November 2011
Mission: The Church's Heartbeat

Strengthening Communities From Within

When Emanuel was 15 years old, he started studying at the agricultural school run by El Hogar, a church-related organization based in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. El Hogar, which also runs a K-6 school and a vocational training school, is supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Honduras and its partner, Episcopal Relief & Development.

Honduras is a small country in Central America, with about 8 million people. Due to high levels of poverty and unemployment, people in rural areas largely survive on what they can grow, but traditional agricultural methods can be hard on the land, and may not provide sufficient food for a growing population.

Tackling these challenges is no easy task. But El Hogar and the Church in Honduras are doing just this – by providing a safe space where kids like Emanuel can learn, grow, and help create a better future for their communities.

Emanuel is one of 250 youths currently being housed, fed and educated by El Hogar. The agricultural school reaches out to rural families living in poverty by offering an opportunity for boys and young men to gain an academic and practical background in basic agriculture, with the goal of helping them secure employment after graduation. At El Hogar, they learn animal husbandry and crop production, water conservation through the use of drip irrigation, and how to make nutrient-rich fertilizer with animal manure and composted plant matter.

In his first year, Emanuel studied a diverse range of topics, but the following year, he decided to specialize in animal care. “I love working with animals,” Emanuel said. “I would like to be a vet, so I can help animals with more skill.” He was able to take classes where he learned how to give injections, manage livestock reproduction and attend births, and treat common diseases. As he gains more experience caring for animals, he hopes to find a job and help support his family. “I would like to help my family, because they have been such a help to me,” Emanuel said.

El Hogar is just one example of the kind of program Episcopal Relief & Development supports, but it highlights what all of our programs have in common: a commitment to empower and accompany our local partners as they rebuild after disasters and find lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and disease.

We collaborate with local Episcopal and Anglican dioceses, as well as ecumenically, to support development initiatives in over 40 countries worldwide. This work increases the capacity of our partners to start and manage programs that support infrastructure and increase the economic strength of their communities. Although our objectives are broken down into four core areas of activity – alleviating hunger, promoting health, creating economic opportunity and responding to disaster – the truth is we are really doing all of those things, all of the time. That is what integrated community development is all about. And even though disaster relief might be the most visible or newsworthy aspect of our work, empowering local institutions to strengthen their communities, build leadership and create infrastructure is actually the most effective way to reduce the impact of a disaster.

Also, because we partner with local churches and faith-based organizations, Episcopal Relief & Development is able to reach communities that are – literally and figuratively – at the end of the road. In these remote or underserved places, the Church might be the only provider of essential social services. There may be limits to what it can provide, due to lack of resources or logistical challenges, but where the local church has been a consistent presence and earned the trust of the community, Episcopal Relief & Development can help with the rest. Working with local partners also increases community buy-in, and the likelihood that the results of these programs will be long-lasting.

For example, El Hogar’s ministry of community outreach provides a place for youths to receive education and training, and then helps them reach back out to their villages and improve the food supply for local families. In addition to their coursework, students and graduates of the agricultural school are also involved in community-based programs that allow them to share their acquired knowledge and skills with their families and neighbors. Five projects are currently underway in isolated, rural communities, in order to help people there to plant and cultivate a greater diversity of crops, and market them effectively. Seed money is also being provided to help these communities start fruit plantations and pig farms – something Emanuel is particularly interested in. It is a privilege to be able to work with El Hogar and the local Church as they seek to create opportunities and a better future for young people in Honduras.

Throughout Episcopal Relief & Development’s work, our focus is on respecting the dignity of every person, and walking alongside people and communities as they use local resources and ingenuity to overcome challenges and live abundant lives. Although our mission and mandate come from Matthew 25: 37-40, our approach to community-based development can perhaps best be summed up with a quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:

“Go with the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they have. Build on what they know. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, ‘We have done this ourselves’.”

Faith Rowold is the Communications Officer at Episcopal Relief & Development.


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This article is part of the November 2011 Vestry Papers issue on Mission: The Church's Heartbeat