Worldwide people heaved a sigh of relief when the American elections were over, but for a lot of people in Central America it’s the last thing on their minds. The sun’s out, the storms reduced to a gentle breeze, but more than a week after Eta ravaged Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala (and a short but not too bad comeback last night), the disaster is far from over.
Although Category 5 hurricane Eta was quickly downsized to a tropical storm when it made land, the damage done is tremendous. Large areas are flooded, mudslides caused many deaths, roads are destroyed and crops are ruined.
You’ve heard it all before.
And you’ll hear it again.
The vicious cycle of poverty, corruption and corporate greed amplify whatever nature throws at us. Time and again it magnifies deep-rooted problems in these countries, only soon to be forgotten again. Poor people will rebuild their houses with cheap materials in risky areas, simply because they have no choice. Roads and bridges will be rebuilt, often with materials of a quality inferior to what they were budgeted for, with the difference disappearing in someone’s pockets. Massive deforestation will be business as usual, causing ever more catastrophic mudslides and flooding.
It’s tempting to close my eyes and Netflix the day away. It’s easy to ignore the search for cadavers and the sense of hopelessness these people must feel at this exact moment while I sip my morning coffee in the sun. For a little bit. Because I can imagine what is going on. It’s been 22 years already, but I will never forget Hurricane Mitch and its aftermath. The surge of adrenaline while evacuating people, the all surrounding brown muddy water. The pain in people’s eyes seeing all their possessions gone, just like that. The feeling of hopelessness, despair, loss. It clung around people for days, weeks, months.
But there were also moments of heart-warming solidarity, as there are now. Of tremendous physical efforts to rescue and evacuate. The sheer hard physical labour of cleaning up tons of mud in the days after. And then the process of healing and rebuilding.
The amount of international help Honduras received after hurricane Mitch was staggering. At the time I was naïve enough to think that something good might come from this disaster, that a better Honduras might re-emerge, with improved infrastructure, safer communities, job opportunities, hope for the future. Of course, I was terribly wrong.
|Copán Valley 2020|
It hurts to see places I’ve been, worked or lived in, being so devastated. Copán Ruinas in western Honduras, my hometown for 17 years, looks very similar to when Mitch turned the valley into a lake Thankfully no lives were lost this time, but about 80% of the roads in and around Copán have been destroyed. 74 Families lost their houses and the coffee production this year, if still salvable, won’t be able to be cut or sold. And this just after the town was severely hit by Covid. Many of my friends in Copán are working hard, in collaboration with the municipality, to help those in need.
Up north in Honduras, closer to the Caribbean coast, the damage is even worse. In El Progreso, the children’s home of ProNiño, where I painted a series of murals a couple of years ago, is now under water. Children and staff were evacuated on time, but it will take a while before they can go back to start the process of cleaning up.
|ProNiño , El Progreso, Honduras in 2015|
In Guatemala, the search for survivors, or more likely, cadavers, continues. Entire communities were buried under tons of mud. The victim count will go up in days to come. The disaster is not over yet.
Among thousands of pictures that show up in my newsfeed, I found this one from Guatemala that speaks more than a thousand words. The three so far unidentified bodies are of two children and one woman, in the catholic church of the hamlet of Quejá in Alta Verapaz. (For more pictures click the link in the caption).
|Photo by Yeimi Alonzo, Plaza Pública. (At noon today it was announced that rescue efforts have stopped, due to the improbability to find any survivors and the dangers of more mudslides. 88 People are still missing in the village of Quejá, San Cristobal Verapaz.)|
In the meantime, I’m unexpectedly taking care of the tiniest of Eta victims: a little hummingbird fledgling, upheaved by the strong winds, flew against my window last Friday. Too small to fly, I’m taking care of her until she’s ready to be released.
Funny, how in the midst of all this bad news and this abominable turd of a year, this tiny, feisty little bird has become my symbol of hope and perseverance. And I’ determined to keep it alive!
So yes, you’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: the people in Central America need your help. They really do.
If you can, please consider donating to one of many organizations active right now. Below a few NGOs that I know very well and can vouch for.
Thank you very much.
Special Missions (Please specify if you want your donation to go to Copán Ruinas)
GoFundMe action for relief in Copán Ruinas, organized by two ex-students of mine
CasaSito, emergency relief for their scholarship students in Alta Verapaz
GoFundme by my friend Alce Lai
For people in Holland who want to help:
Voor noodhulp in Guatemala: Stichting Uno Más, o.v.v. Noodhulp
Kindertehuis ProNiño in El Progreso, Honduras:
IBAN: NL11TRIO 0212487167 t.n.v. Homeless Child te Vlagtwedde