Saturday, March 3, 2012

Topic Addressed

Ok.  So I said I would not blog anymore, maybe.  But today I was reading the Honduras Living Groups discussion on-line and the topic of whether or not it is beneficial to "help/assist/give" to poor countries came up..  If you do not have access to this Group, here is a little of what they were discussing:

"As a thought experiment, I wonder what would happen if everyone that is trying to "help" Honduras would just stop. And I mean everyone - NGOs, religious groups, foreign governments, etc. - everyone except Hondurans....

[A]ll this "help" has disabled the Hondurans from doing for themselves, similar to the way the U.S.A. government´s "war on poverty" has basically destroyed the American black family. Liberal guilt at work again. At the individual level, MANY here depend of money sent by relatives/boyfriends, etc. living in the states, or given by local well-meaning gringos. They will first ask someone else to pay for it, before considering working. At the governmental level, they "depend on" foreign aid from various countries, such as U.S., China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Spain and other countries I don´t know about. I know from personal experience that police, fire department, churches, cities, schools, what have you, depend on foreign entities contributing money, vehicles, equipment, bridges, etc. The list is ENDLESS. And when the volunteers or technical specialists leave, whatever they built or designed quickly falls into disrepair. Really, this is so well known.

We can debate all day whether or not the latino culture as found in Mexico and C.A. is "not motivated enough" to do for themselves...but there is no doubt in my mind that all this "help" is at best wasted and at worst seriously counter-productive. In fact, (and don´t tell anyone, this is just between you and me, right?) despite my dislike for the whole Mel populist thing, in a way I was secretly glad when the US and other countries cut off aid, and I was secretly hoping it would continue--just so Honduras would be FORCED to get its act together. Alas, Pepe assumed the (beggar) position and got a lot of the "help" back again.

Unfortunately, I don´t see any of this changing. Neither on the part of the beggars or the donors. The beggars have a good thing going, and the donors have their own agendas that drive them to "help" despite its futility....

However, to me, there is a world of difference between long term volunteers here to enter into our children´s lives and the countless tee shirt groups who arrive daily at the airport, coming into the country for a week or two to ¨help¨. To me, this feeds the terrible habit of so many in the country to hold out their hands, waiting for someone else to give them stuff. Why on earth should 30 people or so come in to build a building?? I believe Hondurans know perfectly well how to build a building. Better to donate the funds needed to a permanent presence in Honduras and employ local people to actually build the buildings. I fear that so many people come here for their own well-being and do not really spend the time analysing the problems here. 

All we have to do is look at Haiti. That country has received more international aid over a longer period of time that any other. And has the poverty rate decreased? Has the educational level improved? Are the people now able to fend for themselves? No to all three and so many other questions we might ask to evaluate the impact of this type of aid.

Why "poor countries stay poor" is not an uncertain science yet to be discovered or unraveled by experts. A handful of books, plenty of research and work has been done to analyze, understand and tackle this worldwide phenomenon. While corruption, bad politics, crime, lack of education/opportunities, etc are some of the things marking the reasons why certain countries remain deprived while others flourish, these are not only the reasons why a country cannot prosper, these are reflections of a country that refuses to prospect.

Honduras is no exception. Honduras remains poor because the country, as a society, is not interested in coming out of poverty. Be it because the impoverished doesn't know or is unable to find a better way of improving their current situation or because the rich and powerful is not interested in distributing the wealth for a greater middle class among Hondurans. Sure, let's have a poll and ask Hondurans how many of them would like Honduras to be a rich, prosperous country instead of poor? I would venture to say the vast majority would be in favor for a rich Honduras. But does the average Honduran know what it takes for a country to be wealthy? I'm sure they are Hondurans of all walks of life: from the laborer, the student, the small business owner, the college graduate, the professional worker, to the politician, the well-established businessmen and the rich who have ideas of how to turn their country around but realize it is impossible to change a nation alone.

I don't believe Hondurans have reached a consensus agreement of how to push their country out of poverty into a prosperous one. The average unemployed, poor-educated Honduran is more likely to immigrate illegally out of Honduras in hopes for a better life than remaining in Honduras and find ways to not only improve their own lives but the lives of everyone else. But who would blame him or her if he/she lives in a society where the vast majority remain poor and the tiny fraction of wealthy get richer? But isn't this the case for every society even in rich countries- the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Or is there an equilibrium?

