I was waaaaay up in the mountains of Honduras, in a remote rural community. My colleague was with me. It was her first time traveling outside of the US. We were visiting a housing project that a major donor had been supporting over the past several years. He wanted some pictures and a first hand report, since we were going to be in Honduras anyway.
It was the rainy season. We spent several hours on narrow, winding roads pitted with deep potholes. We got stuck in the mud once and the driver offered us his umbrella to stand under while he dug the car out. We drove through small rivers. Everything was green and red-brown. The houses were of clay and thatch. They blended in beautifully with the countryside. Unfortunately the insects that spread Chagas disease live in thatch, and breed in the walls and roofs of these types of homes. Chagas is a big problem in much of Honduras, and was one reason for the housing project we were going to see.
The community was quite happy to have us. Visitors from the outside were a rarity. They invited us around to see their homes, clearly there was a lot of pride going on. We gathered in a circle, some of us sitting on plastic chairs, under a big tree as the sun came out from behind the rolling clouds. The housing project committee explained how they had put in all the manual labor, they had organized for the material purchases, and they had worked with los señores ingenieros to agree on housing designs.
Mothers told us that now, because they had cement floors, they were sending their children to school. We were confused for a minute. What did a housing project have to do with children attending school? The mothers explained that they had been unable to keep anything (or anyone) clean before, because of the mud floors. But now they were able to keep school uniforms and shoes clean and ready for school, so they were not embarrassed to send their children off to school over in the next community.
Now that the housing project was complete, the community wanted to negotiate funding from the donor for a water project. They would be able to plant two times a year instead of once if they could tap into an irrigation system. They showed us the feasibility studies that they had managed to get done. They invited us inside the community president’s home to eat giant portions of turnips they had recently harvested, telling us how they could double production if the water system could be funded.
The community was animated. They were in a tough situation, but they were moving ahead. I felt really motivated.
As we drove away, I looked over at my colleague. She was in tears, upset by the poverty she’d seen. ’Oh! Did you see the children?’ she said. ‘Some of them weren’t wearing any shoes!’
Talk about missing the forest for the trees.
Instead of going barefoot for a day to ‘raise awareness’ (eg., to promote Tom’s and reinforce the idea that poor people are helpless victims), why not do some research and donate the amount you’d spend on a pair (or 2) of Tom’s shoes to a good organization that does something concrete to support people to achieve their own goals though their own dignified efforts?