Roy and Agua Zarca in workshop to make herbicides and fertilizers.

by Collie Agle

Roy will be here in Washington between November 10th and November 21th.

Roy is an old and dear friend of many of us. While he is here, he will be speaking at church services, making short presentations and answering questions at small gatherings in homes, and meeting with selected non-profits.

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Roy organizes meetings for communities to consider the benefits and responsibilities of joining TCP-Vecinos.

Roy is a special person. He combines knowledge about village-based sustainable agriculture and teaching skills that have changed the lives of so many individuals and families in poor rural Honduran communities. He inspires many, both here and in Honduras. And he is very caring and compassionate with village campesinos and his North American friends. He also cares deeply for the environment.

Roy tells us that “using the Vecinos Honduras model of combining community organizing and best agro-ecology practices is proving dynamic, motivational, and effective in all the TCP-Vecinos communities.” Nearby communities see changes and are asking to be included in this program.

Please join us in welcoming Roy.

There will be some opportunities to meet with Roy personally in several small home gatherings.  For more information, email Betsy Agle (betsy@agle.net).

CAPITOL HILL:
Nov 11
• 7-9 pm
Nov 12 • 6-8 pm
Nov 19 • 7-9 pm

NORTHERN VIRGINIA:
Nov 12 • 3-5 pm

DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON:
Nov 13 • 6-8 pm

NORTHWEST WASHINGTON:
Nov 20
 • 5-7 pm

Jose, 2nd from left, and Catalina, 4th from left, with children and grandchildren.

by Ryan LeMier

What would you do if you found out that your main source of income to put food on the table for your kids had just fallen through for the next six months? For Jose Armando Peña, a small farmer in Honduras, this was a reality in the summer of 2016. After the corn he had planted in his field failed to grow because of pest damage, he was forced to replant the entire field. After the second planting failed, Don Peña was left without money for additional seeds to plant.

Jose Armando Peña and his wife, Catalina Martinez, have 9 children together. He has always worked hard to provide for his family, farming his land to grow corn and beans while also working 4 days a week as a laborer making $2-4 per day when there were opportunities.

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Don Peña looking up at his land.

Don Peña’s land is more hilly and rocky than most TCP-Vecinos farmers, meaning that replanting is a very labor-intensive, uncomfortable undertaking. (See the photo to the left.)

 

 

 

With the support of the TCP-Vecinos program, Don Peña was able to replant his field a third time with a traditional native corn seed, especially good for its drought-resistant qualities. The type of seed is not easily available. This time the corn grew, ensuring that he and his children will have food for the coming months.

Roy Lara, the Honduran agronomist leading the TCP-Vecinos program, told us, “What motivated me most was Don Peña’s faith, the love he has for his land, and his spirit to continue fighting although he was deeply disturbed about losing his corn crop twice. He was motivated to plant again and again to produce food for his family. Now he hopes to increase the productivity of his land through using environmentally-sustainable methods free from the practices of slash-and-burn and chemical fertilizers and pesticides.”

_don-jose-pen%cc%83a-y-catalina-martinez-grinding-chili-peppers-black-pepper-and-garlic-to-make-a-liquid-organic-pest-and-disease-repellent

Don Jose Peña and Catalina Martinez, grinding chili peppers, black pepper and garlic to make a liquid organic pest and disease repellent.

In September 2016, Roy took Don Peña to attend a workshop led by farmers in another TCP community. There he saw the successful harvests from long-time and new TCP farmers and learned to make affordable organic pesticides to prevent future crop loss. “I am grateful for the opportunity to learn so much and excited for the day that I can share my experiences with my neighbors and other communities and teach them in return.” said Don Peña.

Maria de Jesus Briones at healthy home workshop.

By Betsy Agle

Bolvina Amador, Vecinos Honduras staff, leads a discussion about what creates a healthy home with the women of  AguaZ

Bolvina Amador, on the Vecinos Honduras staff, leads a discussion in Aqua Zarca about what creates a healthy home.

By the end of June 2016 there had been thirty-three training sessions led by an “expert” (Roy Lara or another NGO staff). Those led to more than twenty capacity-building workshops led by local community members, replicating what they had learned for smaller groups. (See Maria de Jesus of El Tule leading a workshop on how to keep a healthy home in the photo above.)

This combination of train-the-trainers teaching sessions and campesino-to-campesino workshops eventually reached well over 600 people, more than half of whom were women and youth. All this in just the first six months of this year.

Most sessions involved construction: building improved chicken houses, wood-conserving stoves, cement water-saving sinks and water-holding sinks of recycled tires which recycle water into nearby gardens. Other sessions included sharing nutritional recipes using the staple crops, corn and beans, and garden vegetables. The workshops have been led by youth, women, and men. In addition to the tangible results of these events, there has been another, perhaps more important benefit.

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El Cablotal women learn to build a wood-conserving stove from their neighbor, Anibal Rios.