I have spoken to Hondurans in the United States who tell me, "Honduras is hopeless. Even if you are lucky enough to graduate from college, you will have to settle with driving a taxi. Even if you have great plans on how to fix the country, those above you- those in power and with money won't let you because they are not interested in a rich Honduras, they are only interested in getting rich themselves." Is this really the mentality of the businessman and politician in Honduras? "I want to run a businesses in Honduras and be very rich, however, I don't want the rest of the people to get a chance as well." How do they expect to run a successful business if the majority of the population are too poor to buy?

NGOs, charities, international aid-- these are all great things but it would be better to tackle the real reasons why Honduras 50 years from now will still be a poor country....

[O]nce that first banana boat hit Utila 150 years ago, the time was past to leave folks to sink or swim. We in the US, whether we intended to or not, have created and influenced many of problems that have contributed to the downward spiral in Honduras. Our insatiable desire for cocaine and cheap material goods has a tremendous impact on the daily lives of Hondurans. Perhaps the responsible thing to do is to at least try to create some balance (i.e. education and health support) so that folks at least have a chance to improve their lot in life....

I agree with other posters, the change has to come from within...the next generation, the children, who many of us have felt called to serve. To love them and care for, to give them our best so they can be the change....

I do personally believe that those who are investing in them will do more than any amount of money from a government...if only they would just give the money to us for the kids instead of lining the pockets of the corrupt on top!"

The above comments were written by several people, people who live in the country and came here, generally, from other countries.

I find that I agree totally with the comments made by these readers.  I have witnessed the futility of sending aid to Honduras when one sees the money being funneled off into the pockets of those entrusted with distributing them properly.  I have seen unfinished project creating nothing but a scar on the land; poorly built projects not lasting because the supplies to maintain are not available nor are their qualified people to operate any machinery that is installed.  The people of this country have no idea what it actually takes to build up, run and maintain a society that will benefit all.  The present government suppresses them, refuses to educate them and keeps the wealth to themselves by stealing from those  countries who are the "givers."

As an example, the people of this tiny island actually believe that they can get Great Britain to take them back into the fold and free them from the government of Honduras and make them their own, independent country under British rule.  They have no idea of what structure is need to establish a "new" country, how they would earn funds to fun their government.  All they expect is that if they get enough people to petition Great Britain and are excepted, then the British will subsidize them and allow them to govern themselves.

I have longed hoped that leading world organizations would stop sending aid and if they did insist in helping, that they establish strict guidelines to follow insisting on outside people handling the funds, supervising the work and seeing that the projects are completed.  I would also like to see these same organizations research whatever project they are funding and take into account that with limited electric power, maintenance equipment, properly trained personnel certain things should not be funded.  

Right now we have a "tourist" center being built on the island next to the new airport.  Originally our "airport" consisted, for years I might add, of a small grass hut where refreshments were sold and a roof was available to protect one from the rain.  It was all we needed, functioned as expected, was run by locals and everyone was comfortable with the way things were.   A new building was proposed and later built supposedly to be used as an "Airport" terminal and in the end it was a failure.  Many problems - one door leading in and out spelled danger if there was a panic, fire or emergency.  The bathrooms were never properly drained to a septic, the water never hooked up, the work shoddy and started disintegrating immediately.  No one ever used this building and the only thing they did use it for was to put chairs outside on the walk way to sit in waiting for planes.  It ended up being used for storage for bags of cement and lumber and is now in disarray.  

Then they decided to build a new terminal which, on the whole, is pleasant looking, airy and comfortable.  Funding was made available from somewhere and all in all the new terminal is a plus. 

However, we have fewer tourists coming here and no one that has enough training to inform guests, in English, what they can see and do here and how to get around.  But, someone somewhere got it in their head (maybe it was pushed by locals here, I don't know) that we needed a "tourist center" .  This is now being built  and, in my opinions, will simply be a waste of construction money.  Why?  Because there are no funds to pay anyone to man this center.  They would have to have a way to get to the airport as there are only water taxis available and who would pay for them?  They would have to be capable and responsible enough to man the center 6 days a week for a few hours in the morning and return for a few hours in the afternoon.  And who wants a job where no one comes to you to uss the training, if any, you might have?  

The main problems here are really not problems aFinding a water taxi here is not difficult.  99.9% of the tourists who come here already have reservations at a hotel for their vacation and, therefore, do not need the services this center would provide.

I would predict that this center will go into disuse, eventually be locked up for lack of interest and money to pay someone to staff it.  But that is my opinion.  I wish I could be more upbeat about it, but after 15 years here I have come to see the light and can reasonably deduce the outcome.

I'm sure that I'll get backlash with this blog but the question original put forth above, sparked my interest and I was finally able to hear that other people agree with me.  

