Welcome to the CED 499B Spring Break trip to Honduras

This 1 week field trip to Honduras is intended to provide a broad overview of the many issues facing local development initiatives in rural communities. The trip will expose us to local projects and initiatives developed during the last few years in the Yeguare valley to improve the local economy and reduce extreme poverty. These changes are slow and difficult and not always with positive results. Our hope is that this trip will help provide insight into difficulties of rural development.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lina be reportin’

One of the hardest things about the CED major (and believe me we talk about this a lot) is the lack of tangible solutions to the many, many problems that exist in this world.  There is absolutely no cut-and-dry way to improve lives and provide for people what they need.  That being said, today gave me hope for the possibilities that exist and showed me what can and is being done.  Right here, right now.

We began the day talking about the financial difficulties that the town of Yuscaran faces as they are trying to work on several different projects to help the community.  Money is available, but bureaucratic barriers are a huge problem.  Recently, the European Union has been working on the local level with the officials in Yuscaran directly to fund projects.  Avoiding the Honduran government has resulted in a much more streamlined and effective method of aid distribution.  In the past, 42% of money went to administrative costs, while this system cuts that down to 3%.  Mind is blown.  I am confused as to why is this not the standard?  Hopefully the success of the projects in and around Yuscaran and similar towns will illustrate to funders the effectiveness of decentralization in aid.

One of the projects that Zamorano University and the municipality are involved in is a pine resin cooperative on a hillside above Yuscaran.  With the assistance of foreign aid to buy machinery and get the project off the ground, and electricity provided from Yuscaran, the members of this cooperative are now able to create furniture with their pine instead of just selling off the wood.  They are much stronger as a collective than as individuals, and that means an improved standard of living and the possibility of even more expansion.  Interestingly, the board of directors for the co-op is dominated by the young.  This business has been passed down from generation to generation and even the younger men in the families involved remain closely tied to the industry.  What seems like a minor investment in this microenterprise worked, and has made a significant change.  To be clear, it is not a perfect system.  Women are hugely underrepresented both in the workforce and within the administrative body.  Electricity is available to the factory, but has not reached the surrounding homes.  The price and availability of resin in China means that prices in Honduras can fluctuate.  And the workers are not selling the resin for as much as they would like to live comfortably.  However, it is a small step forward and definitely something positive to be admired.

When we arrived back on the Zamorano campus in the evening, after touring several places in the surrounding area, some of us headed down the road a ways on a quest to find Fernando, a student only Dave had met who we had heard was working on stoves – improving their efficiency and reducing emissions.  Dave sweet-talked the security guard into letting us into the testing area but unfortunately, Fernando had left for the day.  His colleague Tim (an American!), however, was more than willing to step up  and show us around.  We looked at several different stove models that could be effective in a typical Honduran home.  The models were controlled for variables, and each one was focused on improving in different ways – more efficient heat, fewer emissions, longer or hotter burning time, etc.  The most incredible thing about the tour and discussion was that this project was clearly about so much more than just stoves.  Social factors, such as gender equality in the home, or the opportunity cost of those collecting firewood for fuel, play a massive role in whether or not these stoves will be acceptable in the home.  Tim mentioned the environmental benefit – 42 stoves would reduce emissions by 121 tons of carbon per year – the equivalent of planting 2,200 trees.  Mind is blown once again.  Tim knows an incredible amount about stoves, but he’s a forester.  He can appreciate the fact that it might be more effective to work on this small-scale project for the time being. 

As seems to be the trend, today was awesome.  My mind is saturated and the gears headed toward the future are turning.  A hopelessness about the current global situation is being replaced by an optimism in seeing that very small changes can make a huge difference, and seeing that those small changes can come to fruition in so many different ways.  This major and all that we learn is, quite frankly, depressing.  However, after everything we discussed and saw and appreciated today, it has been an uplifting CED day.  I ended the evening by climbing a tree with Bernadette, poking my head out of the uppermost leaves and basking in the beauty of the panoramic valley view, going for a quick swim, eating yet another delicious dinner in the cafeteria, and sitting down to talk and share with the group.  Doesn’t get much better than that.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                


  1. It sounds like your days are packed with great looking, listening and learning opportunities. It is a testament to the commitment of the CED folks at Penn State that they have helped make such an authentic experience possible. The pictures are terrific - whose marvelous camera has the fish-eye lens?

  2. I brought the fish-eye lens. I am the instructor of the course. Thank you for your comments. We in the CED major do try to make authentic experiences possible. We are having a great time.