After being very eager getting to know the community over the past 3 months, a new stage in my engagement with Un Mundo and the community of El Pital evolved. As the coordinator of the annual Art and Culture Festival ARTE_RIO, my tasks so far involved a lot of work outside the community. However, due to the reason that I have been living in El Pital with several families already and always tried to get in contact with the local people, I got very close to some of them and know the majority. I have playedfootball with the younger men, made tortillas with the woman, discussed politics, religion, agriculture and life in general, listened to stories of the past, played with the children, played guitar and sang, arranged open-aircinema nights, attended services of all churches and just spent time with the community whenever I could. All this was extremely important to me and it helped me understanding the dynamics of this place, not speaking about the beautiful moments I experienced and the deep friendships, especially with the family I am living with, I made in such a relatively short time of 3 months. But apart from supporting other Un Mundo staff members with their projects and the monthly story-time with the children, I haven’t been working on a specific project with anyone of the community. Now that the festival comes closer, this is changing. The previous Sunday was probably one of the most eventful days I had in the community so far. I invited a musical duo called Sin Líneas en el Mapa to give a concert in El Pital. Anna-Luz (Peru) and Eulegio (Venezuela) have been travelling to every country in Latin America and gave around 97 concertson this tour. I got in contact with them via a famous Honduran musician called Guillermo Anderson. The concert is an intension of mine to spark some excitement for the Art and Culture Festival within the community as well as to get more promotion and expand our relationship with Guillermo so he will be more likely to play at ARTE_RIO. And to provide the people of El Pital the opportunity to see two excellent Latin American folklore musicians whose primary objective is to share their culture and create awareness through music. In order to make the concert possible and to organize the story time on the same day, a lot of arrangements had to be made with several community members. Being very close with many of them and sharing a lot of time with them also creates certain expectations. It is necessary now that the community experiences me as a competent partner and as a friend at the same time. It is interesting and fascinating to find the right balance, which is in my opinion one of the most important factors of being a volunteer of Un Mundo here in El Pital.
After being up in Yaruca, about 45 minutes away from El Pital, for a little over a week, I am feeling a bit more comfortable. I knew moving from El Pital would be both hard and exciting but I certainly miss my friends and family from El Pital. My new family here is great. My dad is a very outspoken member of the Liberalies party, certainly the minority affiliation of the valley which is dominated by Nationalists. Our political ideologies are pretty similar so it has been interesting to hear a Hondurans prospective on US, international and Central American politics.
Yaruca is very different from El Pital in many ways. Yaruca appears to have a little bit higher standard of living and I have heard that many Yarucans have family that work in the United States and send money back. The higher perceived Socio-Economic Status has made for an interesting transition to more contemporary conveniences that almost seem like a bridge between El Pital and the US. My family still has an adobe, wood burning stove that are very common in El Pital but also has a 4 burner gas stove that youwould find in the US. They have bucket showers and toilets mixed with flush toilets and shower heads.
Despite some of these differences, the people in both places have been more than accommodating and welcoming to me and I will forever be grateful for their hospitality.
Preparations continue! List of confirmed artists coming soon!
This is a tribute to Rob (Roberto) Tuebner, my partner in work, life and my best friend. Two and a half years. How can I begin to recall everything that we have been through? It was three years ago, this exact weekend that we received a last minute phone call from Ken Hutz asking if we could fly down to Honduras to meet him and the community of El Pital. Frantically and a bit unsure we quickly bought tickets and packed our bags and before long we found ourselves on a plane to Honduras. I remember we meet Ken for the first time at the counter of a bread shop/hostel located in downtown La Ceiba. Minutes later we were on our way up a dark bumpy road driving into the dark and not knowing what lied ahead on the beginning of this journey. Barely four hours in the country and we found ourselves sailing across a small basket suspended by a cable crossing over the roaring Cangrejal River. The next three days are somewhat of a blur as the new surroundings and intense stimulation overwhelmed us both, however the memories of crowing roosters, delicious tortillas, showers in the creek, interviews at a natural waterslide, long talks deep in forest, the generosity of the people, and children popping their hands in to wake us up every morning — stuck with us in a profound way. We were hooked. Unfortunately we had to cut short that first trip due to a family passing, while back in New York City we found ourselves thirsty for more of what the Cangrejal and Honduras had to offer us.
