A Statue for the Worm

Three months before Hurricane Mitch, the following story was related by pastoral social workers here in Honduras:

Once upon a time there was a village that eked out a meager living by subsistence farming. Then one year a plague of gusanos (worms) devoured the whole corn crop. Facing famine, the people held a village meeting, and after going around in circles with no solution in sight, Dona Tina spoke up: "Why not plant plantains and bananas?" And so they did, everyone working together from sunrise to sundown. The community prospered more than ever, selling the plantains and diversifying their activities. A year later when they gathered to evaluate the miracle, the mayor proposed erecting a statue of Do±a Tina whose creativity had saved the village. But a voice from behind proposed, "Why not erect a statue for the worm?"

Here in Tocoa, which means "place of water," our gusano is Mitch. We haven't seen the television images of Mitch's devastation, and we haven't been to Tegucigalpa, but we have been hungry, thirsty, up to our knees in mud or our chests in water, absolutely I-can't-go-another-step, respond-to-another-demand exhausted. And yet, in this parish on the northern coast of Honduras—which has given birth to a reconstruction and renovation program operating in 104 communities and neighborhoods and replicated throughout the diocese—while a statue has not been discussed, "Gusano Mitch" has been the opportunity for a real Jubilee.

At a glance Jubilee seems far away. The writing of this article has been delayed by the sixth tail of Mitch, which knocked out power for another five days. Families are still in shelters, the new corn crop (not the one destroyed by Mitch) has been lost in the valley, and you've read about the rest: deficit, disaster, and the traditionally excluded more excluded than ever. Mitch is the hurricane that won't go away.

Jubilee is fundamentally about the restoring of right relationships, and no other word can describe the brand of hope that we are living in Tocoa Col=n, Honduras.

The framework for Jubilee is a Food for Work program that seems, on the surface, quite simple—but it is lined with an integral vision and supporting criteria. It provides basic food goods, technical support, some resources, and continual accompaniment for organized communities. It includes reconstruction proposals as diverse as community health campaigns, the recovery of food supply, and the construction of flood canals—all carried out by local emergency committees working with teams of local social pastoral workers trained in sustainable agriculture, health, alternative marketing, and gender and community organization.

IN A CROWDED AUDITORIUM that served as a shelter for 900 people, the scarce supply of drinking water was kept in a bucket and labeled with a sign that said "Do not use your own cup." Five bored, mischievous children, however, could think of nothing better than to try to stick their cups in the water. Then one relief worker gave them a special assignment. "This water is very important," she said. "I need you to be the guardians of the water so that no one dips in their own glass." And they, feeling respected and needed, became the fierce, undaunted protectors of the water supply.

Similarly, countless Hondurans are saying, "If not us, then who?"—righting their relationship with themselves, assuming the task of rebuilding their homes and communities, recognizing that progress occurs when they participate. Women, who have never even valued their never-ending activity as work, are speaking up when the pay sheets are evaluated. "I planted a garden. I rebuilt the wall of my house. I earned my corn and beans."

What other relationships are being righted? First, Hondurans of all stripes in communities marked by division and distrust are working together in local emergency committees: men and women, Evangelicals and Catholics, Liberals and Nationalists—debating ideas, prioritizing projects, participating in work crews. Mutual support and mutual respect are the expression of Jubilee.

The local becomes global. Local emergency committees sign accords with the rebuilding teams, creating a yoke that makes them two oxen pulling a cart of local reconstruction. The sectional emergency committees sign accords with municipal officials breaking down political favoritism. Each accord defines rights and obligations in an effort to weaken the macho tradition of development where those with resources define the activities of those without. Initiative, negotiation, and consensus replace dependency and begging.

And perhaps most necessary in order to prevent the devastating effects of hurricanes in the future, every community is taking advantage of the food-for-work pay incentives to transform a relationship of exploitation to a relationship of mutual care. Reforestation, planting without herbicides or slash and burn methods, soil rehabilitation, family gardens with local crops—all are projects that generate food payments (donated corn, beans, rice, and cooking oil) during this period, while simultaneously training people in techniques that offer to create a more just relationship with the land.

Who knows what Jesus would say? He probably doesn't favor statues for anyone. But having elected to present us with the greatest "gusano" of all, the mystery of the cross, 2,000 years ago, he made the connection clear between apparent signs of death and the opportunity to choose Jubilee. —Jennifer Casolo

JENNIFER CASOLO has coordinated the Women's Pastoral Center in San Isidro Labrador Parish in Tocoa Colon, Honduras, for the last four and a half years. She is on the coordinating committee of the Co-management Program for the Department of Colon.


For an additional reflection on Hurricane Mitch and Jubilee, check out A Mature Compassion. Real disaster relief requires more than "Good Samaritan" acts. By Marvin Rees. Sojourners January-February 1999 (Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 10-11). Commentary.

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