“I never thought I would be a landowner,” Horacio Cardenes, a 36-year-old father of four explained through an interpreter on “the happiest day of [his] life.” Through the project sponsorship of Canadian Peacemakers International (CPI), based in Edmonton, the Cardenes were one of 11 peasant families in a hillside village in northern Honduras to take title to their first real house: a cement-block, two-bedroom abode.
The 21 members of the newly formed Amigos de Tapiquilares Cooperative spent every spare day during the last year constructing the 11 houses that, through a random draw, were turned over to families in a celebration of worship, title-signing, and feasting.
Based on Habitat for Humanity’s model of a “hand-up, not a hand-out,” these families each have an interest-free mortgage of $6,000, to be paid back to the co-op over a 15-year period. Should they default on the loan or decide to move out of the village, the property reverts back to the co-op, explains Dave Hubert, executive director of CPI and member of Lendrum MB Church, Edmonton. He founded CPI in 1997, following a 23-year career in post-secondary education.
It’s a win-win project, says Hubert, because the mortgages will be paid from the sale of pineapples and rice grown on the one-hectare plot of land surrounding the village. The land was purchased and donated by CPI sponsors John and Sylvia Leonard of Mancelona, Mich., owners of a multinational tire-recycling business. Leonard proposes raising rabbits for domestic and commercial production, based on a successful Mennonite Church Canada project in nearby Guatemala. The villagers would also like to start a tilapia fish pond operation, a common project in the area.
Addressing education needs
Since most of the children lack the transportation to get to school in the nearby towns, CPI has instituted a program of computer-assisted learning: an innovative educational project called CAL. About an hour’s drive into Santa Cruz, CPI, under the direction of former Lendrum member Bryan Butler, has set up a learning centre, a small space with only 17 computers, nine of them donated by Habitat for Humanity.
With 10 years’ experience in Africa as an educator under Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and other non-governmental agencies, Butler kick-started the Honduran project in 2009 with a $60,000 fundraising campaign to bring systematic learning to this city of 50,000 and the surrounding villages, where very few people have progressed beyond Grade 6 due to a lack of education infrastructure and opportunities.
Hubert and Butler believe that by bringing the computers – preloaded with an approved Spanish junior high school curriculum – to people in the community, they can give locals a way to improve their own lives. In a pilot project, two women in their 20s who work at the CPI office in Santa Cruz have completed the Grade 8 curriculum after a whirlwind 18 weeks of study.
The next stage has seen 30 people, including many adults, sign up for classes. Each must sign a “sweat equity” agreement, requiring them to teach two other Hondurans what they have learned. “At some point, if this goes well, we could see going to Grade 11,” says Butler.
On June 4, CAL graduated its first class of 18 students in the town’s community centre, with local educational and town officials in attendance, including the vice-mayor and local school superintendent. Butler has made a proposal to the Honduran education minister to adopt CAL’s model of learning, showing that the state could educate more of its students at considerably less cost per student.
CPI’s overall vision, says Hubert, “is to develop and demonstrate models of peacemaking and peacebuilding that can be emulated by others to address the structural causes of conflict in Central America. The ultimate goal is to reduce the likelihood of more war in the region.”
Over years of board and staff work with MEDA, MCC, and Habitat for Humanity, as well as volunteering in newcomer integration in Edmonton, Hubert saw the struggles refugees face in adjusting to a new culture on top of the trauma of their past. He became convinced that “it’s better to stop the flow of refugees” by improving conditions in their home country “than to try to solve problems at this end.” The goal of CPI is to build peace in Central America by addressing problems like land distribution which drive much of the conflict. Hubert believes the good news of the gospel will spread through CPI’s work to prevent the bad news of conflict and lack of opportunity.
Hubert says CPI is using the best from MCC’s and MEDA’s models – community development, microloans, a business approach – and from Habitat for Humanity in developing housing, land ownership, and education initiatives in Honduras.