Our first year was filled with new challenges every day – camping out in the Un Mundo building, cooking over candlelight, evolving bathrooms, scrabble with flashlights, bucket baths, bats, minimal communication, biking up and down the Valley road from La Ceiba to El Pital, Haiti, Brazil, a hold-up, and house hopping. However amongst these many adventures, by the end of the year we managed to build a home together, first the stairs to let us in. Once we were in, we slowly got to know every detail of our new space, filling every crack, cleaning every dusty corner and becoming closely acquainted with all the creatures of our new home. Eventually we moved on to meeting the basic needs like installing water, a place to cook, electricity, a bathroom and finally a shower – me always begin the visionary and you my hero relentlessly making my vision a reality. We touched everything. Every book, every supply, every piece of paper in the Un Mundo shell that we had inherited – intricately learning the history of the organization and its pioneers through the scribbled notes and dusty files. While hard at work on the Un Mundo building we found ourselves also building a similar foundation in the community. There was rarely a night we didn’t spend hanging out in the hammocks getting to know our neighbors who soon became our family, playing Uno or talking about the world around us. We spent months immersing ourselves and entering quietly, searching for our proper place in this new environment. We made our way house by house through El Pital, sitting in peoples homes and hearing each of their stories. By the end of the first year, we finally had a hogar, a place to begin our work and a community that was starting to feel like home.
Year two, we grew from two to four as we hired our first two volunteer staff members and began to maneuver the dynamics of building not only a building or a community, but an organization and the Un Mundo family. We struggled with issues like defining our roles and strengths in a co-directorship, learned to manage ourselves and competed for success in and out of the office. We felt like parents, our focus shifting from each other to now the organization and our new staff, and later a puppy (the Un Mundo guard dog). We began to learn the excitement and disappointment of fundraising – and tried to find a balance between our distinct management styles. We experienced the challenges of working and living in the same spaces and the impacts that has on a co-directorship, a relationship and an individual. We struggled keeping up with the pace of the outside world without phones and internet, however missed the simplicity when cell phones were introduced to the Valley and we installed an internet satellite on the Un Mundo building.
Year three we had many lessons to pull from, finally finding a balance between life and work, between safety and security and more comfortably having carved out our roles and strengths within Un Mundo and El Pital. Just as we were finally feeling settled, our two and half year commitment was quickly coming to an end. I felt my time in Honduras was just starting. I had finally gained the respect I needed to be effective in my role, my Spanish was finally understandable and I had found a cozy spot living with one of the families in town. Our board was growing, our programs were progressing, and our mission and work was spreading throughout the Valley. I recommitted to two more years and you decided to return to the states to pursue your masters. As the months and weeks quickly passed my emotions fluctuated daily from fear, excitement, anger, sadness and abandonment.
Despite my mixed emotions about your decision to leave, I am so grateful for each moment I had with you, all the memories and lessons I learned from the two and half years we shared in this place and in our role. I have learned so much from you. You are a hero and “angel” to me and so many people in El Pital. You have touched so many hearts and opened so many eyes. Your humble, kind and soft approach was your secret weapon to instilling strength in so many hidden leaders in El Pital, but especially in me. You knew how to reach the people, meet them in their world and cross-cultural barriers, making you everyone’s best friend. You stood solid and patiently behind the transparency committee and the director supporting and encouraging them every step of the way. Your role in building the high school has been imperative and will forever change this region and the lives of hundreds of young people in the Cangrejal Valley.
Now that you are gone, I wonder if I will ever be able to fill your incredibly large shoes that you left here in El Pital. I am finally invited to join the men at the table – as they search for a way to fill your void. While I can hold my own as the only female, I know that I could never quite replace your place in their hearts. I feel overwhelmed, scared and alone, each day realizing how important you were to me, the community and the success of our work. Despite my fears and hesitations about taking on this massive role alone, I am slowing redefining myself here and everyday I discover a new strength and confidence within myself that was not there when we started this journey together two years ago. Your constant support and steadiness grounded me through the many challenges, and from that have given me all the strength to continue to move forward without you. While I know alone, I will never be able to fully provide the complementary leadership that we created as team, however, sharing a role with you gave me a model of the type of balance I hope to be as a leader for this organization and in my life. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share such a special place, life-changing experience and important role with you. It has been an honor. In this next chapter I hope to make you proud and carry on our collective vision, bringing to life the foundation that we built together. Con mucho respecto y amor. ~Elly
On behalf of everyone in the organization and in El Pital, thank you Roberto for your two and half years of hard work and dedication to Un Mundo. You will be missed.
