Peace Corps Writers
Reading from the 40 + 1 (page 2)
Reading from the 40+1: Carol Welsh
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     By having a rapid coup with little blood shed, the military believed they were rescuing the situation. However, this immediately cut off the funds to the health and community centers since they were government owned. The money from the carnival helped to keep the center open for two months until the funds were restored.
     During a visit to Honduras, Sargent Shriver assured us that this news would have gladdened President Kennedy’s heart, had he been alive. Shriver stopped at the Center and shared this with the people. Some wept, others beamed proudly.

(Twenty-five years later, our Honduras I group had a reunion up in the mountains of Mexico where our Peace Corps Director for Honduras now had a home. As we were shopping in the tiny little tiendas, we all stopped and looked. There was a big faded photo of Jack and Jackie Kennedy proudly displayed in the back of the shop with a black ribbon framing their photos. The memory was still carried in the hearts of some. And I have the memory of the happy faces during the day camp activities.)

Bridge building
The military stayed in power in Honduras for decades.
     Right after the coup they began to approach Peace Corps Volunteers to see if they could work with them. They knew the Volunteers were liked and respected even though the people were often curious as to why we were there. I was asked frequently as to why in the world I would want to come to Honduras? Their theory was we had everything in the United States and they were poor. Many thought everyone in the United States was rich. At least that’s the way they saw us in the movies.
     Out in one of the rural barrios, one Volunteer was helping the people build a wooden bridge so that they could still get their sugar cane to the market during the rainy season. The military thought this was a wonderful way to win favor with the people. “We will build the bridge for them,” they proclaimed. The Volunteer was able to show them that by helping the people to build the bridge themselves rather than doing it for them, they would be able to build future bridges by themselves. We have photos of the village people, the military and the volunteer standing proudly on the completed bridge.

A new water supply
Next the people wanted a water spigot in their village so the women wouldn’t have to haul the water all of the way from the river. The military eagerly said they would get the equipment and dig the trench so the village people could have the water. Once again, the Peace Corps Volunteer showed them the pride the villagers were feeling as they saw the spigot getting closer and closer.
     The villagers held little fund raising parties, mostly selling warm beer. When they had the money to buy a length of pipe, they would celebrate with another fund raising party and make a big fuss over how much closer they were to their goal. They didn’t dig a trench. They just laid the pipe with great pride on the ground. Then they would step back and see how far they had already come. By the time our two year tour of duty was complete, the spigot was in the middle of their village and more photos had been taken.

The next project was to build outhouses so the villagers no longer would have to use the bushes. This time the military supplied shovels and lumber at a reduced price. They didn’t try to do the digging for them. They finally understood the concept of community development, “Feed them fish and they will be hungry the next day. Show them how to fish, and they will never be hungry again.”

The Peace Corps has been in Honduras since 1962 when we arrived and the locals wondered who we were? Missionaries? Peace Corps — Cuerpo de Paz? Peace group? What does that mean? And who were these Norte Americanos who were always broke? They walked or drove Jeeps, not those big American cars that could barely negotiate the narrow streets.
     Now they know.
     Now they know we are people who care, people who laugh with them and speak their language. People who are fulfilling a dream that started with a President’s Dream — send our best to these developing countries. Were we the best? I don’t know. Each of us had our own reasons for joining the Peace Corps. My experience changed my life forever. I thank my lucky stars for being an American. How good we have it. We are the envy of the world. Freedom. I will never ever take it for granted again.

Carol Welsh is the author of When You’re Seeing Red…STOP! and the forthcoming Push Here to Start: A Practical Approach for Diffusing Hot Buttons.
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