Community leaders are emerging. Among them:

  • Marco Rios, Pastor of the Pentecostal church in La Majada, welcomes all opportunities to open the church in order to share ideas about improving the living conditions in his community. Pastor Rios led a workshop on to building wood-conserving stoves for the benefit of one community member.
  •  Byron Bueso, a 14 year old youth from El Puente attended several trainings and then helped lead workshops on building an improved sink and an improved sink in the first two months of 2016.
  •  Inez Gamez and her friend led a workshop on natural medicine. They demonstrated how to use local plants to cure common ailments, a very important topic for women whose children suffer from diarrhea, fevers, and ear aches but who have no money to purchase manufactured medicines.
practice-in-building-a-better-stove-that-will-save-time-fewer-trips-to-gather-wood-and-reduce-respiratory-disease-much-less-smoke-inside

Practice in building a better stove that will save time (fewer trips to gather wood) and reduce respiratory disease (much less smoke inside).

Many other community leaders have stepped forward to lead workshops. Some may have reached only the sixth grade and some may be illiterate. But they are clever at learning things that will improve the lives of their families and eager to share this knowledge.

Roy advising Angel Amaya  about how to identify the  bean seeds that will do best on his land

by Betsy Agle

angel-grinding-chilis-to-make-an-organic-fungicide-to-protect-his-bean-fields

Angel grinding chili peppers to make an organic fungicide to protect his bean fields.

Ángel Amaya Aleman has turned from a skeptic to an enthusiast about sustainable agricultural practices. In 2008 he decided not to participate in the TCP program but when the TCP-Vecinos program was described in 2015, he decided to join. Roy helping Angel layouAttending workshops in their own and neighboring communities, he learned more than six sustainable agricultural practices. Roy Lara had one more suggestion — to apply sugar water to the crops in order to control a particular highly destructive worm (mosis latipes). Ants and wasps are attracted to the seedlings by the sugar water and then they eat the worm.

This fall when Ángel he harvested the crops planted that spring, he was surprised at the impact of these best practices. (See Ángel grinding chili peppers to make an organic pest repellent in the photo above.) Ángel was especially impressed with the effectiveness of the sugar water. “I have much more corn and beans to feed my family,” he told Roy.

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Bienvenida sharing new recipes with mothers in El Chol, a nearby community.

“Now I want to plant plots of different types of native beans to see which one grows best on my farm.”

That’s when Ángel became a scientist. He decided to participate in a program run by a regional NGO to evaluate the growth of various native seeds in order to determine which ones grow best in various localities. (Photo at the top shows Roy advising Angel about how to find out which bean seeds would grow well on his land.)  His small experimental plots of beans are planted and he is watching to see what happens. He is also experimenting with various containers and locations to save some of these precious native seeds so he will be able to grow them next year. He likes the idea of saving money because he won’t have to buy seeds and he likes the color and taste of the native seeds.

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The family of Angel Amaya, with malanga, a traditional vegetable, in their kitchen garden.

Meanwhile his wife, Bienvenida Aguilar, took part in as many workshops as she could on issues ranging from healthy homes, building self-esteem, improved stove construction to increasing the variety of vegetables and natural medicinal plants in the kitchen garden.  In September Ángel and Bienvenida, together with three other families in El Tule, hosted visitors from El Puente, a new TCP-Vecinos community. They showed off their fields and gardens and explained what motivated them to let go of old practices and start new sustainable ones. Then they served a meal. The menu? Tomatillos, mustard greens, corn on the cob and other products they had grown.

Vidal Chavez, husband of Mercedes Rios, explaining to women how to save seeds in a plastic bottle.

by Betsy Agle

Yet another new practice is being added to those that have been taught for many years in TCP communities … how to save some of the seeds from one season’s harvest to planting at beginning of the next season.  A widespread practice among many long-time gardeners in the US, this technique has not been widely used in TCP communities. Before they started practicing sustainable farming techniques, smaller harvests meant that families could not feed themselves and save seeds. When they ran out of the types of seeds they commonly used, families could buy more from the market. Buying seeds often put them into debt.

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Earthenware pot — one type of container used by the TCP families to save seeds.

But which types of seeds to save and how to save them? Several months ago, Roy took two community leaders — Marco Briones from El Tule and Antonio Gaméz from La Majada — to a “Community Seed Bank Workshop” in a city about four hours away in Comayagua. Marco and Antonio were enthusiastic about this technique, believing it would help families continue planting drought-resistant bean and corn seeds. This summer Vecinos Honduras had given these special “traditional” seeds to desperate farmers whose harvests were suffering or failing. These particular seeds cannot be bought on the market and are much favored by families for their color and taste.

Marco and Antonio were skeptical, however, of the advice that each community should create a consolidated seed bank with many types of seeds and plants. This practice requires refrigeration in the tropical environment of Honduras. Almost none of the TCP families have refrigerators.

“Seed saving will work,” Antonio predicted, “if we can find a way to have families save their own seeds with supplies available either free or at a low cost to them. He was right!

After receiving instruction from Marco Briones, a youth who grew up in their community, several farmers in El Tule are experimenting with saving some of the precious seeds from the crops they are currently harvesting in the fall of 2016.   This is a powerful example of the Vecinos agro-ecological model that is built on the foundation that farmers learn best by experimenting and identifying solutions that work for them. Some containers or locations for seed saving will undoubtedly work better than others…. or as we might say, the best teacher is often trial-and-error.

