Searching and Longing…


The leading pastor at a Christian Church I attended while I was living in Columbia, MO recently posted the following passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain on the Crossing Blog. The excerpt resonated with me, so I thought I would share it here too:

“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in or heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words. …You have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life. …Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction… something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side? …Some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which … night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. …[If you ever truly found it], beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.”

I’ve stood before God’s stunning landscapes and felt what Lewis is describing. Finally, for a few fleeting – yet wonderful – moments, I would feel at home. And whether I was out off the coast of California visiting the barking seals that live on Channel Islands or off the coast of Honduras SCUBA diving at the world’s second largest barrier reef system that rings the Bay Islands – the “clap-clap of water against the boat’s side” was always an inexplicably warm, familiar sound. I grew up in Mid-Missouri, not on the sea. While I have been on boats from time to time, the clap-clap sound of water lapping against a boat is always a treat for me, not an everyday encounter. Still, I think someone hearing it for the first time would find the sound comforting and familiar. Yes, I know what Lewis is referring to – I feel it and sense it every time I travel, make a photograph, listen to my favorite music. I feel it each time I meet yet another person whose life and soul leaves me awed and inspired… those encounters are the “tantalizing glimpses” and fading echoes that Lewis describes. Perhaps, this is why I’m so passionate about travel and adventure. I want see more “glimpses” and hear more “echoes.”

Nanoblogging

No time to Twitter? Then Flutter. The next platform of the blogosphere is not microblogging but nanoblogging. Hahahaha… check it out:

And Many were the Nations with Whose Manners and Customs She was Acquainted…

Continued from Many Cities Did She Visit
Click here to view the entire Flickr photo album.

I don’t really know how to share everything there is to share about my experience with Selvin. There is so much that I encountered with him, so much that I learned from him. He’s unspeakably complex and compelling.

I had left Lago de Atitlan reluctantly. Nostalgia was creeping into my heart before I had even boarded the olancha that would mark the beginning of my trip back to Antigua. But, I had promised friends of my return and a possible trip to the beach that weekend was in the works. It was time for me to go. Leaving wasn’t all that melancholy though. I was eagerly anticipating meeting “the boy with the smile” further up North in Guatemala in a few days. Turns out, I didn’t have to wait very long at all to meet up with Selvin.

The trip to the beach didn’t happen. Instead, it was a fun night out with Sofia’s friends in Guatemala City. The next day, when I called Selvin as I promised I would, we discovered we were both in Antigua. Perfect! We could head up north together. The day we planned to leave was the day I first began to glimpse and discover just how multi-faceted were the allure and spirit Selvin possessed. So quickly he was proving to be much more than “the boy with the smile.”

I had bought many souvenirs for Christmas gifts. I figured there was no way I could come back from this wonderfully artisan city full of goods colored by the Guatemalan rainbow empty-handed… especially for Christmas. Normally, I don’t do the souvenir thing because I’m traveling for long periods and there’s just no way I could lug it all around on my journey. Since I had the opportunity to bring home souvenirs this time, I had decided to go all out and simply ship most of it back. Ha! The whole “try-to-ship-it” process was quite the ordeal – an ordeal that Selvin, rather than I, mostly dealt with. As soon as I explained my plans to Selvin he jumped into action tracking down boxes, packing the boxes and taping the boxes with the utmost care for security and sturdiness. He invested a good couple hours into the completing the task thoroughly and without hesitation or complaint. The easy manner with which he embraced the task even before being asked to help, without a hint of gripe or complaint, revealed much… at least to me. It was quite evident that Selvin was a hard worker that tackled his duties with reverence and pride. That’s a quality that, I think, isn’t so easily found.
Continue reading “And Many were the Nations with Whose Manners and Customs She was Acquainted…”

Rythm and Wags

A vid of Mamadou that I never got around to posting. They were an African group that performed at the Multi Kulti Ball in Graz, Austria (Feb 2008). The percussion is fun and toward the end of the video, you see some young girls really wagging their booties!

Graveyard in Salzburg

A couple pics of a graveyard in Salzburg, Austra that I took in Mar 2008 and never found time to post. I was staying with an intriguing couchsurfer who was academic by day and death metal goth by night. He influenced my dark, graveyard pics. Click here to see more in my Flickr album.

