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So much to say and only halfway!

July 6, 2010

Hola a todos!

I am writing today from a rather dark room in a very, very rainy Jesús de Otoro. While some might enjoy this sort of ambiance, I must say that writing in the dark today wasn’t by choice. After two days of (menacing!) heat we finally got a break with a storm – unfortunately the rain came hard and fast and we lost our power about ten minutes after starting work in the office this afternoon. Though if we’ve learned anything in our first month here it’s how to adapt and make the most of we’ve got. Leslie and Maya are typing up some of the Baseline Data we gathered from the Youth CIALs a few weeks back on another laptop, and I’m just across the room on another.

It’s hard for us to imagine that we have already passed the half-way point of our time in Honduras. While we have already done so much since we’ve been here, we still have a lot more that we hope to accomplish before we leave. We will tell you about that when it happens though, as there’s already so much to say about the last few weeks! Days have been falling off the calendar as we have been teaching English classes more regularly and learning first-hand about FIPAH and farmer livelihoods in and around Otoro. It hasn’t all been work though; we have also been part of a documentary screening at the Mayor’s office, attended a Biodiversity Fair in Yorito, and cheered on Honduras in the World Cup!

After a few weeks of coordinating schedules, our weekdays and weekends are now mostly dominated by English classes. In many cases we were informed that students were at 6th and 7th grade English levels, however, nearly across-the-board we have had to start from square one with our students. We have been patiently repeating the English alphabet, vowels, numbers to 20, and colours so far, and are looking forward to introducing exciting new vocabulary in the coming weeks – such as “family,” “emotions,” and “time.” There are still some communities that we have not been able to visit that we are trying to reach in the next week or so. Our constantly changing schedule has made consistency and planning-ahead a luxury, but at the least we’re hoping to visit each community twice. Computer classes have been more challenging to organize, simply due to the fact that there is almost no computer access in the schools where we are teaching. However, we found out last week that a nearby community, Crucita, has about five computers available for us to organize a workshop. We’re hoping to get something organized with that and will certainly keep you posted! Today was also an exciting day as we handed out disposable cameras to our first group of students for Postcards for Progress. I’m not sure who will be more anxious to see the photos – the students or us!!

In between teaching we have continued to accompany FIPAH staff in their daily work with adult, youth, and women’s CIALs (FYI, a CIAL is a Local Agricultural Research Committee that works together to improve planting techniques and research the best plants for their growing conditions). In addition to learning the importance of hats, long sleeve shirts and long pants while out in the field, we have been assisting staff in planting vegetables and fruit trees, mixing organic fertilizers, and keeping growing plots of land clean and healthy for the harvest. Unfortunately, June was a trying time for a lot of small corn farmers in the Otoro area as a new plant pest destroyed a large portion of corn crops during one of the most important planting times of year. What was happening was that shortly after planting their crops of corn – which any of us will tell you is a lot of work – a caterpillar would come and eat the stalk of the newly planted corn (the locals call it the “heart”), effectively destroying it and forcing the farmer to find new seeds and replant their entire plots (particularly tragic given that these had been the best seeds saved from previous harvests).  If this weren’t bad enough, many of these farmers were planting new seeds that had been sent from a partner organization in Mexico that could have greatly improved their harvest (and diets) in the coming months. FIPAH staff were racing from community to community helping their farmers control the spread of this caterpillar and attempting to save some of these seeds. While it took some strong chemicals, we haven’t heard FIPAH staff nor farmers talk about the caterpillar for a couple of weeks now. We are all hoping this doesn’t becoming a reoccurring concern.

The issues that farmers face on a small scale and on a large scale are all discussed during FIPAH’s radio hour each Saturday afternoon, hosted by the wonderful Luisa. We accompany Luisa to the radio station every week when we have the opportunity, and while she encourages us to speak every week only Leslie has been brave enough to say a few words every time she has been there. Last week the show was dedicated to Climate Change, a topic that has come up consistently among FIPAH staff and farmers since we arrived. The effects of climate change are being felt hard and fast by farmers here in Otoro. Rains are changing, storms hit at new times – and it is the poorest and most vulnerable farmers that are in the worst position to recover from and prepare for these changes. As I was beginning to hear about rather disturbing accounts of the G8 conferences in Toronto – where climate action was not even on the agenda – I was processing Luisa’s comments about how climate change affects farmers here in Honduras. For many in Canada and the United States – particularly those outside of the agricultural sector, climate change is still something very intangible. Here in Honduras, however, climate change is affecting the crop cycles and traditions that farmers have been relying on for decades. I expect that we will be discussing climate change again soon with Luisa, as another FIPAH staff member, Katia, just returned from a compelling conference in Managua, Nicaragua where Climate Action among Latin American countries was the primary topic. We all look forward to hearing more about it.

In spite of the challenges facing FIPAH and their farmers, there is still a lot of time to have fun here in Otoro! Last Thursday we joined FIPAH staff, farmers and community members at the Mayor’s office to watch “Saving the Seed,” the beautiful documentary made by two Nourish volunteers from last year (bien hecho, Clara and Scott!). While we had all had the opportunity to see the film even before coming to Honduras, many of the people who were featured in the film hadn’t even seen it themselves! It was wonderful watching everyone exchange glances in the room as the person sitting next to them was featured on the screen. The whole afternoon was a great success. Further, this Tuesday we all piled into Omar’s car at 5:00am to make the drive to Yorito for their annual Biodiversity Fair. We arrived at about 9:00 to join out Nourish compañeras in admiring the varieties of corn, beans, fruits, medicinal plants, and vegetables all grown by community groups and CIALs in the region. Suffice it to say that everyone had a great time wandering Yorito, visiting the Fair, and getting to know each other. It was hard to leave!

In the next couple weeks we look forward to more teaching, more farming, and of course, the World Cup final next Sunday! While we weren’t able to cheer Honduras all the way to the finals, we’re all keen to see who makes it to the finals now that Brazil has been eliminated. Go, Latin American, go!

Hasta la proxima,

Marianne and Team Otoro

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