If you want someone to get fish for dinner, don't go out and catch the fish for him - teach him how to fish.


  1. Like the park rangers say, do not feed the bears because they will become dependent on it.

    ( )
    / \
    \\|||// Kamron Kirkconnell

  2. Wow. Quite an earful- between this and the immediately previous post. (Eyeful? Brainful?) Please don't stop blogging, Sharon. Yours is the only link to life in Guanaja, and I value it immensely. I know you might not want to write about stuff you've written about before, but there is no harm in that. I'm sure you can find a new angle or spin to put on the idea- that's what good writers do!

    I'm somewhat dismayed to see that you're realizing just how bad the socioeconomic problems in Honduras are and how they've impacted virtually every aspect of the lives of "Regular Joe" Honduran. You are absolutely correct when you say that Hondurans have no desire to make a better life for themselves. This is terribly sad, as it conflicts with our American Dream, something of which we are quite and justifiably proud. But the American Dream is not the Honduran Dream.

    Just the other day I was reminiscing about my time in Guanaja and how lazy, dishonest and conniving my employees were. I was immediately shamed by being so negative and unChristianlike. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that of the 55 people we had working for us at the peak, there were perhaps only two (or maybe three) who were genuinely honest and had a decent work ethic. And they were women. The rest were simply and unabashedly out for themselves at all costs with no remorse. They would steal from you with one hand while smiling and patting you on the back with the other. I saw examples of this over and over again, and because I believe in the basic goodness of people I always chalked it up to "a few bad apples" or some other social anomaly. But I learned! They're ALL dishonest. It comes from doing what they have to do to survive.

    Took me a long time to get over the anger that resulted. But I came to realize that to a large degree it's really not their fault. Their odd-to-us way of life is just their reality. Theirs is a very different culture. Their whole way of thinking about...well, everything is just different. And it comes from decades of hand-outs, poverty and, let's face it, a depressing, dead-end future with NO prospect of a better life for their children. I can barely even conceive how how a Guanajan adult must view the world (much less a Guanajan young person).

    Will it ever change? Probably not, at least not in our lifetimes. The type of cultural change needed in Guanaja (and actually in all of Honduras) will occur over generations, not weeks, months or years.

    Something's gotta give. Eventually, those generators that provide electricity to the island will break down and no one will step up to replace them for free or provide low-interest loans to buy new ones. Or the diesel fuel to run them will get too expensive (not to mention the gasoline that powers all of the boats that are so necessary for their daily existence).

    Tourism is a joke. Guanaja is on nobody's list of vacation destinations. What is there to do? (For that matter, what is there for a tourist to do in all of Honduras?) So Guanaja cannot ever depend on reliable income from a growing tourist industry.

    With no other viable industry to provide a sustainable living for the residents, the future for Guanaja is bleak and scary. This is, I believe, why the U.S. and Honduran governments leave Guanaja alone when it comes to all the drugs that transit through the island. The government knows that without the drug trade and the money it provides to the locals, Guanaja would literally be as bad as Haiti is now - it would be an international crisis.

    Sadly, I see no workable solution either short- or long-term. I wish I could be more optimistic but I cannot. Whatever happens, we do need someone to document the goings-on in an objective way. And for better or worse, you're elected. So please don't stop writing about life in Guanaja.

    I wish you and Mike the best- and hope his back heals completely (and soon!).

    1. Thanks, Bob, for your comments. If you will read below you will see one islander's response and my reply.
      Yes, it is a whole different culture and I do not expect these people to take on the attitude of other cultures simply because we view theirs as different. However, anywhere where the law is a joke and that drugs can run rampant is indeed serious and something that one should be able to comment on.

      I do not believe your statement about the U.S. and Honduran Government leaving Guanaja alone when it comes to drugs is true. Mainly, drugs do not provide the island with an income. This money stays in the pockets of those who distribute and import and only small amounts are doled out to those who are on their payroll. The rest goes into the pocket of those who are in control and then, most likely, to buy themselves luxuries in other countries and no way do they improve the lot of their fellow citizens. Drugs ruin the life of the islanders because they steal to get money to keep their habit and their habit prevents them from becoming responsible, hard-working good citizens. It is getting worse here and saying that the drugs bring in some form of money to help educate the people, give them jobs, make them more responsible is simply not true.
      As to your statement that there is nothing to do on the island. That is why it is so unique. The main sport, of course, if diving. We have snorkeling and bone fishing now and if you want to do nothing at all, GREAT, we are quiet and laid back. People come here to get away from phones, T.V., cars/taxi cabs/noise, and to relax and rest. The island is best served with a limited number of tourists because, as a fact, we cannot support the masses!

