically non-existent. A mother can walk 4 or 5 hours carrying a sick child only to find there are no meds, or no doctor or the illness is too complicated. I overheard our translator telling someone that a villager was dying from his diabetes. There are few meds and no refrigeration outside the cities.
Although Catholicism is the only officially recognized religion in Honduras (97% of the population is Catholic), many Protestant communities exist, as well as Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, etc., and many indigenous denominations.
In fact, on the flight there and back, my plane was filled with mostly young, Protestant missionaries, all wearing t-shirts with slogans like, Build Tomorrow, Today, Faith and Freedom with Jesus, One Hand, One Heart.
Seventy percent of the people are poor or destitute. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial country, with most people a mix of Indian, Black or White. The ethnic groups include Lenca Indians, Mayans, Mestizo, Carifuno (Afro-Carribean), among others.
Although the country has many natural resources of gold, silver, lead, zinc, the mines are all owned by foreign companies, as are the fruit plantations.
The second day we had a workshop on hunger and poverty and Heifer’s values-based planning model. Then we visited the Heifer Honduras office for an orientation about their programs: Mission and Vision and the Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development.
I have to tell you, it got a bit wearisome. Although our translator was absolutely fantastic, the amount of information that had to be translated, not just early on but through the entire week, was overwhelming. After a while it all began to blend together.
What stayed crystal clear were the faces of the people, the children, the demeanor, excitement, pride, joy, the treacherous roads, pathways, unmarked trails, the endless rains and gorgeous lush scenery, the very simple dwellings, dirt floors, latrines, biogas stoves, the animals, gracious offerings of steamed squash and salted oranges.
In all the villages/projects we visited the people had walked, often more than an hour, to be there when we arrived. They were so pleased and eager to share their successes, to thank God and us, their benefactors, for helping them help themselves.
We went to ten projects, when originally four had been planned. I think it was too ambitious as some of our days were 12 hours long, mostly spent getting to the projects. The passages into these mountain areas are sometimes only accessible on foot. You climb over fences, walk on ledges, and you’re always ascending.
We took a five-hour drive to visit a Coffee Co-op, then on to a very impressive group of indigenous women who had micro-enterprises of growing, processing, packaging and bringing to market beans, and fruit candies.
In the town of Gracias we visited a group of mostly women, who welcomed us with guitars and song, to witness their first Passing on the Gift ceremony, one of Heifer’s cornerstones. A woman, mother of 8, had been given chickens a year earlier. Having cared for, raised them, used and sold their by-products, she had stabilized her family and was now in a position to pass the gift on. The young woman who was to receive what turned out to be about 20 chickens, was giddy with excitement and nerves. She pledged that she too would be back in a year to Pass on the Gift to another family. There was so much joy and pride in the whole event.
The new chicken owner explained that she could not take them back to her village just then as she had walked two hours with her children to receive the gift but that her husband had agreed to come back in the evening to fetch them. Most of the women made a point of saying their husbands had agreed to let them be involved in the projects and all had also agreed to participate in the effort. This is an important element of Heifer’s work, to foster gender equality.
Another project revolved around food sovereignty and biodiversity. Hurricane Mitch devastated the mountain people as they had cut down the trees for fire wood making the mud slides inevitable.
Heifer worked with communities to teach reforestation and bio gas stoves using animal and
human waste. They worked to have this new community legally recognized by the government, thereby giving them access to resources and a way to have their voice heard. They are now the gatekeepers of their mountain top and Heifer has fulfilled their mission to “protect the earth.”
Although 90% of our time was visiting projects we did get to see the capitol, as well as the magnificent Mayan ruins in Copan, in western Honduras near Guatemala. It dates from the 5th century with estimates of originally 20,000 inhabitants in a city under 200 square miles. The ruins continue to be excavated today, as they have been since the early 1900s, starting with archeological groups from American Universities.
We walked though temple grounds, an acropolis, through tunnels, game fields, sacrificial altars, stadiums, living quarters, etc. I took more pictures of this than anything else as I knew how much Tom would love to see it.
Once I boil the whole experience down, this is what I learned about Heifer and how they manage to use so much of the donation dollar on the actual mission.
Heifer is all about community development. Traditional community development is when a non-profit assesses the situation and imposes their solution. Heifer’s community development approach is to help develop a strategy based on the community’s idea of who they are, what are their strengths, their skills, and what success is already in the community. Heifer works to build self-esteem, self-worth, and self-identity. It works to develop the community’s voice.
