What I learned on a trip to Honduras

What I learned on a trip to Honduras

Sister Veronica Roche and others traveled to Honduras March 18-25 on a “reverse caravan” sponsored in part by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. At Ysidro, one of the three communities which they visited, the locals gathered to talk about their lives.

Last year, I met a Honduran woman whose husband had been killed in 2016. Her 13-year-old-daughter met the same fate in September 2017. Twice this woman made the harrowing journey to our southern border with her three remaining children. Once, she was turned back. This time, her fear was judged to be credible. Now she was on her way to join her family in the U.S. while she awaited a full court hearing.

This experience and many other conversations with Hondurans in El Paso made me eager to join 74 other faith leaders and immigrant justice advocates on the Root Cause of Migration Pilgrimage to Honduras on March 18-25. The effort was sponsored in part by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

One of the main causes of this trip, described as a “reverse migration,” was to more deeply understand the factors that have caused thousands to flee Honduras, including violence; environmental degradation; and the ongoing effects of the 2009 coup, which opened the door for drug cartels, organized crime, corrupt security forces, and near total impunity for human rights violations.

A scene of poverty in the shadow of an urban high rise.

I was part of the group which spent its time in San Pedro Sula visiting poor communities that border that city and witnessing the outreach to women and children in this area.

Life in these communities is fragile. Clean clothes on the line and babies in arms are signs that life goes on, though sheltered in metal shacks. Poor people defend their homes against those who would do them harm, including the military and police. They have suffered the violence of tear gas and ransacked homes. Their lives have been threatened.

There is no employment. Sons and daughters have left in caravans to come north hoping to provide financial support for their families, leaving children behind in the care of grandparents.

There is no safety net for the poor in Honduras. I watched a mother cradle a baby with hemophilia and no healthcare. There are children here who lack education because they can’t afford school supplies. Some are orphaned by violence. One woman works to collect recyclables, earning what amounts to a dollar a day to buy rice and beans for her family.

Violence against women is a major problem in Honduras, as in other parts of the world. It is estimated that over 6,000 women have been killed there since 2002. We met several groups of women who confront that reality. The Women’s Forum works to change abusive and discriminatory labor conditions. Dream Weavers provide therapy so women can deal with their traumas. COFAMIPRO helps women search for their sons and daughters who have disappeared along the migration route. Each year they make the journey with their children’s pictures on their chest, asking if anyone has seen them. In Honduras the face of resistance is most often a woman’s face.

Dedicated people work to improve the lives of children. The School Sisters of Note Dame sponsor a bi-lingual elementary and secondary school where they work “to sow seeds of compassion and the common good.” They also provide a home for children who have been orphaned or abandoned, or whose parents can no longer afford to feed and shelter them. Sisters of Mercy provide a home for children with HIV. In one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, Paso a Paso provides an after-school preventive program for students and their mothers.

Padre Melo, SJ founded and directs El Progreso Radio Station which employs 80 young journalists and reporters. They go out into the communities and report the injustices and violence they find there. Their lives are always in danger. They are fearless in their willingness to work for justice.

People live in fear of the military and police. Many times people asked us to have our government stop military aid to Honduras. (Last week Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia introduced he Berta Caceres Human Rights Act that would “immediately suspend U.S. aid that arms and trains Honduran military and police until human rights defenders are protected and security forces are prosecuted for flagrant human rights violations.”)

Citizenship is most often an accident of birth. We who are free and gifted have some responsibility for our sisters and brothers, children of God, who live in fear and poverty. Converting military support to humanitarian aid for Hondurans is a critical step to allowing people to stay in their homeland.

I have come to love the people of Honduras: those who leave home to save and support their families and those who stay to courageously confront injustice and build a better future for their country. Their spirit challenges and inspires this grateful pilgrim.

Sister Veronica Roche, SSJ is the former pastoral associate of Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral, Camden.