Billy’s Story

Billy’s story really isn’t about Billy at all. Rather, it’s about the people he’s been working with nearly everyday for the past five years. Billy’s story is the story of the Chortí Maya, the direct descendants of the ancient Mayans. Billy describes them as Honduras’ “conquered people.”

“They used to own all of this land and it’s just like we did in North America,” Billy said. “In every country there’s a conquered people.”

Billy says since they became the “conquered people,” the Chortí Maya existence has been a harsh one – one of exploitation from land owners and a day-to-day struggle for survival.

“Before 1997, 50 percent of the Chortí children died before the age of five,” Billy said.

But, that was more then ten years ago. Now, the reality for these people is changing, and Billy and his work are a huge catalyst for much of that change. On the hour and a half truck ride – bumping through rough, dirt roads that could be washed away with the next rain and fording through swift streams – I listened to Billy talk about everything he was doing for these people… and by the end of the ride, there was still more to know.

I met Billy at the small, local pharmacy in Copán Ruinas. I was looking for face wash, but even the word “soap” in Spanish was escaping me. Obviously, I wasn’t getting very far. But then I heard a someone call out, “Jabón. Necessita jabón.” It was Spanish, but it was laden with a thick southern accent from the U.S. When I turned to see where the strange Spanish was coming from, I found Billy. Billy was there with a handsome, yet scruffy local, looking for some first-aid. The man had cut his finger and it didn’t look pretty. The cut wasn’t quite grotesque, but it was definitely a cut that needed some attention.

It wasn’t long before Billy filled me in on how he had moved from Arkansas eight years ago to live in Copán: to aid the people here who have need.

The next day, I found myself bumping over the dirt ruts the locals called a road in Billy’s truck. But, the bumping and bouncing was a rare, luxurious break for the handfuls of locals that hitched a ride with us between Copán and the La Pintada. Nearly everyone we passed on the hour and half ride knew Billy and sent a greeting, a wave and a bright smile in our direction when they saw him. Those that still had quite a hike to go, were urged into the truck with Billy’s friendly, thickly-accented Spanish. Most of the girls giggled at Billy’s Spanish. It seemed as if most of the guys – both with sparkling, white smiles and dark, toothless ones – gave Billy a sly wink. The compassion Billy showed the Chortí people was evident in their eyes. It was evident after he made a mental note to ask for a wheelchair for the man who scooted around on cobbled, gravel and dirt streets – molded rubber from old car tires the only cushion from the hard ground for his underdeveloped shins and feet. And it was evident, later, in the village where new huts were being built – huts that were cement instead of mud.

“They’re counting some of these folks as employed out here when they’re just living from day to day… poor folks have a hard time,” said Billy.

In reality, most of the Chortí Maya live off of $300 a year, less than a dollar a day. Few others are lucky to make more.

“I know a man right now that’s starting at a place; he’s working 12 hours a night for 40 Lempiras a night,” Billy said. “That’s a little over 2 dollars. And he’s glad to get it cause it’s the only job he’s got.”

A tough wage for feeding and supporting a typical family of eight to ten.

“We just want them to have enough food on the table that they can feed their family and someday have enough that they can save and sell,” said Billy. “And we want every kid to have clean water.”

Billy says the Chortí Maya people go hungry two months out of the year. Most of the villages don’t have clean water. But, the projects Billy, Mary and others are involved in are transforming these harsh realities of the Chortí people.

Billy and Mary have helped the locals develop the Chortí Maya Agricultural Training Center. The center is used to train locals in SALT, or Sloping Agricultural Land Technology. The program teaches villagers specialized farming techniques so they can grow enough food to feed their families throughout the year. Local villagers stay at the center for three days of training in SALT techniques. Billy says, that’s all the time it takes to start drastically changing the lives of the Chortí people. The training program also teaches the Chortí how farm in a sustainable way, one that combats the devastating soil erosion common in mountainous farming terrain. Through the agricultural training center, local farmers can also become involved in programs that offer instruction with seeds and planting, goats and even honeybees. The program has also introduced a self-propagating plant for firewood to encourage the Chortí people from harmful deforestation. Billy says the project is currently working with 100 Chortí families.

Fresh, clean water is another major goal for aid workers like Billy and Mary.

