A week ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Honduras with a group of Agros partners: two people from Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, three partners from First Fruits marketing, and my father. We arrived in the heat and humidity of San Pedro Sula unsure of what to expect. For three of the group members, it was their first trip to Honduras; for four, their first opportunity to see Agros’ work. As we discussed our expectations for the week, words like “excited,” nervous,” “unsure,” and “eager” peppered our conversation.
After an orientation with country manager Nohemy Tinoco, we boarded our van to Bella Vista, located in the hills outside of Santa Barbara. Here, we were able to see the new school program for sixth-to-ninth-grade students. Nine students and an energetic teacher welcomed us in English. With excitement, they told how they can now go to school without traveling several miles to Santa Barbara. Remarkably, the teacher takes a bus and then walks 3.5 miles to the village four days a week to make sure students are able to be educated beyond the sixth grade. Dedicated people like this make it possible to bring critical services to hard-to-reach areas, and change the lives of many.
Our day in Bella Vista was very busy. After visiting the school, we met with the community leaders in the midst of muddy coffee plantations. (We were visiting during the final weeks of the six-month rainy season.) After learning about their bumper crop, we divided into three groups to help pick coffee. We were provided a small half-gallon basket to put around our waist and began to pick the red “cherry” beans from amongst the green ones. After nearly an hour of picking the beans off the bushes, I had barely filled half a basket. I learned from Carlos (the farmer we were “helping”) that he and one other family member had picked 145 gallons of beans the day before. At the speed at which I was moving in the heat and humidity, I can’t imagine how long it would have taken me to pick that much coffee.
After a delicious lunch prepared by Gladys, a dear friend from the community, we attended a meeting to learn about last year’s achievements. I was excited to learn about the dozens of children in school; the coffee beans, plantains, and frijoles being harvested; and that electricity was due to come to the community in the next couple of months. I enjoyed seeing some new faces, especially Carlos and Marina’s baby, Carlitos, who had not yet been born when his parents spoke at Tierras de Vida in 2012. We ended by taking a group photo and having the children of the village accompany us to the bus. There were many damp eyes as we waved goodbye and headed back down the mountain to our hotel.
The following day started much the same as we boarded our bus to visit the Agros village of La Piedra de Horeb. We were greeted by the community leaders who quickly suggested to us that we leave our backpacks on the bus and travel light as we were going on a hike. Nearly 90 minutes later, through much sweat and assistance from the community leaders, we had traversed the 2.5 km trail and had gained 2,000 feet in elevation to reach the coffee nursery and fields. Thank goodness for the arms of support as we slipped along the narrow, rocky path. Community members make this trek daily to tend to their crops. Many of us consider it to be one of the most difficult hikes of our lives.
In the afternoon, we were able to see one of the tilapia farms where over 1,000 fish were being raised for consumption and sale. We tossed food to the fish and watched them eat. After this exercise, we participated in a farm school where Agros agronomist Florentino taught us how to take the stalks of the yucca plant and cut it down (with a machete) to make small pieces suitable for replanting. We learned how to group the cuttings and space them out in the rows that has been hand-prepared before our arrival. We huffed, puffed, and sweated as we planted just a few of these cuttings in the hot, Honduran sun.
After a short hike back to the community center, we were able to observe the new multi-generational literacy classes being taught through a partnership with the ministry of education. A teacher makes the four-mile walk twice a month to work with a couple of community members who teach these classes on a regular basis. Children, teens, and adults sat in the plastic chairs eager to learn how to read and write. Lessons on a CD and workbooks helped them to learn these important skills.
Our hearts were full once again as the children accompanied us to the bus and waved goodbye as we pulled away.
With Agros’ growth project on the horizon, we began the next day with a presentation from regional director Joel Martinez who talked about Agros’ vision of regional development. The goal is to serve more than 5,000 additional people in the Santa Barbara region. Our next two days were spent visiting two communities under consideration: San Jose de Colinas and San Luis, both in the department of Santa Barbara.
Our first day was in Colinas, first with the mayor and many of the community members. They described their needs and how much an Agros project would benefit their community. They shared their dreams for a community where their citizens would not live in extreme poverty, where land ownership by more than a few was possible, and where their children would be healthy and educated.
We traveled up into the hills to a small village within Colinas called Monte Vista where we met with nearly 150 citizens eager to learn more about Agros. The charismatic principal rallied the crowd to first join together to say “Welcome Agros visitors” in English and then to share their enthusiasm for the possibility of a partnership where they could own land. Children sat nestled among their parents. The dream of how an Agros project could benefit the coming generation became real as we looked into the eyes of these beautiful people.
The next day took us to the village of San Luis where we met with the mayor and community members. Again we heard the impassioned pleas of the community members who talked of their needs and how Agros could help them achieve hope and dignity for their citizens. The most impassioned plea came from a 28 year old woman named Rebecca who had grown up in San Pedro Sula and had traveled to Cuba for her medical training. Rebecca was doing her social work year in the municipality of San Luis. She expected to see 8,500 patients in the course of that year including helping to deliver 230 babies. She is the only medical doctor in the community of more than 15,000 people. She shared that she had fallen in love with the people and didn’t know if another doctor would replace her when she had to leave for her second social work year. The look of hope in the mayor’s eyes as he shook my hand and asked me to return soon almost broke my heart.
As I reflect on another amazing week observing Agros work and dreaming for the future, I am hopeful. I saw the work that Agros is doing in Bella Vista and Piedra and am convinced that the Agros model works to sustainably bring people out of poverty. I saw the abundance of coffee in Bella Vista and the growing tilapia of Piedra. People have the skills, land, and determination necessary to work their way out of generational poverty. I also know that the four communities that we have served only scratched the surface of the millions of people living in poverty in Honduras. And so, after talking to the mayors of Colinas and San Luis and hearing their pleas to help their communities, I am confident that Agros’ regional approach is the right one. We will begin to move the needle on poverty in the department of Santa Barbara as we serve 5,000+ people. I come back enthusiastic to ask others to join with Agros in this work.