A large part of our philosophy and ideology at Un Mundo revolves around the principal of facilitation. Our methods exist within the framework of capacity building, facilitating access to healthcare, liveable wages, and education through empowerment. This is what inspired me to come to Honduras and be a part of this movement. However, as I settle into one of my roles, coordinating the women’s group, I have struggled with how to stay true to the intentions of Un Mundo and to be a vehicle for growth within this group of wonderful and strong women. I have questioned what it really means to facilitate. What is my role? Is it my place to organize these women when I don’t understand the intricacies of their lives and probably never will, having grown up in the United States? Will my western upbringing bleed through, however how much I try to be an unbiased third party?
These questions nagged at me during my first couple of months working with the women. Within the group we have had a few set-backs, the largest of which was the death of Sulma’s one year old daughter. A heartbreaking tragedy which left all of us drained and questioning, leaving a negative energy hanging over our group. During this time, all nine of the women came together to support Sulma in a way that was so beautiful and inspiring to see and after about a month the negativity that had seeped into the group changed. Leaving the them much more united. Recently, they did a final vote on their positions and roles. Since the vote took place, the women have been much more involved, and my role as a facilitator has been much clearer. The members of the group, particularly Olga and Mayra, the President and Vice-President have begun facilitating meetings. This leaves me to play the role of supporter, coordinating the group from behind the scenes. After this transition to the group members facilitating their meetings, I have perceived even more of a growth in spirit, unity, and empowerment from all those involved in the project. While I don’t have all the answers as to what my role as a facilitator should be, I am growing and learning right along with the women; finding a niche in my new found home. The greatest lesson learned being that there are no right answers, the people who have lived their lives in this community know what it is that they need. I am just here to offer friendship, support, and an outlet to explore so that they are able to cultivate the creativity and strength within themselves, building the business that they are so eager to have come to fruition.
Over the past few months a lot of energy has been investedin trying to motivate the ten members of the women’s group in El Pital to launch themselves to the next level.
Momentum is gained and lost quickly with the changing of the wind. The stalling of funds, a group argument or
lengthy periods of inaction are enough to drive the momentum downwards quickly. Last month we experienced this in a
profound way. After a monthly meeting with the Adelante Foundation, the laughing, encouragement and spirit was
broken when one of the women of the group returned home to find her two year old daughter had fallen into the wash
basin, which was full of water. When family members and neighbors franticly pulled her out of the water, the little
girl was purplein the face, cold as ice and was no longer breathing. There was no way to know how long she had been submerged
beneath the water before someone found her or if there was any way of bringing her back to life. However despite
pleas from various people, the family refused to rush her to a hospital, afraid of being arrested for child neglect,
a serious offense in Honduras. Hence, she was pronounced dead by the family. Just like that, in minutes a life left
thisworld to soon, and Sulma, once a proud, single- mother of five, would never again hold her baby girl.
Within moments, people flooded the house, taking turnsholding Sulma’s head-up while she wailed. Her other four children lay on the bed frightened, crying, understandably-
a bit confused. Neighbors and more distant family membersentered the room and began to strip down the baby and put proper clothes on her to display her for the viewing,
while fighting to pull her out of the arms of her mother or siblings. People kept saying to the close family, “Pull
it together.” I didn’t understand how that was even a reasonable request for anyone who just lost a family member in
such a tragic way.
The women from the women’s group instantly stepped-in, doing anything they could to support Sulma and her mother
Paula, who were both committed members of their cohort. Unfortunately, between the screams and tears, each of us couldn’t help but look for some way to take it all back.
Take away the pain go back in time just a few hours. But most of all, looming over everyone’s head was the rule that
had been put in place by the women, which prevented them frombringing their children to the meetings. Despite the irrationality of it, each of them felt somewhat responsible. I
personally as a facilitator of this group wished I had been more sensitive. I wished I had pushed the women to
discuss each rule they put in place and consider how it might impact some women.
