Fr Paul shares stories and photos from his visit to Haiti and Honduras
Claudia, 10 years old, lives with her family in the western part of Honduras, a small but beautiful part of Central America. I had the opportunity to visit her and other members of her community with Trócaire earlier this month.
More confident that you'd expect, despite the fact that she has limited access to school, an hour's walk from her home, Claudia is also surprisingly gentle and well-spoken, belying the conditions in which she lives. Her mother, Maria, a single parent, has raised Claudia and her five younger brothers well.
Fifty-four women in this locality have formed an organisation, something akin to the ‘land league' which was part of Irish life in the nineteenth century. With help from Trócaire, they have acquired rights to own land in their own name. They have been trained to till the ground, to produce crops that will feed their families and earn extra cash for housing and education. In the 10 years since Claudia was born, the wellbeing of this community has been transformed. People are working together, building on the new skills and advocacy that Trócaire provides. As Maria explained, "Thank God Trócaire had faith in us". That faith was well placed. Now this community can make its own way and shape its future with confidence. Against the odds, they have transformed a life of hunger to a hunger for life, something unthinkable a decade ago.
All across Honduras, Trócaire has helped similar projects to get off the ground. Fr Victor, a parish priest with a wonderful team of people around him, has helped to make education a priority and land ownership an ongoing campaign. Sister Rita runs a medical centre, providing primary health care at little or no cost. Her outreach to people with HIV / AIDS brings dignity and comfort to some of the most abandoned people in the locality. The success of these projects is measured by the fact that they are sustainable and lasting.
I left Honduras with a deep impression that the potential within this country can and will be harnessed for the good of all, despite the internal complexities beneath the surface. I am immensely proud of the work that Trócaire's personnel, Sally O'Neill and Alexis Williams, are doing on our behalf. They manage to see what's best and possible in the communities with which they work; they can identify the problems and, in partnership, empower those communities to find solutions that address their needs.
Trócaire has a budget of € 4.6 million to cover 7 countries in Latin America. Ninety-four cent of every euro donated to Trócaire goes directly to the projects on the ground. Despite the fact that aid to the region has been cut by 47% recently, our donations make a massive difference to the lives of people who are extremely grateful for your help.
The second leg of my visit was to Haiti, a country that needs little introduction, for all the wrong reasons. Cities of tents erected 12 months ago after the earthquake, which left over 200,000 dead and countless more homeless, are still there. They are home to families who live from hand to mouth each day. Sadly they are also home to cholera and widespread violence. Two massive hurricanes and a deadly earthquake in 6 years have compounded the problems faced by what was already one of the poorest countries in the world.
Haitians know that the road ahead is long and arduous. I spent some time with Sister Mary Hardiman, an Irish nun of extraordinary faith and determination, and Fr Alcide, a native of Haiti. Sister Mary visits the sick and elderly, bringing not only basic medication but above all the warmth and endearing presence of her love. Fr Alcide is taking a long term view of the crisis. For him, education is the best way forward. He brought me to several schools in the area to see the model of what he hopes to build for his own community. All takes time and resources. As I learned in Honduras, development works in decades, not overnight.
Maybe in 10 years time I'll go back to Haiti. When that time comes, I pray that the troubled landscape may be transformed and that the hopes of this enthusiastic people can be fulfilled. In the meantime, I encourage people closer to home to play their part, supporting the work that Trócaire and others are doing on the ground. Their work makes a difference, and so can we.
Photos from Fr Paul's visit to Honduras and Haiti are available by clicking here on "Gallery"
For further information, please check out www.trocaire.org