September 24, 1999 - Linking the Americas: Mitch makes mark on Peace Corps members

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Honduras: Peace Corps Honduras: The Peace Corps in Honduras: September 24, 1999 - Linking the Americas: Mitch makes mark on Peace Corps members

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Mitch makes mark on Peace Corps members



Mitch makes mark on Peace Corps members

Mitch makes mark on Peace Corps members

BY ERIC GRUBER

Associate Editor

Within the last two years there has been an invasion in Honduras from a prominent strategic group. This particular infiltration has endured battles with language and geography, and at times its members were risking their own health to achieve their mission.

More than two years ago, three college graduates from New England joined the United States Peace Corps and headed off to their Central American destination, Honduras. During this time, the three Peace Corp members encountered a tragedy that came with a devastating force, Hurricane Mitch.

"We all come from very different work areas, said Brian Gareau, 25, from Connecticut. "In my case, Iíve been living in a hot village and dead center of a protected area." Gareau was located in the southern departments of Choluteca, a city in the very southern part of Honduras.

He shared his account of Mitchís devastation, and how he survived the aftermath. "Before Mitch, for me it was about a 45-minute one-way trip to get my water source," he said. "It was really rustic, so we didnít have TV or anything else like that."

This type of seclusion left little foreknowledge of the powerful winds to come. "I found out about Hurricane Mitch about two days before it hit us," Gareau said. "So no one in my village was prepared for what was coming. It hit our area really hard, more than any other department in Honduras."

The assault to the southern department in Honduras included a 90 percent loss of crops, and a 50 percent loss of the coffee harvest.

He was unable to leave the town for a week after the hurricane. He said the ordeal was "a dramatic experience."

"I had been in the same clothes for a week," he said. "It stopped raining, and I was out of food, so I walked out of town. I went to the department capital, which was in Choluteca, to find out what was going on and to buy some food for a few families and myself." Upon arrival at the Choluteca however, he found the 90,000-person city evacuated. Working for half of the day to get word to the Peace Corps, he discovered he was the last of the remaining workers. All the rest had been evacuated two days earlier. After taking a convoy of "going in boats, crossing rivers, getting in buses here and there," he reached a department in neighboring El Salvador, where the Peace Corps was able to use its "political magic" to get him a new passport. He then flew to Panama City, where the other volunteer workers were relocated. He returned three weeks later to continue his service in Honduras.

"The south was hit pretty hard because it was deforested," said Tara Pisani, 25, from New York.

"Fifty percent of the beans were lost and corn was a little less than 50 percent. The sorghum fared pretty well even after the landslides."

Pisaniís specialty is in hillside farming, which utilizes traditional planting involving sporadic instead of row-by-row farming. Due to a lack of education in sustainable agriculture techniques, the farmers use their land until it becomes infertile. After the land is used up, they move on. This type of destructive agriculture made it hard for the land to stand up to the fierce wind and rain. "The soils made it susceptible to erosion in landslides," she said.

Todd Thorne, 25, from Pennsylvania, worked with water and sanitation in the city of San Lorenzo, just on the Pacific coast of Honduras. "When we had the hurricane, it didnít do that much in the city where I was," Thorne said. "The ocean kind of came up and took out a couple of blocks which were real close to the ocean."

Thorne said that although his location fared well, the damage was more prominent in other parts.

"I didnít think it was that bad, but later I found out there was a lot of little towns all around [that were] just wiped out," he said. "There was one where the water just came over and took out all the houses - they were all made out of adobe, which is big dirt, and they all fell down."

After the storm, there was great need for reconstruction of houses and other buildings. Aid came in from Canada, the United States, Europe, and even Cuba. Thorne said the cities and towns were "rebuilt probably better than it was before."

With a country full of people dependent on gravity systems using water straight from creeks and rivers, the hurricaneís devastation took a toll on an important life-sustaining element. "When the hurricane came, there was all sorts of flash flooding - washed out everything that was above ground," Thorne said. "All that had to be rebuilt, and that was mostly what I did after the hurricane."

Nearly a year later, Honduras is well on its way to a full recovery, with some evidence of scarring on both the land and the people. And now as their work for the Peace Corps draws to a close, the three volunteers look forward to their futures and the knowledge they gained through this work.

Pisani and Gareau have plans for graduate school, as well as continued international travel and work. They also plan to get married. Thorne said he has no set plans as of yet, but he would like to get involved with an international construction company and work somewhere in Latin or Central America. But all three agree that the Peace Corps has been an excellent opportunity and experience.

"I have no regrets whatsoever," Gaurau said.

"Itís the best."

"Itís a great, great, job," Pisani said. Persons interested in information on the Peace Corps may visit its website at www.peacecorps.gov or may call (800) 424- 8580. .

NOPPADOL PAOTHONG/The Chart Commuters squeeze through traffic in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The members of the Peace Corps worked in Honduras for two years including the devastating period when Hurricane Mitch ravaged the country. "I had been in the same clothes for a week. It stopped raining, and I was out of food so I walked out of town."

BRIAN GAREAU Peace Corps Member Three from States help Hondurians after disaster



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Story Source: Linking the Americas

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Honduras; Disaster Relief

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