Through the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras runs the Chamelecón River. The authorities have built levees on either side of the river to protect nearby neighborhoods from dangerous floodwaters. For years, internal migrants have been moving from the countryside to the city in search of a better life.
Many have found that these levees (called bordos) are the only places they can afford to live, so they crowd into ramshackle shelters in informal riverbank settlements. Families are at risk from the elements and from the gangs who use the bordos to hide from authorities. Because residents of the riverbanks don’t have rights to the land on which they live, it's difficult for them to access government services.
For many children, the ribbons of extreme poverty winding through San Pedro Sula are the only homes they’ve ever known. Their parents often walk miles to the city center to earn a daily wage that provides for a day or two of food.
In a desperate bid to halt the spread of coronavirus, the Honduran government shut down the country in March. Residents of the bordos found themselves in one of the world’s strictest lockdowns (according to a study of lockdown stringency by the University of Oxford).
Throughout Honduras about a million people faced unemployment, and the informal economy of day labor dried up instantly (affecting 70% of the population, including residents of the bordos). Hunger and child malnutrition skyrocketed, a product of vanishing income. Mobility was restricted; residents were only allowed out once every 15 days to buy food and necessities, if they had money for them in the first place. In the bordos, social distancing is difficult or impossible, due to the overcrowded conditions. Life in the bordos, already difficult, got a lot harder.
But as Alexis Pacheco, Tearfund’s regional director in Central America, points out, there was little choice but to put in place those extreme measures. Despite the lockdown, the already overburdened healthcare system could not cope with the pandemic. Hospitals were soon overflowing, and in June and July, many of those infected by the virus died at home or in the streets for lack of access to medical care.
Internationally, Latin America has become the world’s epicenter for the pandemic, accounting for 41% of daily deaths. Honduras is one of the worst-affected countries: They’ve had over 2000 deaths officially attributed to the virus, although that’s likely a drastic undercount, due to limited testing.
"Receiving help from people we don't even know like you reminds us that God takes care of us. Even though this disease is affecting everyone, we know that He pays attention to us!" - Anita
But in the midst of the suffering in the bordos, the church is responding to hunger and to fear. Transforma Joven (Transforming Youth) is a program that helps young adults and their churches see themselves as part of God’s mission, learning to seek justice in an unjust world. Supported by Tearfund USA, youth and their churches have been organizing emergency food distribution in the bordos. It’s been a lifeline for many who had begun to despair.
One mother, named Anita, described the help she received from Transforma Joven: "Many people are unaware that the banks of the Chamelecón River are home to hundreds of very poor families, but receiving help from people we don't even know like you reminds us that God takes care of us. Even though this disease is affecting everyone, we know that He pays attention to us!"
Honduras, and neighboring countries, are beginning now to lift some of the restrictions. Though the quarantine has continued, residents can now venture out every ten days for shopping. But with the relaxation of the lockdown, authorities are bracing for a second, perhaps larger, wave of infections.
As in so many countries, COVID19 has revealed inequalities and injustices that are hidden from view in normal times. Tearfund’s Alexis notes that national government responses in Central America have been plagued by long-standing issues of institutionalized corruption and systemic neglect of places like the bordos.
Churches in Honduras (and throughout Central America) are not only responding to the immediate physical and spiritual needs of hungry people. With Tearfund’s help, they are also raising their voices against injustice in their society. According to Alexis, they are asking for our prayers and continued support.
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