      We need more promotion for what we do have: beautiful water, good diving, great bone fishing and peace and quiet and relaxation without shopping malls and fancy restaurants to take your money for food you can get back home. Unfortunately, promotion if something that is not done well here so we depend upon word of mouth, which keeps people coming back. At least people that don't want "extraneous" entertainment and are content with nature....and they are out there.

      I'm glad you want my blog to continue and I will try my best. I've just reached a slump and my interests have been directed elsewhere. I enjoy my home and my life here but sometimes the irritations just have to be vented, in spite of what "anonymous" people chose to think. Of course that is the key word - think. They send out a lot of words without really thinking about what they are commenting on, which is the case below. I would only hope that they would have the courage to write me directly so that an intelligent dialect could be exchanged and maybe they would then understand just what I'm trying to say.

      Thanks again for your dedication to my blog.

  3. i am proud to say that im from guanaja we islanders always been hard working people, yes we do how corrupted government and people like you hating on others so what da hell are you doing in guanaja, i guess you are running away from paying your tax back in the USA.
    bonnaca is a paradise and that's your home too so why you are talking all of this crap about it, you American wants to be in everything, live your life and don't worry about others. love it or hate it guanaja is your home too

  4. If you would note, this blog had to do with a hypothetical theory as to what would happen if other countries would stop sending aid to third-world countries. The article did not say that the islanders were not hard working and contrary to your remarks, it was noted that the people could become more independent and self-governing if they had less help from the outside. Outside help only breeds dependency on the country/people who are aiding. As I said, do not catch fish for the man, teach him to fish instead and then let him make his own way.

    I, personally, am not running away from anything in the U.S. and I, like you, love my country. I came to the island because I wanted a quieter life with less hassle and to be self-sufficient. I have been here going on 15 years and this is the first time I've ever expressed some dissatisfaction overall about living here. My main concern has to do with the fact that there is no law enforcement here and that drugs are starting to take over the island. Unlike some foreigners who come to the island to enable their drug habit, I am not here to do anything illegal.

    I have helped the people here in various ways, even sending children through school so they can receive an otherwise unachievable education. I think that anyone is entitled to an opinion regarding where they live and nothing I have said is untrue. I would have complaints about some aspects of life in the U.S. also and would voice those complaints just as strongly.

    If you are in favor of receiving and depending upon others for handouts wherein you receive things to make life easier and do not having to work for it, that is your choice. But to tell me "don't worry about others" is like saying you don't want any outside help so I would assume you would be in favor of eliminating all aid. I cannot see the point of your statement as you seem to be agreeing with everything I wrote above - which, by the way was the opinion of several people, Hondurans included.

    I did not provide the names of the individuals who made the remarks (all in quotations) as it was not relevant. But some of those people who made the remarks are citizens of this country.
    Everything NOT in quotation marks were my opinions and thoughts and the thoughts relayed to me by people living on the island and not just Americans.

    I can only hope that you see my response and send any questions you have without remaining anonymous. I have put my name out there and my opinions, can you say the same?

  5. Oh my! Looks like this Guanaja Islander could use some help with understanding what you have said. This "anonymous" is agreeing that the government is corrupt, so far so good. Personally, I didn't read "hate" in your address and am baffled as to why “anonymous” has said that “you are hating on others”. This little person is obviously hurt by your intelligence, feels threatened, and does not really understanding as the statement about your taxes is totally unfounded. Interesting to me that "American wants to be in everything" is ok when accepting money, but, not so when they are unable to grasp the importance of your hypothesis on Honduras and the Honduran government officials who feather their own bank accounts rather than helping the real needs of its people. I have heard, in your writings, many times, what a paradise you live in. I agree it certainly looks like a paradise, sounds like a paradise, so must be a paradise. But there is some trouble in paradise for sure and I'm so pleased that you and others are aware and trying to help many others to be aware also as knowledge is power. This anonymous sure does need your help Sharon so I hope this person will be upfront and honest by standing behind their words with a name and be ready and willing to learn. You do so much for so many for so little that I know this person will definitely appreciate you once they “see” more clearly.

    As to the blog ending, I must agree with Bob B. As I know you can and will offer many different views and spins on subjects you have previously discussed. You offer new pictures to update those of us who are not there with our own eyes. You keep us abreast of who's who and what's what in a most fair and just manner. We have not thanked you enough for your hard work, so here are a million thanks and a wish: keep on keep'en on! We love ya gal!