Merely two hours after having concluded our last meeting the women meet again in the living room of Dona Alba’s
house to discuss how to respond to this horrible situation. They all quickly pulled food off their already barren
shelves to prepare a basket of food for the bereaved family. Late into the evening the women and I took turns
preparing mounds of tortillas, rice and spaghetti, all of us jammed packed in Sulma’s smoky kitchen. By 1 a.m., the
exhausted bodies began to fade off to sleep, resting only to awake to an indescribable emptiness. Over the next few
weeks I quietly kept an eye on Sulma and Paula often dropping in to see how they were doing. While deeply impacted
and saddened beyond belief, I found myself amazed by the solidarity and selflessness that was present among this
group of newly unified women during this time, each sothoughtfully standing by Sulma’s side, helping her gain strength each day.
While the experience had brought the women together, it had also left a deep scar on the group and all its
participants. A few weeks later, it was clear to Heatherand I that when Sulma’s baby girl died that day, so did the spirit that had been alive in each of those women. For
weeks we struggled to motivate them to attend meetings, to get out of the house or to reignite the excitement around
their collective vision. For each, the idea of the women’s group seemed to have left a bad taste or memory in
After a month of disappointing meetings, minimal attendance and low energy, we knew we had to be creative to push us
and them through this tough time. After much deliberation, Heather and I decided, perhaps this was a perfect time to
just believe in the women and trust that they truly are the only ones that can get themselves outof this slump. Therefore, we took this opportunity to start turning over heavily the responsibilities of the group
tothe women themselves. Up until this point we had been facilitating and leading all the meetings, waiting for theright time to start slowly handing responsibilities over to them. While Heather provided a lot of the structure of
the first meeting they facilitated, she eloquently set each woman up beautifully, trying to equally divide each
responsibility amongst them all. Finally, last Sunday, for the first time in the twelve months of working with these
women, Heather sat back and became merely a spectator, watching the women facilitate themselves, make decisions,and play games. I unfortunately was unable to attend the meeting myself that day, however, I hadn’t needed to attend
to be able to feel the heightened energy and excitement from the women that afternoon after they left the meeting
and theradiating pride from Heather.
Slowly Sulma has been healing. And while the death of her baby still haunts us all, the experience is a lesson to
all that sometimes it takes loss and moments of complete breakdown to give birth to new life.
After two and a half years of working and living in rural Honduras I can’t believe my time to move back to the U.S
has come so soon. We’ve accomplished so much in the time I’ve been in El Pital but there’s still so much to do. The
friendships I’ve made throughout the seven communities in the Cuenca Cangrejal have taught me valuable life lessons
that I think you can only learn while living in these sometimes difficult circumstances. I’m moving back to the
States in order to pursue a Masters degree in Sustainable International Development, with the hopes to continue this
line of work in the future. I feel confident that many of the issues I’ve had to deal with down in Honduras will not
only help other students in school but I’m sure their experiences will give me new insight into the problems
affecting the communities on the Northern Coast of Honduras.Being with Un Mundo has been an amazing experience, I’m lucky tohave had the opportunity to be apart of an unique
organization with an incredible group of people to support all of the projects we implement on the ground.
The Un Mundo family is comprised of many experienced, dynamic and dedicated people all working to further the visions and goals of the organization.
Un Mundo takes pride in doing a whole lot with very little.
Un Mundo programs such as the Special Education Scholorship, Biblio Burro (Mobile Library) and the El Pital High School Project can continue with your support, even a modest contribution makes a great difference.
The last time I wrote, President Mel Zelaya had just been thrown out of Honduras and the country went into chaos. Today as I am writing, Mel Zelaya managed to sneak back into the country and once again there is major political unrest. I know in July when all this started the schools were closed for almost a month and students were robbed of class time hindering even more their already minimal education. Currently there has only been a two day curfew, completely halting any activity in the country including businesses and schools. It is definitely a strange feeling to know that I can potentially be arrested for walking down the street to work in the morning. I am just hoping this conflict gets resolved quickly and the schools do not close for a month again. If these students do not have the opportunity to finish their classes, many will move onto the next grade being cheated of any actual education for this year.
