Friday, December 7, 2012

Despite the scary headlines, volunteering in Honduras richly rewarding

By  C. Lizeth Sánchez Lam
The International Day of Volunteers for Economic and Social Development, on December 5, offers a timely chance to thank, as well as highlight, the noble volunteer work under this year’s international motto: “Volunteer action counts.” 
It’s obviously a challenging time for any organization that brings international volunteers to Honduras, but the challenging countries are the ones that demand helping hands. The steady stream of bad news in the media about Honduras, and the real security concerns, are daunting, but they also hide the beauty that can be found in the interaction with the humble people in the poor communities, surrounded by green landscapes.
Looking behind the headlines, the reality is that volunteering in Honduras can be a safe, highly rewarding way to contribute.
Cuso International is a Canadian organization that places volunteers around the world, working in with partner organizations in more than 40 countries, supported by the Canadian International Development Agency. Since 2005, our latest stay in Honduras, we have co-ordinated more than 40 long-term placements with eleven Honduran partner organizations. 
Today, we have volunteers working in communications and knowledge sharing, local sustainable development, adding value to agricultural production and natural resource protection. Our goal is always to contribute with the empowerment of people affected by poverty and inequality by helping partner organizations to improve the quality of their social programs.
But reports about the “most dangerous country in the world” do serious damage if they deter volunteers committed to contributing, who also gain great benefits from their time in Honduras. 
It’s not just long-term volunteers who report a reality different from the headlines. Last month, one of our international volunteers helped host a US mission group spending a week helping her partner organization. They paid for and built 20 eco-stoves for families -- the stoves burn 45 percent less firewood, have chimneys to vent smoke out of the house, save time and money and reduce respiratory illnesses and deforestation. And they offered free medical clinics.
There were 15 people on the mission, from 13 to 60. Some were apprehensive. They had read the news. All left feeling positive, and transformed, and with no security concerns. They feel a bond with Honduras, and Hondurans. And they feel they learned, and grew.
While I am writing about the day recognizing international volunteers, it’s important to also recognize and honor the hundreds of thousands of Honduran volunteers who are working to make Honduras a better place to live. International volunteering is no panacea. 
Ultimately, Hondurans will chart their own future, and make the most of Honduras' great potential. But today, it is a positive force for change and provides needed help for people in the country striving for great opportunity, equality, security and justice.
On the United Nations International Day of Volunteers, we should celebrate that contribution. And we should ensure that the sometimes daunting news from Honduras does not keep people from a rewarding, even life-changing, experience.
Note: The author is the acting program director for Cuso International in Honduras.

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