“My wife’s been instrumental through the Rotary clubs in the Unites States and through the Rotary Club in Santa Rosa de Copán and the Rotary Club in Copán Ruinas,” Billy said. “She’s got water to 13 villages.”

Don Warren, a retired executive from the textile industry, is another major player in getting fresh water to the Chortí villages. Billy says Don “has made it his mission in life, before he dies, to put clean water in every Chortí village.” That’s no small task. There are over 50 Chortí villages in Honduras. But, Billy says Don and his wife have help. Two peace corps workers have already mapped out a plan that promises to provide every Chorti village in the region with clean water.

Billy’s wife Mary does more than help create needed infrastructure for fresh water though. Billy says she’s also teaching the Chortí people about proper health techniques. What she’s teaching the Chortí might seem obvious to Westerners, but many of the Chortí have never been educated in what much of the Western world considers basic health knowledge.

“My wife Mary does health talks,” Billy said. “She takes people into villages and almost 100 percent of the Chorti women have never spent one day in a classroom. They’re very smart. They’re oral learners. So my wife goes in with different groups and she just teaches re-hydration. Water, clean water. A little salt and a little sugar. A little lemon juice. And when someone has diahhrea they can give them this and it re-hydrates them. She tries to teach them to take all these clothes and blankets and caps off these babies when they have a fever because they don’t know any different. She just tries to teach them cleanliness. Eighty-five percent of the problems with these rural people, medically, and this is what the doctor in town says, is cleanliness and poor water.”

Health isn’t the only education the Chortí are getting thanks to Billy and Mary.

“There are kids that are 16 and 17 years old in the first grade because a lot of villages are just now having their first school,” Billy said. “So the things are changing for ’em… What we do is we go in, and if they have teachers, I’ll build whatever they need. I just built a kindergarten in Roatona. Most places I build three classrooms. I’m fixing to build three classrooms in San Jironomo, Santa Rita. I talked to the mayor this morning. He’ll transport all of my materials in there, which will save me over $2,000 dollars.”

So far, Billy has built six schools. The government is also building schools for the Chortí people, but Billy says he can build two schools for the same cost the government builds one. Plus, he says the government doesn’t understand what the villagers need. While the government will install glass windows, Billy knows a stray soccer ball will bust out a the glass, and the window will never be repaired. That’s why Billy says he installs wire screens. Billy points out that it’s the little things that make all the difference. It was common before, he added, for schools to amount to nothing more than mud building with no windows at all.

Right now, he says the less than two percent of rural Honduran children finish the sixth grade. A majority of the kids go to first, second and third grade, he says. But, most of the boys will not go past the third grade. He says very few kids attend the fifth and sixth grades because they need to work. About eighty-five percent of rural children, he says, do not read or right. One-hundred percent of Chortí women do not read or write. But, Billy says he’s already seeing that reality change as more villages establish their own schools through the necessary help of aid.

Billy also helps out with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity whenever he’s given the chance. The day I rode with Billy, he was making the trip out to the villages, just to give the local Habitat for Humanity representative who was stranded in town a ride out to do his job. Aber is working with Don Warren in the local Habitat for Humanity project.

“The other project Don Warren wants to see is that every Chortí sleeps in a house and has a concrete floor and that’s his goal,” Billy said.

That’s an important goal. Not only one that aims to put a solid, metal roof over each family, it also protects the Chortí from a critical threat – a threat that burrows deep into the the more traditional straw and mud huts of the Chortí people.

“In Honduras there’s a bug,” Billy said. “It kind of looks, to me, like a cross between a cockroach and bowweavea? If this bug, [the] Chi-Chi bug, bites you, you will have heart trouble [Chagas]. And La Leguna is a little village just out of Copan Riunas. Over 80 percent of the kids [there] have already tested positive for Chagas. The bug lives in adobe [mud huts] and in straw roofs. So the government and other organizations and Habitat are trying to put everyone at least in a house that has [cement]. If they have an adobe house, they’re putting cement over the adobe, which is fine. It seals [the mud] and they’re giving them a metal roof and a concrete floor and that will give the people better health.”

