Five days and 25 tortillas later, I’m feeling great, albeit a tad bloated, after our Seed trip to Honduras. As part of the advocacy component of Seed, half the group is in Honduras and the other half is in Mexico, where we are researching and examining what political advocacy looks like in a Central American context. Today, we are in Guatemala, where the adventure continues!
Honduras is a beautiful country, full of contrasts. Dry pine woods are only an hour from rich coastal forests. Indigenous people live close to African communities. Giant apartment complexes are right beside shanty-river towns. 40% of the population is Evangelical and 42% is Catholic but there is an alarmingly high number of 86 murders for 100.000 people; the number rises to 300 if you are a young man between 18-30. North American style shopping centres and restaurants such as Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s and Dennys dot the cities, while US military bases are found in all over the country side. Young people form and join gangs or participate in drug trafficking, while others work for peace and to combat corruption.
We had the opportunity to meet some of the people who are dedicated and working for changes. Over the weekend, we participated in a youth camp, sharing about Seed. There were many of the same ice breaker games involved in typical North American church camps but instead of dedicating themselves to abstinence or evangelism, participants shared their vision for social change in their country, forming networks and refocusing their passion to live in a different Honduras. We heard first hand stories of violence and despair, but also stories of hope.
Even though I have lived in a Colombian context for almost two years, I sometimes forget what a scary thing advocacy can be in a place that is not North America. I am used to encouraging people to write letters, sign petitions, phone their members of parliament and generally make their voice heard in political matters. I have been promoting Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia for months now.
However, it is very different to encourage someone to be involved in political advocacy in a context like Honduras. Doing so brings real risks and often requires a learned skill set and a committed group. Someone shared to me about how he had to learn how to enter neighbors and negotiate with armed groups on every block as to start his project. Corruption and hit-men, as well as a justified culture of fear, hold people back from directly confronting the problems they all face.
But, people in Honduras are not silent. Organizations such as ASJ, and others are doing a remarkable job of being a voice for change. Of course, the people that we met are not super-heroes, but real people just like all of us. They make mistakes, they get bad breath, but they are willing to confront fear because of a desire for something different.
The challenge for me, however, is how to promote advocacy in this context or in Colombia because nationals will automatically face risks that I will never face. We spoke to a different group of Mennonite youth who are still not ready to engage in the same way as the youth at the retreat and I am unsure of what my role is in that situation. I don’t want to purposefully place people in danger while I remain safe. The complexities of the issues people face and what is needed to speak out is something I am only beginning to learn about. A few ideas that come to mind involve forming networks and connecting people with established groups, but I still have a lot to learn. Any advice?
For pictures and more about the great tortilla eating competition, visit the Seed Facebook page.