From June 24-July 1, 16 professional educators from around the United States traveled to Honduras with Heifer International to visit various projects. Check the blog over the next few weeks for more posts from Study Tour participants to hear their perspective on seeing Heifer’s work in the field. Learn more about Heifer's programs and resources for educators.

A Change in Vision
Todd Montgomery, Manager of Adult Education for Heifer International  


It is the rainy season in Honduras. No matter how hot and sunny the mornings, the afternoons usher in low moving, dark blue clouds. It isn’t a question of whether it will rain, but when. 



Today’s clouds find us in the small mountainside community of Copantli in the department/state of Copan in western Honduras. By now our group of 16 teachers and four Heifer staff have grown sensitive to the difference in the road conditions of rural Honduras and the United States. But we are here, and the rain clock is ticking. The dirt roads become treacherous in the rain, so we are prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. However, there is one person with whom I really wanted to chat.


Angelina stands out in a crowd. She radiates a quiet confidence. I met Angelina on a previous trip to this village. I was amazed at the story that she told us of this community’s founding and growth, and of her group’s work with Heifer. I was thrilled at the chance to ask Angelina the questions that came out of our last meeting. Now, here we are, and the rains are coming.  


Following a presentation by students at the small, one-room schoolhouse, we were invited to Angelina’s home. Rain drops begin to thump the tin roof of the school as we leave. This will have to be quick. 

Angelina (back left in the white shirt) and her family.

We are herded to Angelina’s home. With a sweeping motion of her arm, Angelina draws attention to her home and farm. In the foreground, I see a beautiful and bountiful small tract of land replete with fruit trees, a vegetable garden, a buck goat and a pond stocked with tilapia fish. In the background, I can see the sheets of rain creeping across the mountain.  There are two homes on Angelina’s property. Where she and her family live and where they used to live. As Angelina ushers us inside her new home, she tells her story. 

Angelina is one of the founders of Copantli. She, along with other landless agrarian workers from a nearby city, moved to this hillside in 1982 while many rural people where moving into the city looking for work. Facing an uncertain future was more desirable for Angelina than living in the city and having no control of her own destiny. All were looking for a better life.


Angelina and her neighbors built homes from “dust,” and scratched out a living farming on the hillside. There were no schools in the new community, so a first priority was to build one and lobby the government to pay a teacher. Water had to be collected far away. The community still had very little, but they were not short on pride and determination. 

Angelina, who was only able to attend school through the 3rd grade, became a community leader, even teaching 1st and 2nd grade. A Heifer project partner organization came into contact with the community and provided training in gender equity, then community leadership, and finally advocacy.  The group now had a voice to go along with their pride and determination.


Armed with all of that, a delegation from Copantli led by Angelina made the long trip to the capital city of Tegucigalpa to meet with government and development agencies about building homes, schools, water wells, better roads and other infrastructure. They visited the Heifer Honduras office last. That meeting in 2006 marked a milestone in the growth of Copantli. The community had pride, determination, a voice, and now they had new resources and training.

Community members received dairy cattle. Eventually, the chickens, goats, tilapia and seedlings would follow. The community also received training in how to build and utilize biogas digesters that would harvest methane gas from composting animal manure, providing a healthier cooking source that burning firewood.


The group also received training on how to make concrete bricks and how to build homes from them.Angelina proudly points out that many of the group’s trained bricklayers are, in fact, women.  These same women now train other communities in the region who are following in their example.  Angelina herself pressed the bricks and then stacked them to form the walls of her new home.  It is a marked improvement over the mud walls, dirt floor, and scrap metal roof that was her old home. 

But I realize we have tempted fate long enough; the roads will become mud soon. We have to go. I ask Angelina what has changed about the community over the years that they have lived here. 


“Our vision has changed. We used to look for leaders who would tell us what to do. Now we are the leaders. We know that we must lead by working with our communities. A good leader works for her people, for the good of the whole community. A good leader can’t make decisions based on race, politics, or religion.  Everyone in the community should have the ability to be a leader," she said.


As I look at Angelina and her family as we prepared to leave, I see several generations that have made the move from the city back to the country in search of a better life. I see members of a community that—through determination and hope and a little help—built a community from the ground up, a community with a school and with healthy families.

I hop in the back of our truck for the trip down the mountain, realizing how much we all could learn from a hillside in western Honduras.

Author

Annie Bergman

Bergman is a Global Communications Manager for Heifer and helps plan, assign and develop content for the nonprofit’s website, magazine and blog. Bergman has interviewed survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, beekeepers in Honduras, women’s groups in India and war widows in Kosovo in her six years at Heifer. Bergman received her bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and a master’s degree in Australian Aboriginal Studies from the University of Melbourne in Australia. Her hobbies include hiking, golfing, cooking, reading and walking her dogs.