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.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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