So far, Habitat for Humanity has funded a metal roof and cement plaster for 14 houses in various Chortí villages. The organization has also built four additional new houses. Billy and the others aren’t stopping at concrete walls and a metal roof though:

“We also have a improved stove project that I’m working on,” Billy said. “We’ve got a guy out of Mississippi, Pierce Smith… We’re trying to put an improved stove in each home. A wood burning stove with a chimney. Because so many of these kids, there’s no chimney in the home, so the smoke is in the home and it’s like [the kids] have a two or three pack a day cigarette habit. They have lung problems, eye problems and skin problems.”

Billy and Mary are working to provide the Chortí with food, water, schools, houses, basic health education… and still… somehow… more.

“Four Chortí children have had heart surgery here in country,” Billy said. “A little boy, right now, will have surgery in November or January in Somesa hospital in San Pedro.”

Another, he says, will receive an artificial limb. Still others are getting cataract surgery. A six-month old and 19-year-old will receive surgery for cleft palates. He’ll be able to get injections for 20 this year, who are suffering from open, festering wounds that aren’t leprosy, nor are they symptoms of diabetes. All this through a network of people who have come to know Billy, come to know his work, and have felt compelled to contribute, in their own ways.

“In the last ten years, health has improved, which is good,” Billy said. “But the other thing is, they’re still having seven and eight kids, so they’re going to run out of land. So it’s good that the kids are living longer, but if they don’t cut down on the number of kids they have, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Right now, the only land the Chortí own is the half acre of land the government gives to each family. That’s not much land for seven or eight children to split as inheritance.

So, why do they do it? Why do Billy and Mary and others give up the comforts of Western living to pour so much heart and soul into helping the Chortí people? They’re answer is simply, they felt called by God. But, Billy explains, the last thing he wants, is to force his religion upon those he’s serving.

“When I build a school I ask them, if I build you a school can I have a Bible school,” Billy said. “You are not required to attend, I don’t care if anyone in the village doesn’t attend. Let me use it while they’re not in school… I’m paid by the International Mission Board, which is in Richmond, Virginia. It is Southern Baptist, but we do not put any requirements on the people. We do not require them to attend a Bible study. We don’t require anything of them, except that they have to do the manual labor. I don’t care what church they belong to, or if they don’t go to church, or if they don’t believe in God. That’s up to them. We work with them because we believe that Jesus helped everyone.”

Billy estimates that 90 percent of the people he’s helping today are Catholic. But, he says, the details don’t matter. What matters to him, is to teach through example. He wants to reveal God through actions. And, no matter what you believe or what the Chortí believe, it’s safe to say that those who meet Billy recognize a certain “holy” quality about him. Call it God. Call it special. Call it what you want. Whatever you call it, you can’t deny: Billy is quite the inspiration.

You can find videos of the Chortí Maya by clicking here.

Finding My Footing in Honduras

There are those special people that you meet that stop you in your tracks and absolutely stun you with their beauty, their compassion, their utter humanity. They fill your heart with inspiration and gladness. You cherish every moment you get to share with them, every moment their path aligns with yours. And, when it’s time to go on your way, you miss them. Memories of them bring a sweet smile to your face. You know you’d like to see them again. You eagerly look forward to when your paths shall cross again.

And then, there are those who do all that… and still… somehow… more. You aren’t just stopped in your tracks for some finite amount of time. Suddenly, knowing them, makes your path seem uncertain. There’s question. The blazed, clear-cut trail suddenly fades to a whisper. You crane your neck, lift hand to brow, look left… and yes! You can see them again: bold, clear tracks. But wait. You look right… and you spy another set of bold, clear tracks. So… which are yours? Both look promising and inviting. Both seem to offer the fulfillment of some deep desires of your heart. But each path seems to offer the fulfillment of different desires. You have to choose and you wonder: ‘which choice is right?’ Alas! Only one way must be the right way because you can only go one way. And then, you realize whichever way you choose is the right way. It’s just a choice: a choice between two rights. You win either way. Just, what you win will be different depending upon which way you go.

This makes you smile and you close your eyes and relax. Only good things lie before you. So you meditate and simply listen and observe. You know your feet will find their way. And for the moment, you pause and just enjoy the special place where two rights lay before you. That special place that can only be found when you come to know a specific, special person. When you open your eyes again, you’ll find your feet will already be walking…. to the right… or left.