DSCN2847

 

by Collie Agle

Four of us (Betsy and I, and Mary Procter and Bill Matuszeski) went to Honduras in the early part of March to spend time with villagers in five mountain communities that were a part of our ongoing support to the Trinidad Conservation Project. Three of the towns had previously been in the cluster, while two new towns had been added.

On previous trips, we had been engaged in projects and lived in the communities. And a part of our presence there had been to witness changes in the communities regarding number of trees planted, fuel efficient stoves built, and house gardens planted. We gloried in how much organic fertilizer had been made, and how no one was using harmful tradition methods such as slash and burn, and chemical insecticides and pesticides.

This year, we experienced a different deeper layer.

Hondurans are going through tough times: a drought has pervaded the country; a plague is destroying the country’s pine forests, crops have failed, and a well known and respected environmental activist was assassinated. Some families may have to leave their villages because there is no source of income and food.   They may have to migrate to dangerous urban areas if the drought continues. Security, drugs, and corruption continue to be realities.

Having to face all of this, it would be completely understandable if the people that we met were despairing. Yet, that is not what we saw. What we saw glimpses of were shining, smiling, faces and hopeful discussions.

There was also a sense of living in intergenerational communities (grandmothers and grandfathers, parents, children); much less attachment to things for a sense of well-being, But something else was evident, and that was their living in a faith that they would be empowered to care for themselves and each other. And that is the power of the Vecinos Honduras presence, embedded in what Roy Lara does; he is a skilled agronomist, and he cares for the villagers. He himself is carrying out his calling, that work with people in small communities can make a difference.

Here is another observation about the trip. A two way interconnectedness exists between the Washington and Honduran communities.  We do serve an important role each hour we spend listening and observing in our five villages, and with both Roy and Edwin. It has to do with the caring qualities and energy that we bring to the relationship. So, we inspire by our interest and compassion. And, in return, we become inspired by what we are witnessing up close and from photos. It is truly a mutual exchange of energy.

Click here to see Inspired by Faith Photos

 

Anibal Rios (shown on left), a farmer from El Cablotal, is showing farmers in El Puente how to build a chicken coop.  Predators kill the hens and eggs if left unprotected overnight.

Anibal Rios (shown on left), a farmer from El Cablotal, is showing farmers in El Puente how to build a chicken coop. Predators kill the hens and eggs if left unprotected overnight.

 

by Mary Procter

One of the strongest principles of Vecinos Honduras (our TCP partner) is that outsiders can bring new knowledge of health or agriculture to a community but the people in the community must learn to teach each other campesino a campesino.   To our delight, we found out in visits to the five TCP communities during our trip to Honduras in early March, that the people we meet really like to be taught by each other and to teach each other.

In early January 2016, a gifted facilitator for Vecinos Honduras in southeastern Honduras gave eight workshops to people in the five TCP communities. Her name is Balvina Amador and her surname (meaning “lover” in Spanish) gives a hint of the affection she generated in each of these communities.   She taught people how to build a stove that consumes one tenth as much wood as a traditional stove. She taught people techniques to make their homes safer and healthier and she taught them how to grow and balance food in the three basic food categories.

In February 2016, another experienced facilitator, Melvin Molina, gave six workshops on techniques to conserve and reuse water—various techniques for constructing a filter for gray water out of common materials such as used tires.

By the time we four arrived in March, half a dozen members of these five communities had already taught one or more workshops to other families.   In total, local people in the communities had taught eleven additional workshops, passing on what they had learned from Balvina or Melvin.

The local leaders who taught these workshops included men and women and young people ranging from as young as 13. All of them expressed great satisfaction at being able to pass on what they knew to their neighbors or to people in nearby communities.

After her stove was created in a workshop taught by Balvina. Lucinda Martinez, a mother of four in El Puente, taught other families how to build a wood-conserving stove.   After years of struggle in this community with poor access to water, Lucinda said the experience of working together gave her confidence in her community’s ability to make life better.

In El Cablotal, Mercedes Rios, another mother of four, taught three other families how to build a stove.   She told us of her satisfaction that El Cablotal families were working together to make progress. She was just named an officer of a newly- formed rural credit union for El Cablotal.

Antonio Gamez, a farmer in La Majada, travelled to Agua Zarca to show several farm families there how to build a chicken coop.   Natividad Peña, a farmer in El Puente, teamed up with the youngest community trainer, middle school student Byron Bueso, to conduct a workshop on how to build a wood-conserving wash basin and filtering system to turn gray water (from washing clothes and dishes) into water for a garden.   Byron lives with his grandmother and two uncles, while his parents work in the city, and has expressed a strong desire to learn everything he can about how to build improvements to their lives.

We could observe that the value of local families teaching each other how to build a wood-conserving stove, or a chicken coop, or a gray water filtering system goes far beyond the value of the thing that is built. The experience for the participants creates satisfaction and even joy and the desire to work together again to improve the whole community.

Click to see Teaching Others photos.