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Offering new hope for survivors in Honduras

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | November 25, 1998

BALTIMORE (Nov. 25, 1998) -- As many people give thanks for a successful

harvest, farmers in the hurricane-ravaged Honduras will be reseeding -- that

is, if enough seeds and tools reach them in the next three to four weeks.

"Many farms totally lost their top soil, or were totally buried by

mudslides, and those farmers will not be able to reseed. But for others

there is a small window of opportunity in the next few weeks to replant.

Otherwise, the next planting season is in May," said Chris Tucker, regional

director for Latin America and the Caribbean with Catholic Relief Services


Tucker, who just returned from a week-long trip to the Honduras, said

that, in

order to help farmers, seeds will have to be purchased quickly -- a formidable

logistical challenge given the haphazard conditions and inaccessibility of

many remote rural communities there.

"My advice to individuals and to local churches who want to help is to send

money, not material goods," she said. "Work through an organization that has a

local office in Central America because they will know firsthand who needs

help and the best way to get it there."

In late October, Hurricane Mitch left more than 12,000 dead and 1.5 million

homeless throughout the Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Disaster assessments show that 70 percent of the infrastructure -- roads,


public utilities -- has been lost in much of Central America.

Disaster response is still in the emergency stage in most areas of the

Honduras, said Tucker, but long-term response is beginning to be organized as

well. CRS is working with churches, non-governmental organizations,

international agencies, and faith-based organizations of all denominations to

coordinate response.

Though no formal interfaith umbrella organization has been formed,

Tucker said that "response is based on the principle of need, not creed.

There is contact and coordination across faith-based organizations. We want

to first make sure that pockets of people in remote areas are not left

unattended, and second make sure that there is no duplication of services."

As Christmas and the holiday season approaches, Tucker said she anticipates

great mental health needs in Central America, not only because people lost

everything but because they thought they were at least somewhat prepared.

"They were expecting wind damage because that's what the reports were


she said. "So people were tying down their roofs and preparing for that when

the prediction changed. By that time the rivers were already rising, the

mudslides were starting, and the roads were closed."

"They were trapped, and that added terribly to the trauma. You had entire

communities washed away. Family members witnessed others getting buried. There

is a great need for trauma counseling."

Reports from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) also stressed

the importance of meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of survivors.

The Rev. Lyda Pierce is organizing a program of pastoral care for those

suffering from post-traumatic shock syndrome.

"The church in Honduras faces an immediate task of helping people find hope

somewhere amidst the mud and struggle, wherever that hope may be -- in some

vision, in a symbol, in a relationship," she said.

The Christian Commission for Development (CCD) is also trying to address

psychological problems while meeting physical emergency needs. Working with

pastors in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, CCD began a series of

concerts in urban emergency shelters that features popular songs and theater

as well as puppets and comedy.

Adding to the trauma in Tegucigalpa was the loss of the city's mayor in a

helicopter crash during observations of the storm damage.

Counselors are just one group of professional volunteers now needed in the

Honduras and throughout Central America. "Rebuilding in general won't start

for another month or so," said Tucker. "Right now we need professionals such

as doctors, engineers, heavy equipment operators, even agronomists -- people

with specialized skills who can get us through the emergency phase."

Doug Ryan, CRS' country representative, said that urgent needs are still the

rule. "Desperate barrio residents are seeking drinking water with their bare

hands. I expect the emergency to linger into the Christmas season and

rehabilitation work to begin early next year," he said.

Latin America has been hit hard by disasters over the past

year, Tucker added. "We've had a lot of El Nino-related phenomenon in

Bolivia, Equador, and Peru, then of course flooding in Mexico, and

Hurricane Georges in the Carribean. Each disaster just seems to eclipse the


Disaster response officials suggest that help can be as simple as

offering a group prayer, or adding the hymn, TheStorm Came to Honduras

to a mission-oriented church service.

"Don't just start collecting donations without calling one of these

organizations to ask what's needed," cautioned Tucker. "It's better to call

and ask than to call and say 'I have 900 cases of water -- can you take it?' "

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