Stories from agritour

I was sick, yet calm and relaxed. The three days of intense north-south exploration of Honduras’ agribusiness sector came after literally months of non-stop travel, comprised of both work and adventure. Yup, I had hit the wall. It’s no fun being sick. But, I was looking forward to the break. I just need to learn to take my breaks before I get sick. As far as where I was sick… *shrug*. I have been sick in strange, foreign lands before and I survived just fine. Plus, this time my accommodations were far greater. This would be smooth sailing.

And… it was! Just one night of shutting everything else out, submitting to a complete and total relaxation and simply accepting that I was sick… did the trick. I held a calm faith that I would get better and the next morning I was better! Not quite 100 percent, but just nearly there. I was happy about this because Arturo, the local couchsurfer I had been in touch with, was picking me up and, despite his assurances that it was not a problem, I did not want him to have to welcome one sick puppy. ; )

I knew I was in store for a real treat meeting Arturo. His references on couchsurfing repeatedly boasted an open, generous and selfless host that seemed to take complete joy in sharing his Honduran heritage in Tegucigalpa. Excellent qualities. From his pictures he looked like a handsome, clean-cut, well-mannered man. His willingness to host a sick guest attested to the fact that all the above was true.

Yup. When Arturo pulled up he was evidently, handsome, clean-cut, and… taking my luggage, taking my hand in a meaningful greeting and paying for my hotel laundry bill… he was unquestionably well-mannered. Arturo had stepped out from work to come pick me up, so the plan was to take me back to his place where I could get more rest and finish up on some work.

And that’s basically what I did during my entire stay with Arturo: rest, work, a little one-on-one futbol and cozy evenings with dinner at great local joints. Nothing too eventful, but that’s exactly what I needed. This also gave Arturo and I ample time to get into hearty discussions about life, spirituality and humanity in general. Me? Getting into hearty discussions and debates?? Ha! I’m so fortunate that I meet such wonderful and open listeners all the time!! ; )

And through his thoughts, beliefs and behavior I saw first-hand that Arturo is every bit as impressive as his couchsurfing references boasted. He’s a man that will certainly make you stop in your tracks… ; )

My path seems a bit uncertain. But, my feet are leading me to Copan Ruinas, with a cheese and marmalade sandwich that Arturos made for me in my bag!!

Ag Steward of the Chortí Maya

Okay. This is a story I’ve published on AgWired. There’s MUCH more to the story, which I plan on publishing here, but it’s been quite a challenge with the intermittent internet. So, I’m just publishing what I have now and will publish more later…

There is a group of indigenous people in Honduras that live off an average of $300 a year… less than one dollar a day. At least two months out of every year they starve. That’s the reality as Billy Collins sees it. Billy has been working with the Chortí Maya, the direct descendants of the Mayan Indians, for five years.

I met Billy in Copán Ruinas, a charming town in Western Honduras not far from the Guatemalan border. The small, cobblestoned town is “base camp” so-to-speak for visiting Honduras’ famous ancient Mayan ruins. That’s why I am here: to see the ruins. But, it’s been three days and I have yet to explore them. Instead, I’ve been exploring the harsh realities of the Chortí Maya, realties that Billy, his wife Mary and a handful of others are committed to change. And, they’re making those changes largely through agriculture. I spent an entire day with Billy touring villages of adobe huts with straw roofs, bumping and bouncing along dirt roads consistently washed out by the wet season’s frequent rains to get to them.

While Billy and his wife are involved in more than a handful of projects with the Chortí, their SALT project, or Sloping Agricultural Land Technology, is among one of the biggest. It’s a project that’s aimed at training the indigenous people how to cultivate their rolling, mountainous lands more efficiently and successfully. Through a double hedgerow terracing technique, Billy says the Chortí Maya can double, even triple their current crop yields.

“We give them enough to plant like a half acre, enough seeds,” Billy said. “I’m talking about seeds for their terracing. We use leguminous seeds to terrace. We use the A-frame to mark out how terraces should go and then they plant it… We want to stop water long enough to let it drop the soil, let plants get taller, this soil will get higher and they’ll have good soil. In three to four years, if they do this right they can double their harvest.”

The key, Billy is quick to point out, is the villagers’ hands-on role in the training.

