This past week Tim Hines and I attended the "Marching Toward Independence Of The Honduran People" conference in Atlanta. Hosted by the Consulate General of Honduras, the 2 day conference was attended by dozens of NGOs (Non-government Organizations) that work in Honduras. Tim represented IRC and I reperesented TORCH Missions. Nearly all of the groups there were faith based groups that work all over Honduras. It was really impressive to meet the representatives of the groups and hear what they are doing. Some were small church groups that work only a couple of weeks per year in Honduras while others were large organizations that work year round. Many were medical groups operating clinics and health care centers while others specialized in argriculture and well digging and water purification systems.
The General Consulate of Honduras, Emelisa Callejas, comes from a very powerful and politically influential family in Honduras and now works as Consulate in Atlanta. Her passion is NGOs and she is dedicating her efforts in helping groups like us have a better and more productive work in Honduras. She invited several Honduran government officals to the meeting to do presentations and to have question / answer sessions. Representatives from the Secretaries of Argriculture, Defense, Interior, Education, and Finance were presesent.
The focus of all the presentations was to share the new 30 year vision Honduras has in place to help develop the country and assist the people of Honduras. The presentations were quite impressive and were the exact presentations that were used when the current president, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, met with the United States. Sharing this vision to NGOs is one of the top priorities of the government because they realize that literally millions of dollars in aid and supplies are donated to the country every year through non-profits and that thousands of volunteers come to work in Honduras. Through coordinated efforts between the Honduran government, NGOs, and other international agencies and countries, Honduras is trying to put a plan into place that will get them off the road of poverty and onto a road to prosperity.
Although IRC / TORCH Missions is just 2 of many players on the field, it became obvious that we were major players in this meeting of the minds. Compared to the other NGOs, we were in the top tier of organizations as far as the number of workers we brought into the country, the amount of goods we shipped in for donation, and the impact we were making in the areas in which we work. Senora Emelisa Callejas, the General Consulate, was very much aware of who were are and what we do. She specifically asked for a private meeting with Tim and I the morning before the conference began.
Even though the morning was a buzz at the Latin American Association building getting ready for the conference (which started at 2:00) Tim and I arrived at the building at 9:30 for a 10:00 appointment with Senora Callejas. She is a warm and charming lady and spoke excellent English (which was good for me!). We met for about 45 minutes in her office and was able to discuss in detail some of the problems and frustrations that we have experienced shipping containers, red tape in paperwork, fees and delays that we have experienced, and other issues that have dampened and slowed down our work in Honduras. She was very concerned that Tim was able to name specific Congressmen and Sentators in the Honduran government, all that she knew personally, that had promised help in various ways, that never fully materialized. She was quite aware of the frustatations found within government and showed great compassion towards the things NGOs were going through. Although she could not promise specifc results, she did promise to do all she could within her ralm of influence (which we believe is immense) in helping us in our work. BTW, we were the only ones that received a private meeting during the conference.
The conference allowed the NGOs a chance to voice concerns on many issues, all of which were common amoung all of our groups. Of the 3,500 NGO groups working in Honduras, only 150 are registered and officially recognized by the Honduran government at this time. Being part of a small number will certainly have its benefits in weeks and months to come. Tim and I are cautiously optimistic that the government is going to impliment rules, laws, and changes that will certainly help us. We are one step closer to having tax exempt status for all goods and services we purchase in Honduras. We also believe that containers will be passing though customs and ports much faster with less paper work and headaches. This is a good start for us and for all of the NGOs in general. Hopefully we will be having more meetings in the future and that our realm of connections will grow and become even more effective as we work in Honduras.
On another note, Tim and I will be traveling to Costa Rica soon, as early as March, to begin meetings with the government there. Last year's trip to Buenos Aires opened up doors of opportunity that are rarely given to Americans working there. If all goes as planned, we will be one of the first groups that will be allowed to bring in a medical brigade to work in Honduras from the States. Tim and I, along with Minor Perez and Daniel Chaves, will be meeting with local government leaders and possibly national leaders as well, to begin developing the protocols that will be needed for medical personnel to come and work in Costa Rica. I guess I will be going out and buying more dress clothes, since my typical shorts and t-shirt garb will not be exactly up to speed meeting with government officals! Oh if my high school teachers could see me now....
As we approach my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, I hope and pray that you will spend time in the next few days reflecting on all of the good things that God has done for you in your life. God continues to give us what we need, many times in abundance, and provides for us in ways we seldom even realize. We should be eternally grateful and thankful for the blessing we have, both physically and spiritually. We truly have been blessed and I consider all of you some of my greatest blessings of all. And the blessing of being able to work together in a great ministry like TORCH has blessed the lives of countless thousands with more to come. Do not allow the Christmas blitz to overlook a time we should pause and give thanks.