Young dancers from Erandique perform traditional dances as part of the celebration
Young dancers from Erandique perform traditional dances as part of the celebration

I just returned from a great visit to Honduras with three Water 1st board members, a hydrology student from the U of A and an engineering grad student from MIT.

We were there to visit completed water and sanitation projects implemented by our local partner organization, to see how the projects are functioning one or more years after implementation and to see if what behavior changes, like hand-washing, are being practiced.  We also visited some new projects under construction.

Our first stop, however, was the World Water Day celebration on Sunday, March 22nd in Congolón, Lempira.  The United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March of each year as “World Water Day” to draw international attention to the lack of clean, safe drinking water worldwide.

Poster describing the work of COCEPRADIL
Poster describing the work of COCEPRADIL

About 1,200 people gathered for the event.  The attendees were men, women, children from the rural villages surrounding Congolon – all beneficiaries of water, sanitation, hygiene education and watershed protection projects implemented in collaboration with our local partner organization, COCEPRADIL.

Event participants arrive on foot, by horse, and by "transporte"
Event participants arrive on foot, by horse, and by “transporte”

The day-long event started at about 9 am with a mass.  Most of the people living in this region are Catholic and very religious, so community events typically start with a prayer or a mass.  Next, speeches were given by the five mayors of the municipalities of southern Lempira.  Actually, there were two rounds of speeches, with each mayor mostly repeating what he had said the first time around, but once round two got started by the mayor of Gualcinse, there was no stopping it.  These are politicians, so it was no surprise.   All speakers were very good.  Everytime I visit Honduras, I’m so impressed with the skilled orators who live there.  Even in the most remote communities, where people have no more than a 2nd grade education, we find natural leaders and great speakers.

The major of San Andrés, Yester Omar Muñoz, gave my favorite speech.  “We can’t count on the government or the priests.  We have to count on ourselves.  God has given us the animals, the forest, the water.  It is our responsibility to take care of it.  We have to fight so that everyone has water at their homes!  We have to fight to protect the forest!”  I was ready to march somewhere after his inspiring words.

 

A view of the event from Cerro Congolon, high above the crowd.  About half the people had left at the point this photo was taken, but it's still a big crowd.
A view of the event from Cerro Congolon, high above the crowd. About half the people had left at the point this photo was taken, but it’s still a big crowd.

After the speeches, a group of teenagers from Erandique performed some traditional dances.  They were followed by local musicians and a poetry contest, which seemed to be the most popular event of the day.  I never found out who won, but an ederly woman who spoke of the rock of Congolon certainly received a lot of applause.  It was quite warm that day, and a smart ice-cream vendor did a great business.  My children were amazed to think that  it was probably the first time some of the kids from Lempira had ever eaten ice cream.

A popular contestant in the poetry reading contest, plus a great view of Honduran cowboy hats in the foreground.
A popular contestant in the poetry reading contest, plus a great view of Honduran cowboy hats in the foreground.

A Honduran television news camera was there, and this article appeared two days later in the Honduran newspaper, La Prensa.  Wilfredo Ramos, the President of COCEPRADIL, is quoted saying, “Lempira lives in a  difficult situation with the drought that many municipalities of this zone face.  We are worried because to continue in this rapid rhythm of quick destruction [of the forest] the communities will face serious problems, and the next wars that we are going to have will be for the water.”

Being interviewed for Honduran t.v. (and luckily I was wearing my "Save Water Saves Lives" t-shirt!)
Being interviewed for Honduran t.v. (and luckily I was wearing my “Safe Water Saves Lives” t-shirt!)

More on our trip to Honduras to come soon . . .