“We go out in the village and we ask for [local] volunteers who want to enter the program,” Billy said. “We teach them how to use the A-frame. We teach them how to space out their seeds. Then, they have to go home and prepare their own land, about a half acre. Then, we will come and look at it and if it’s done then we will give them the seeds to plant… They just take a stick and they just punch a hole in the ground. They drop one seed of corn in there, cover it. And then they know how far to step. And then they put another hole in the ground. They put in two kernels of corn. Cover it. And then all this was planted by hand like that. Then they go back beside it on the uphill side, about four inches from it, when it’s time to fertilize, and they’ll punch a hole and they’ll put three fingers worth of fertilizer in the hole. But all of it’s done by hand. Every bit of it.”

Most of the seeds the Chortí are planting are corn and beans.

“Right now the Chorti live on tortillas and beans and that’s basically it,” Billy said. “And a few fruits. We’re basically trying to expand their diet… We give them ten fruit trees of their choice, like different type of orange trees, lemons whatever they want. Then, if they do well with this program and keep their hedgerows up, in between the hedge rows they plant beans, corn, and a permanent crop like coffee. Then there will be another double hedgerow on up to the top of the hill. On the top of the hill we try to get them to plant the trees.”

Billy stresses that his project is not a welfare program.

“We know that welfare does not work in the United States,” Billy said. “There is no end to trying to feed people. Here in Honduras, with a little education, they can feed themselves.”

Bottom line: Billy says his program will not plant crops for the people, but instead will train them how to plant it themselves. An aid policy that Billy says is more sustainable and more valuable for these people in need.

The training begins at a six-acre farm (3.5 manzanas) developed by Billy, his wife, other project leaders and the locals. The land was originally communal property that belonged to the Chortí Council. The council gave the project permission to use the land for five years. However, in order to avoid trouble in the future should the leadership of the Chortí Council change hands and the land agreement expires, the Chortí people have decided to legally designate the land as an agricultural training center. The center is where the local villagers come for about three full days of training in SALT techniques. Billy says, that’s all the time it takes to start drastically changing the lives of the Chortí people. Billy says the project is currently working with 100 Chortí families.

Without the training though, Billy says the villagers’ situation is desperate. Traditional farming practices of the more than 50 Chortí Maya villages are leading to rampant deforestation.

“All their soil just washes away and in a few years and they make very little corn and they have very little to eat,” Billy says. “So they’ve got to learn to save and protect what they have because they’re not going to get anymore. The government’s not going to buy anymore land for them.”

Right now, the government gives each family just under an acre of land to farm, and that’s about all most will ever get. The land, relatively near the ancient Mayan ruins in a stunning terrain of peaks and valleys that are canvassed in mountainous jungle, is valued at up to $1200 per acre. That’s a price that’s ridiculously unafordable for a people whose income averages less than a dollar a day. But, Billy’s project is tackling the deforestation issue in more ways than one. Aside from training the villagers in SALT and teaching them how to sustain terraced, nitrogen-rich soil, the project also offers them the chance to cultivate self-propagating indigo trees from Indonesia as a renewable source for firewood. Billy says the goal is to give each family 365 indigo trees.

“This tree is self-propagating so after a year, the wife could go out and cut the tree down, have a days worth of firewood and that tree would start growing [again],” Billy said. “She would just continually have a supply of firewood around the house and they wouldn’t have to go around and cut all the forest down because 95 percent of the people in Honduras burn firewood to cook with.”

Crops and firewood isn’t the only agricultural help the project offers the Chortí. Billy says they also help the villagers develop proper pens for housing goats.

“We’ll give them a goat, three goats,” Billy said. “Three female goats pregnant at different times… I will give them the roof, the metal for the roof [of the goat house] and I will loan them enough money to build a house. The goat house is 8 feet by ten feet, and it’s built up off the ground. It has a half inch space. The floor’s done in slats or strips and there’s a half inch space between each strip and that way the manure falls through. Every three days, they rake this up because it’s built up off the ground. They can use that for fertilizer. The goats never touch the ground.”

Though Billy does offer some free aid and materials initially, he says program is designed to teach the villagers to pay back part of their aid.