They partner with other non-governmental agencies (NGO) to coalesce their goals in response to the voiced needs of the community.
When Heifer decides to provide agro education, husbandry, product marketing skills, etc., they approve a submitted request from the NGO, assuming it meets Heifer standards. Heifer then funds the hiring of the people to teach the skill set, or fund the purchasing of local cows, bees, fruit trees, etc. The NGO does the actual hiring and is therefore responsible for the employee benefits, insurance, pension, health, etc. Heifer money goes toward their mission.
I tell you the more I learn about Heifer the more brilliant I think it is.
I heard a Honduran saying that really strikes at the heart of our call to help our fellow man: The only way a chicken eats is grain by grain.
So whether you write a check or smile at an older person, everything we do, large or small, is nourishing.
I will continue to raise awareness and funds for Heifer. Until the 1.5 million dollar matching grant for Honduras is met, all money I raise will go to Honduras.
If you are interested in helping me do this, please let me know and I will put you on my contact list for my April 2012 fund raiser.
Thank you for your past support and your interest in my travels.
Just ADDED: My ZEKE & LUTHER episode "DJ, PJ" airs Monday, July 11, 8:30 PM PST on Disney XD. See my link NEWS, then AIRING for more details.
Well, the reunion was absolutely fabulous. It succeeded beyond my expectations. We ended up with 152 attendees from toddler to 92 year old. Family from Europe, Canada and the USA.
New relationships took root, others were mended and two joined us as long lost family kin.
We also got great coverage in the local newspaper, ending up as their Sunday front page lead story. Check it out: http://mankatofreepress.com/bigstory/x603693860/Muellerleile-reunion-That-s-one-big-global-family. I hope to get photos up later in the month. No time right now.
Before leaving for the big event I was able to get all my monologues copyright protected. It turned out to be a simple procedure. If you are ever in the same position just go to www.copyright.gov where they will take you through the process, step by step.
I also got an email request from Dylan Sprouse my friend from our days doing THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK & CODY. He asked me to contribute a video clip on “bullying.” Thanks to Tom coming up with the idea of doing a segment using my computer’s skype feature, I was able to email it just hours before departing.
Since I’ve been back I’ve been dealing with the post reunion details. Making payments, sending follow up information, updating the Family Directory file.
I’ve also been preparing for my upcoming trip to Honduras.
That’s right, I leave on Saturday for Houston where I will spend the night with a childhood friend, Debbie, before flying out the next morning to Tegucigalpa, the capitol of Honduras.
I’ll be in the country one week, mainly visiting three Heifer International projects. I’m there to see the fantastic work of a charity that is so close to my heart. I fully expect the trip to be transforming.
Before I board that plane, I have two Christmas in July breakfasts to put on. Thursday is for my voice over agents and Friday, my theatrical agents.
Monday I’ll go to our historical societies annual July 4th Picnic Party. I’m hoping Tom will feel up to it. Because he ended up getting SIX epidurals on Thursday, he’s been laying low dealing with the aftermath. He had to cancel coming with me to see THE CHERRY ORCHARD, which was fabulous. He also skipped the show at the Carpenter last Saturday. Again, another winner. Wendy joined me instead.
The Sunday I’ m back, Tom and I are scheduled to catch the final HARRY POTTER in the afternoon at the Academy. Think we’ll go ouT for an early dinner afterwards. By then I imagine I’ll want some serious cooking, done by others.
That evening I want to see LIE, ABOVE ALL. It’s about South Africa a country I hope to visit. Harry might be enough as I will be back from Honduras just a few hours. But if you are a regular reader of this blog you know by now I like to cram my life with activity.
I see my foot doctor on Monday for my annual, “how is my nail fungus doing?” It’s been over 5 years now and I still apply med BID. That evening I am going to a karaoke party given by my commercial agents. No, I do not think I will be singing as I will have had no time to rehearse and I’m not that into it.
Tom and I are going to the Dinosaur Hall exhibit at the Natural History Museum on Tuesday. This is a brand new hall and the city is abuzz with interest. We plan on using two of our Groupons afterwards to grab pastrami sandwiches at a downtown deli then scoot over to an area bakery for cream puffs. Again, I’m thinking I will be looking for good ole American food by now.
Golds will be calling very loudly to me by Wednesday so I’ll get there especially if I didn’t go Monday. Tom is to come and try out his new aqua shoes to help protect his tender tooties while he’s walking the pool.
Two movies on Sunday and it’s a wrap for the week. THE LEDGE and ANOTHER EARTH.