Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Honduran upper class has a role to play

The more a government does, the less its citizens have to do. Garbage in the street, bruised child in the house next door, stray dog barking all night long - in a well-developed democracy like Canada, there's some government body or another to turn to for any of those problems, and an MLA or city councillor to yell at if nothing happens.
Honduras is the other side of the coin. It's a country where there's nobody but you to take responsibility for anything. If somebody's old wreck of a couch turns up outside your door, if the neighbour's child is clearly neglected and possibly abused, if a pack of starving dogs is howling and fighting every night around 2 a.m. just down the road, you've basically got two choices: Take things into your own hands or shut up and live with it.
I don't know what conditions have to be in place before communities unable to rely on government inrtervention come together to launch citizens' initiatives to deal with shared problems. What are the factors that give rise to service clubs, for instance, or Neighbourhood Watch programs? What prompts churches to lift their vision beyond the needs of their congregation and reach out to the broader community?
Those are questions that Honduras communities would do well to ponder. The 3.5 million Hondurans who live in extreme poverty can be excused for not being able to summon the resources for anything beyond keeping their family alive, but what's stopping the other four million from doing more? Why do they tolerate such massive problems in their communities, such ineffective governance?
If you're poor in Honduras, life can be pretty damn miserable. But it can be pretty damn miserable if you're rich, too. All the money in the world won't save you from the country's car-eating potholes, random violence, garbage-strewn and contaminated rivers, and starving feral dogs that bark all night long.
Even if they were acting solely out of self-interest, I'd have expected to see more community initiatives underway at the hands of middle-class and wealthy Hondurans, if only because they were good and fed up with having to build higher and higher walls around their houses and hire more and more security guards to accompany their families on virtually every outing. Wouldn't they, too, like a clean lake and a green park for their kids to play in? (A writer for Honduras Weekly also wonders why the rich aren't doing more.)
The general explanation given for why so little happens here is that narco-trafficantes control everything. But that explains nothing to me, because surely narco-trafficantes want better roads and more security in their daily lives as much as anybody. Why would working in an illegal industry automatically exclude you from wanting better for your country?
Honduras feels like a country that's waiting for change. Unfortunately, that comes from within. Some of the most important work I see my organization and other NGOs doing is educating young people on the rights and responsibilities of living in a democracy, and how change starts with one person choosing to do things differently.
But somebody's got to get some action going among the rich Hondurans, too. With significant homegrown wealth here, it's not right to leave the mess for coming generations and other countries to solve.

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