Last year, Honduras declared a state of emergency due to coffee rust plague, a plant disease that caused widespread devastation of farms across Central America. For families living in the rural communities of Nueva Frontera, a municipality in western Honduras, devastation is an understatement. Whether they are small coffee producers or hand labor on larger farms, the rust has robbed many families of their main source of income and, consequently, their food security.
According to Ramona Rivera, of the La Cumbre community, “This last year was very sad for us, because practically the entire coffee farm was destroyed by the rust. And this was something we couldn’t control.”
CASM, or the Mennonite Committee for Social Action, is a non-profit organization dedicated to accompanying processes of community development in Honduras, and receives funding from Church World Service for many of its projects. This year I have had the opportunity to experience the work of the regional CASM office in Nueva Frontera as it seeks to combat the food insecurity experienced by Ramona and others.
For instance, CASM has accompanied families in the diversification of their farms and home gardens, so that they will no longer be solely dependent on mono-cultivated crops. But this year’s donations of plantain and avocado seeds would be incomplete without the training that families also receive.
One of CASM’s most successful projects has been its nutrition workshops. The purpose of this two-day training is to educate mothers the importance of early childhood nutrition, and to practice preparing foods that are both healthy and accessible to families (for example, vegetables and fruits that can be grown in subsistence gardens or found growing wild nearby).
Children are often malnourished in their earliest (and most important) years of development. One common practice is to serve young children rice with the seasoned water reserved from cooked beans, which, consistency-wise, does make easy baby food! But mothers do not realize that this water lacks practically all the nutrients of the actual beans. In the workshop we propose the preparation of purees for very young children (fruits, beans, vegetables, etc…who needs Gerber’s? We’re talking homemade, all natural baby food here!). In addition, we teach mothers several recipes, which incorporate foods rich in additional vitamins that are important for childhood development.
After distributing the workshop to several neighboring communities, CASM hosted two “Feria Gastronómicas,” or Food Fairs. In this fun, informative event, recipients of the training collaborated from each community to prepare and share a recipe they had learned with others.
The best part of the ferias was seeing how the nutrition workshops gave the women not only ideas for healthier eating, but also empowered them in other ways too. The training gave women confidence, and the shared experience strengthened their interpersonal relations. Likewise, the feria created a public space in which women could be leaders in their community as they imparted their newfound knowledge.
Says Ramona, “We are well organized. We are many women, who are responsible and ready to work. When we had the Feria Gastronomica in La Reina, you saw that there were lots of women who wanted to work hard. We had a great group there gathered!”
Truly one of the best parts about my experience with CASM has been seeing how the institution not only brings projects to those in need, but through those projects promotes solidarity between people. When it comes to community development, there are certainly basic needs to be met in order to regain food security. But here we hope for a more sustainable, long-lasting process that will not only bring people out of poverty, but also closer to one another.
Malinda Britt is a Solidarity Worker sponsored by the New Community Project, a non-profit dedicated to promoting peace through justice, care for creation, and experiential learning. You can continue to follow her personal experiences volunteering with CASM atwww.solidarityworker.blogspot.com.