As for life in El Pital things always seem to stay pretty tranquilo. Rob, the co-director of Un Mundo, and I have been working with two families to finish our pilot project for the composting toilets. I mentioned in my last blog that Elly and I went to do a site visit where another organization had introduced composting toilets. It was then that we decided this would be a great project to bring to the Cuenca, where we live. The project has been moving slower than expected due to the first big problem of the wrong toilet seats being delivered. A composting toilet separates the feces from the urine allowing the feces to change into compost with the help of ash or woodchips. In order to separate the two, a special toilet seat with a hole for the feces and another for the urine is required, which was not what we received after the first delivery. That hindered us for a couple weeks, but as of now the two chambers for the toilets are complete. Now it is the responsibility of the families to finish the top half of the toilets, which includes the walls to the bathroom and the roof. We decided to have the families finish the top half of the bathroom alone, to give them more responsibility and ownership over the bathrooms, so it is not seen as just a gift. As soon as the families have a chance to finish the top half our first two pilot toilets for our composting toilets will be complete. It is really exciting to know that two composting toilets have been introduced to this area. El Pital and all of La Cuenca Cangrejal is surrounded by lush rainforest, so the importance of the protecting the environment is always on our minds when implementing projects.
As for my other projects I held a women’s group meeting this month in which we discussed the idea of recycling and the economic and environmental benefits of such a concept. In order to represent the idea of reusing we used old plastic bags fused together to make smaller tote bags. The women each designed their own bag of different colors and designs, and they were able to physically see in action the meaning of ‘ones mans’ trash is another mans’ treasure’.
Other than that, I have been busy getting Un Mundo ready to move forward in the next year. This includes writing grant proposals, pilot project proposals and finishing up all current projects I have been working on. It is definitely weird to think I will be back state side in less than two months. I had plans to travel a little around Honduras before I left, but now due to the political situation I do not see that happening as easily. This could however be a good thing. Now I’ll have plenty of time to hang out with the family I live with, other community members and the tons of friends I was lucky enough to have during my time here. It is going to be different knowing that I am going be living at home again, but I’m trying to not think about it to much and enjoy my time here right now.
The month of July has quickly come and gone. A lot has happened since I have last written my blog, which was only 2 months ago. In June, Elly and I held our second women’s group meeting. We decided to hold a cooking class with all the women. Our recipes were for Gazpacho, pizza and oatmeal pancakes. It went well for the most part, except the pizzas took a lot longer to cook than one could have guessed. All in all I think the women really enjoyed the class and they are all really excited that they now know how to cook a pizza. Really though, who doesn’t love pizza? Having the women’s group meetings are really interesting also because I can see the relationships amongst the women and how they work together as a group. I am definitely getting a better understanding of each individual woman and community dynamics. I have also had the chance to meet new faces and get to know better the women I already knew, so I love it. I wasn’t able to attend the third meeting but Rob and Elly made an awesome presentation on bee harvesting nad honey products. I hope the next meeting in August goes as well as the other meetings have been.
Elly and I also went out to do a site visit in San Antonio de Cortez, to see composting toilets built by another organization. We will be starting our pilot for the composting toilet project in August, so that was a nice way to see what other organizations are doing. We were able to see 5 diffeannt building types for the construction. Some had only one chamber while others had 2, some were made of wood, some of brick, and others of concrete, so it was nice to be able to see different takes on the construction of the toilets. With the help of volunteers we have coming down in August we hope to build two composting toilets in La Lucinda. Our future plans are to extend this project to the upper valley where communities are more remote and there is a much larger need for proper sanitation.
As for my time here in El Pital, I have been very out of the loop recently. I went home for a long weekend to renew my visa and see my family, but that long weekend quickly turned into almost a month vacation. If some of you do not know, there was a military coup on June 30th, in which the military physically removed the president Mel Zelaya from office and from the country. There was protesting in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, with various roadblocks throughout the country. Along with this, there was a curfew that allowed no one in the streets after a certain hour. Since I wasn’t sure of what was going to happen with the protesting and rioting I chose to wait a couple days before returning to Honduras. However one thing after another kept coming up, and as the days went by I started to think I would never return to Honduras. Luckily though, I have returned and I couldn’t be happier. Although to the outside world it seems like Honduras is in chaos and under no rule, things seem the same here in El Pital. The one big change however is that there has been no classes for the past couple weeks. It’s a shame for these students to miss so much school for such an extended period of time. A lot of these students are already behind for their age and this dilemma is certainly not helping.
As for my daily life in El Pital, it has been great. I am still living with Lourdes and Ramon. Ramon is currently finishing up an apartment below their house, which will soon be home for me and Elly. I am a little sad to not be living in the house with the family, but I think it will be better for both them and me. It will allow me to actually get work done when I am at home. As of now whenever I am in the house I am not able to do anything except play cards and chat, which really isn’t so bad. The apartment will allow them to have a little more room in their house so Joseline can have her own room, which I am sure she’s excited about