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Honduras draws volunteers

BY PJ HELLER | TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras | February 4, 2000

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Feb. 4, 2000) -- Don Tatlock knows how travel agents and tour operators must feel.

Work teams coordinator for Church World Service (CWS) and the Christian Commission for Development (CCD) in Honduras, he arranges schedules and logistics for North American-based church groups that come here to help rebuild the country blasted by Hurricane Mitch in October 1998.

His is but one of several organizations working to rebuild the Central American country.

"I coordinate all the activities of the teams that come down from churches in the states," Tatlock explained.

Since moving to Tegucigalpa from Texas in June with his wife and two young children, Tatlock has funneled some 60 groups through the country. He expects more than 100 groups -- ranging in size from six to eight people to nearly 40 -- to visit in 2000. Fifty groups are already scheduled through June, he reported. Most stay for one to two weeks.

Rebuilding the homes leveled by Mitch is just one of the goals, Tatlock noted, adding that construction experience was helpful but not essential.

"One of our goals is to rebuild lives as well as rebuild structures," he said. "The houses would have been rebuilt one way or another. What the people are providing, the pastoral complement, that is something that is intangible.

It's what we call emotional support and it's been wonderful," he said.

"That couldn't be accomplished without people coming down here.

"Our main goal is to provide pastoral complement to the people here who suffered what we call a hellish experience with Hurricane Mitch," Tatlock added. "Just having people coming here and showing that they care has made a big impact on the Honduran people.

Tatlock said that volunteers are told up-front that the construction process is just one part of their work.

"We highly emphasize and stress when work teams come down here that working

is part of the trip," he said. "But working together and sharing with the campesinos is the biggest experience."

Volunteer work brigades that come here are assigned to one of five areas: Tegucigalpa, Choluteca, Intibuca, Santa Barbara, or Ocotepeque. Housing can range from a church retreat center in Tegucigalpa to more rustic countryside accommodations.

Individuals are responsible for the cost of getting to Honduras. They also pay $22 a day (which will be increased to $25 a day in August) to cover lodging, food, and transportation within the country.

The volunteer teams have come from throughout the U.S. and Canada. They include families with young children, college students, and senior citizens.

At the end of 1999, about 1,000 cement block or adobe homes were under construction or nearing completion.

"Most of the work we're doing right now is cement block homes," Tatlock said. "The first groups who were here were doing a lot of digging, foundation work, and laying cement blocks. We're now to the point where we're installing doors, windows, and roofing."

Another 1,500 homes are expected to be constructed this year, Tatlock said. CCD, the Honduran partner of CWS, provides all the construction materials, which come through donations from churches in the U.S. and Europe.

Tatlock, based in Tegucigalpa, said the needs in Honduras remain great more than a year after Mitch pounded the country. In addition to housing issues, volunteers are also providing medical and agricultural assistance.

In Tegucigalpa, the capital, more than 120,000 people are still living in temporary shelters built by the government or are living with friends, family, or on the street, Tatlock said.

Tatlock comes by the job with CWS quite naturally. He previously was an emergency room social worker at a pediatric hospital in Fort Worth. His parents were Disciples of Christ missionaries who worked in Paraguay, Argentina, and Mexico. Tatlock spent 10 years in Argentina and four years in Mexico with his parents.

Now he's giving his children, Sarah, 10, and Kevin, 7, some of the same unique experiences he had as a youngster growing up in a different culture.

He's also giving them a chance to see how people can help one another.

For the volunteer teams, the work experience can be a "life-changing" event, Tatlock said.

"They've really been touched both emotionally and physically by the Honduran spirit and the Honduran people," he said. "Their eyes have been opened to new realities that they've never seen before.

"The greatest experience work team members have had has not been how much

they build or how much they accomplished building, but the relationships they built up and what they learned about the Honduran people."

(Groups interested in working in Honduras can contact U.S. coordinator

Glenn Rogers toll free at 1-888-283-6113.)


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