SEATTLE, Washington — Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the world. The World Bank reported a poverty rate of 48.3% in 2018. This is a decrease from the 2016 level of 68.5%. This decrease comes both from the fact that Honduras is the second-highest economically growing country in Central America and the fact that the poverty line was redefined to a lower threshold. Poverty in Honduras is a pressing, pervasive and complicated issue.
Overview of Poverty in Honduras
Even with the recent economic growth, Honduras has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to have a 7.1% decrease in GDP for 2020. Part of the reason that poverty in Honduras is so prevalent is the high inequality within the country. Of its impoverished residents, 60.1% live in rural areas and 38.4% live in urban areas. This results in one of the smallest middle classes in all of Central America.
Violence and natural disasters have increased poverty in Honduras. Flooding from heavy rainfall, hurricanes and drought happen often and have disproportionately devastating consequences for the poor and vulnerable. The inconsistent moderate economic growth within the country combined with high levels of inequality and environmental instability exacerbate cycles of crime and emigration that to further poverty issues. In 2017, there were more than “38 homicides per 100,000” residents. Furthermore, gangs are common throughout the country.
Sarah Toone, a Heart to Honduras volunteer, has been going on mission trips to Honduras every summer since 2016. Her team primarily visits a village called El Ocote, the sister church of her church in her hometown of Virginia Beach. Toone spoke with The Borgen Project about her experiences. She stated, “Witnessing the poverty in Honduras during each trip is truly overwhelming and is genuinely difficult to put into words.” She described the size of the houses as being able to “fit inside a typical living room in an average American home.” The bathrooms have only the bare essentials, one toilet and one shower. The water supply was inconsistent and dependent solely on the flow of the nearby river.
Heart to Honduras
Heart to Honduras (HTH) is one of many relief organizations aiding in the fight against poverty in Honduras. Charlie Smith founded HTH in 1989. It is a faith-based group collaborating with Honduran people in the Lake Yojoa region through local churches. The organization centers around educating on Honduran poverty issues, raising money for relief efforts and sending volunteer aid teams to go to Honduras.
The group emphasizes collaboration; it provides aid by approaching the people of Honduras instead of simply the issues they face. It reminds volunteers that “You’re not doing the work for the Hondurans; you’re doing it with them.” HTH is first and foremost about listening to Honduran people and assisting them as friends, not caretakers. Toone’s yearly trips include building homes and chicken coops for local families.
Other Aid Organizations in Honduras
Helping Honduras Kids (HHK) is another non-profit Christian organization working in Honduras. HHK focuses specifically on children’s’ issues, managing a Children’s Home caring for more than 23 orphaned, “abandoned, abused or neglected” children. It also built a free private school called the Jungle School that serves more than 240 students from Kindergarten to ninth grade. HHK also provides food to children and their families in impoverished villages around their orphanage and school. The donations it receives go directly to providing its wards with everything from food and clothing to school supplies and medical care.
There are also many larger, internationally focused aid organizations that also have programs that work within Honduras.
- CARE: CARE began operating in Honduras providing emergency relief to victims of the 1954 Tropical Storm Gilda and now works on sustainable development and agriculture.
- Save the Children: Save the Children has programs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico providing aid for children’s’ rights and safety. It empowers vulnerable families and children against poverty and gang violence through promoting education, providing protection and implementing peace-building programs.
- Food For The Poor: Food For The Poor also began serving Honduras in 1999 after a natural disaster, Hurricane Mitch, devastated the country. Today, it builds homes, schools, water purification systems, wastewater treatment plants and more in Honduras while also helping care for orphans and provide food through agricultural projects.
How To Help
Toone believes that anyone can help by first becoming educated on what true poverty is. This includes both understanding one’s privileges in the context of global poverty and how to genuinely and respectfully make a difference in other’s lives. Toone states, “Hondurans acknowledge that life may be one of poverty, but do not credit it as being one of misery.” She believes strongly that one of the biggest misconceptions about impoverished countries is that those living in poverty lead miserable lives.
This gives rise to the notion that volunteers working to aid impoverished people are “saving” them from their misery. “Voluntourism” and the “savior complex” are terms that began circulating in recent years, describing the dangers of self-centered charity. HTH and similar organizations so strongly emphasize humility and respect in aid efforts for this reason.
When trying to help Honduras, the most important thing for volunteers to do is self-reflect on their own intentions. After that, aid comes from giving time and money. Donating money can go towards providing house-building materials through HTH, sponsoring a child’s daily needs through HHK or assisting any other relief organization. People can educate themselves and others on the realities of poverty in Honduras and how to help, such as advocating to protect funding for the International Affairs Budget. It is also possible to volunteer through an organization to go to Honduras and provide hands-on assistance like Toone. Any of these possibilities is a great option, with her words in mind: “We look to provide Hondurans with a hand up rather than a hand out.”
– Kathy Wei