“We give them enough seeds that they’ll plant a forage area. And they carry water and they’ll feed em twice a day. And when they have a baby, the first weaned female comes back to me so I can give it to another family,” Billy said. “Remember I gave them three goats. Then, the others, I will give them 400 Lempiras which is a little over $20 dollars for each good female and that way they can pay back for their goat house. We want all males castrated within 30 days and then they can fatten that up to eat it or they can sell it to make.”

The goats, Billy says, also help offer young Chortí children another milk source for vital nutrients.

“The children here, after they reach the age of two, they do not receive anymore milk because the mother weans them at the age of two and then she’s going to have another kid,” Billy said.

Billy says the project also offers similar programs with cattle, bees and honey, and vegetables if the villagers show they’re making progress and are paying off their debts. All the loans that Billy offers are free of interest.

For Billy and Mary, it’s all about education.

“There’s no reason they should go hungry,” Billy says. “No reason… They really need to be taught.
And they’re willing to learn. There are more that want to learn than don’t.”

The agricultural project is a big one, but it’s just one of many. Some other projects the couple is involved with include housing, clean water and health education and aid for the Chortí people. Billy says many of the projects they’re involved in are funded and supplemented by help and donations from various aid organizations, such as religious groups, non-governmental organizaitons and medical groups as well as private donations. One of the greatest needs that Billy describes right now is more aid in reforestation expertise.

You can contact Billy and Mary directly at billyccollins@gmail.com.

Now, check out these videos of the Chortí Maya Agricultural Center and a tour through a typical Chortí hut.

At War or at the Mall?

My dad forwarded this to me by email. Normally, I don’t contribute to the whole “forwarded email” scheme, but this excerpt makes you think. I don’t agree with all of it, but I definitely think it raises questions and concepts that EVERYONE should be thinking about… when they’re not. Anything bolded is something I found particularly worth thinking about. Non-italicized comments in parentheses are mine.

Got this from a gentleman in his 80’s (and a DEMOCRAT!) who actually lived through those (and these) times. Agree or not, makes you stop and think.

‘You Ain’t Gonna Like Losing.’ Author unknown

President Bush did make a bad mistake in the war on terrorism. But the mistake was not his decision to go to war in Iraq . Bush’s mistake came in his belief that this country is the same one his father fought for in WWII. It is not.

Back then, they had just come out of a vicious depression. The country was steeled by the hardship of that depression, but they still believed fervently in this country. They knew that the people had elected their leaders, so it was the people’s duty to back those leaders.

Therefore, when the war broke out the people came together, rallied behind, and stuck with their leaders, whether they had voted for them or not or whether the war was going badly or not. And war was just as distasteful and the anguish just as great then as it is today. Continue reading “At War or at the Mall?”

Wise Words from an Ignorant Man

Well, not quite so ignorant actually. If you read this, you’ll figure out what I’m driving at. And read it you should. My friend Stephen wrote this. I’m blown away by his words. For me, they speak every word of truth. My friend Justin responded with some cunning of his own. What a blessing to have friends that can speak from the soul and stop you in your tracks! I urge you to consider what they wrote. Feel free to comment or criticize.

Note: A sampling of where my heart has been lately….

”Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” –

Thomas Jefferson

How Long Will They Kill Our Prophets?

If your are even slightly familiar with Plato, you may know that some of his most fervent writing came after his teacher Socrates was sentenced to death for the crime of “impiety”. It was a charge levied against him by the tyrannical Athenian government who believed that “might is right” and who Socrates repeatedly opposed for their “style over substance” governing that he felt led to the decline of virtue in his region. His sentence is not much different than that of Jesus centuries later accused of “blasphemy” and given over to the torture device that you can recognize on the façade of most churches nowadays, only after he lived antithesis to the oppressions of the Roman administration. If it behooves you to know, Socrates, like Jesus, did not accept his badge as a wise man, but instead believed what was later found in biblical writings “that those who think they are wise are not wise.” It was his belief that man must first admit his own ignorance before the portals of higher truth and consciousness can be opened to him. Another great statesmen against acts of injustice, Martin Luther King, found himself burdened by the truth and troubled by the atrocities in Vietnam and spoke out on April 4, 1967: “Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war…but a time comes when silence is betrayal.” Continue reading “Wise Words from an Ignorant Man”