Why is the project focused on the small remote village of Linares and what work is to be done?
Why Linares? Because we had contacts there and we became aware of their need. Isn’t that how people get involved with anything? We have wanted to get connected at coffee origin in a meaningful way for years and this was the first legitimate opportunity to do so that we felt good about.
In this life, I have come to grips with the reality that there is often a marked difference between what I think needs to be done and what actually needs to be done. This most certainly holds true in our endeavors in Linares. Here are a few cases in which my perception of how we can help clashed with what would be truly beneficial to the sweet families of the village. I will list them as “SM”: Stateside Mindset and “HM”: Honduras Mindset. The Stateside Mindset is not bad or without value but when the reality of the ground in Honduras is observed with an open mind and a desire to do real good, one should end up with an augmented perspective, ergo, the Honduras Mindset. Hopefully, this will bring some clarity to our work there in a few different categories.
SM: The water in Linares will make you sick. It is ‘clean’ by most Honduran standards but could be cleaner, therefore, they need our help in getting the water purified to US standards. After all, if can be done better, it should, right?
HM: The water coming into Linares is from a system that is fed by mountain stream headwaters and is not contaminated with any parasites. Some bacteria and algae build up in the holding tank over time but the villagers have learned how to clean it with natural items they have at hand in order to keep the water potable for them. North Americans would likely have some gastro problems if we were to drink it but Linarens’ bodies are conditioned to it so they do not get sick. In reality, if we were to install a purification system, it would of course be very clean but the villagers would then get sick from any other community’s water. In effect, we would be creating a solution in search of a problem – what’s more, this could easily produce further isolation for them since they would not be able to spend much time in another village or town: exactly the opposite of what they need.
SM: We could purchase seeds on this trip and introduce several high-yield food crops that can be grown in small plots for each home, ensuring both a wider, more nutritious diet and greater stability in the food supply.
HM: Many vegetables and foods that we think of as indispensable staples have never even been seen or heard of in Linares before. Consider for a second this:
This is a common fruit throughout Honduras. It looks and feels like some kind of alien food out of Deep Space Nine. When you crack through the rind, it’s fruit is like a slimy whited-out eyeball. No kidding. However, it is mild and sweet (the red ones are fully ripe and sweeter, the yellow ones tangy) with a wonderfully appetizing texture and these little guys are basically one of nature’s multi-vitamins. Faced with this “food” having never encountered it before, one would not be very likely to eat it – most would be dubious even after having it explained to them. This is a food that Linarens eat regularly. Amaranth, on the other hand is a highly productive grain that is grown in tall bush-like stalks – packed with dietary goodness and easy to grow, but they have never seen it before. How is it helpful to introduce foods that no one is likely to eat or even be able to sell at this point? Nothing is more culturally ingrained than an indigenous diet, so no, we did not foist a bunch of new crops on them so we could put a tally mark in the good deed column. Introducing new crops will have to be systemic and built up to over time. In the meantime, some simple agricultural techniques for growing yucca better fits the bill. More info on the implementation of an agriculture program in Linares will be in the next post.
SM: The villagers have not been tending or harvesting their coffee farms since Hurricane Mitch flattened them in 1998. We are a specialty coffee company so in light of our “knowledge base” it makes sense to help them start over from scratch with varietals of coffee that are suited to specialty grade quality. It will make them more money than they’ve ever made from a harvest before and help elevate awareness of their efforts and product.
HM: When we finally arrived in Linares, we found that having taken so long (over a year and a half) to get there since it was first proposed, two of the families had gotten to work on their own. One of the men had walked to several coffee farms in the region until he found someone that would give him a sack of coffee seeds in parchment. He then built two nursery beds out of bamboo, discarded irrigation hose and banana leaves and propagated 10,000 – yes, that’s ten thousand – coffee seedlings, all of them a local catimor varietal called Lempira (of the same name as their money, a department of the country, and an indigenous hero).
Catimor has a portion of robusta in its genetics, the rest being arabica (the genetic lineage is a bit tedious – another time perhaps), which makes it more disease and pest resistant than many other varietals. It is also an overbearing varietal, meaning that it pumps out coffee cherries in copious amounts for 5 to 10 years and then slows down in production. This is the coffee that they are accustomed to growing (from years ago) and they already know how to handle it fairly well. Another aspect of this is that educational resources for specialty coffee in Honduras are still in development and can be hard to come by, especially so far in the back country of the Olancho department. In the case of Linares and at this point in time, practicality wins. We have garnered resources for the farmers that will boost their production of Lempira greatly but will also progress into specialty coffee a few years down the road. Again, more on the implementation of this in the next post. It is important to note that another aspect of “coming up” in Honduras is that becoming known as a small remote village that has suddenly sling-shotted into money is guaranteed to bring the kind of attention that they do not need right now – and we’ll leave it at that.
SM: We expect to find some serious problems with the water supply (refer above on that) that need to be addressed and perhaps a resurgence of intestinal worms, especially in the children. We will assess the situation and put together a medical group for the next trip.
HM: We’ve covered how the water is not a problem for them at all. There has been no resurgence of worms or parasites of any kind. What we did find was a fungal infection in the skin of the feet of some of the children stemming from water that stands stagnate around the pilas (large sink-like structures that serve as the bathing, washing and kitchen sink station for a family) or washing rocks of many homes.
Treating the fungal infection makes no difference unless that standing water is taken care of so on the next trip we will be installing concrete around those areas and digging drainage ditches and then treat the medical need (hopefully all in one trip). This standing water also plays a role in another health concern: dengue fever. They have not had a problem with this mosquito-borne virus also known as breakbone fever in a long time but here it is. The mosquitoes pupate in standing water and emerge on the wing to spread this feverish and stiff jointed illness. In some cases, it can also lead to its life-threatening forms: dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome in which the blood platelets are progressively shredded, ending in death. There is no vaccine for Dengue and removing the mosquitoes’ breeding areas of stagnate water is the only course of action.
So why are we here in Linares? Well, there are a lot of answers to that but the only one that remains the same both pre- and post-trip is that relationship is a force for good and the only way that any of us change and grow.
Relationship - the basis for everything.