Sunday, February 8, 2009

#11 Solares Nuevos

I spent my Friday afternoon and Saturday morning helping to organize and deliver food to the campesino village that Helping Honduras Kids has become involved with. Campesino is the Spanish word for peasant, and village is a polite description of the terrible conditions these 250 people are lucky enough to live in. They have chosen for their group name Solares Nuevos, Solares being the Spanish word for plots of land, often referring to tenement homes and Nuevo being new. That’s right…the “new tenements.” They first lost their homes and belongings in Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Then, two years ago, they were forced off the land that they had been living on for 6 years and where they had managed to build adobe homes. A humanitarian group was able to purchase this hectare of land for them just outside the town of La Bomba where they have managed to build wooden shacks and establish something of a home around the one-room concrete building and the well that have been built for them. There was a donor helping provide food until a few months ago, when they had to or chose to stop buying food. Agriculture is next to impossible on this land and completely impossible in the enduringly severe rainy season we are still at times experiencing.

Here are some figures to help you imagine. A hectare is 10,000 square meters, equivalent to a little less than two and a half acres. The average US home is 2,330 square feet. This means that there would be about 47 average US homes back to back and side to side without yards and in each house there would be about 5 and a quarter people. That is one person to every 435 square feet. Sounds livable until you start including shared space like paths, roads, the well, community center, and most importantly the subsistence agriculture these folks so desperately need. The land is low and gathers mud and water easily but is slow to release it and become dry. Even if it was suitable for successfully growing crops, it is not adequate for the variety of foods necessary to ensure nutrition. That would include corn, beans, plantains, and chickens at the very least.

I spent much of my time there talking with the children. They have many of the same problems as the kids at the Jungle School, living in fatherless homes, staph infected bug bites on their legs, light streaks in their hair from malnutrition, trouble learning and staying at grade level in school. However, their problems were all markedly more severe than the ones I encounter at my school. The wounds on their legs were actively bleeding and deeply eaten into the skin, making divots into their shins. I met multiple children who were in grades far behind the average for their age, for example eleven year olds in second grade. I also saw evidence of severe birth defects, including one girl with Down syndrome, a baby with a slightly but obviously oddly shaped head and a boy with the wide set eyes that I have often heard associated with fetal alcohol syndrome. My thoughts today have often strayed back to the girl with Downs, wondering what her future will be, especially should she outlive her parents and siblings and especially in a culture where she is vulnerable to predatory men just for being a girl, let alone developmentally challenged.

The kids taught me the Spanish words for bike seat (monturo) and swing (culumbrio). I taught them the concept of “thousand” in English, so that they can now count up to 999,999 in English. I also taught them my Monkey Poo song, which was a big hit with the kids and the woman driving the delivery van for us.

And now I sit with the information I have gathered and attempt to digest it…looking at it from the personal story angle, the statistical angle, and finally the philosophical angle…trying to see the truths through the mixed muck of poverty and social prejudices and enduring disadvantages in these peoples’ daily lives. Whose fault is it that they are poor? The society at large does not offer them much in the way of opportunities and lives in such ways that demand that someone be poor so that they can be rich. But nor do these people help themselves, instead perpetuating much of their poverty by giving up in the face of such enormous odds and being self-destructive with alcohol and other behaviors. For example, we seriously considered not leaving the unclaimed bags of food for the absent families because it was so likely that someone else would steal them before those families returned. We eventually left the bags under the security of the woman they have chosen as their community representative, but it was with minimal hope that the intended families will actually see all of the nutritious goods intended for them.

Each bag contained a pound of pasta, a pint of tomato sauce, a pound of coffee, a box of milk powder, a pound of shortening, two pounds of beans, two pounds of rice, and two pounds of coffee, and two pounds of sugar…in short, enough to stave off starvation for a week. The kind couple from New Mexico who was donating the food bought enough for us to deliver this for at least two weeks, possibly three. It cost them less than $500. $2 per person in the village.

It seems so easy to help. At the same time it is so difficult to solve. So I am embracing the famous Rilke quote:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved...and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them...Live the questions.”
That is what I am doing here, I think, living my way through the question and hopefully in some small way living the answer whether or not I am aware of it.

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