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Disaster preparedness in the bordos of San Pedro Sula, Honduras

02 June 2016

Teresita sells corn tortillas for a living in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. 

But this tiny woman is not just a street vendor, she is a community leader trained to respond to natural disasters. 

Teresita lives in Gavión, one of the bordos of the city. These are illegal, impoverished settlements built over the earth dam erected to protect the city from flooding. 

Three members of bordo Gavión emergency committee. Teresita is in the middle.

Three members of bordo Gavión emergency committee. Teresita is in the middle. 

People without anywhere else to go, like Teresita in 2002, build shanty houses in areas prone to floods, landslides and now earthquakes. 

There is no sanitation, and fires from illegal energy connections are common. The maras, Central American violent gangs, control the neighbourhoods. 

Life here is tough, and climate change will only worsen it. 

But now 10 of these communities of San Pedro Sula and Choloma, including Teresita's Gavión, have their own trained local emergency committees (CODEL). 

More than 36,000 people have benefited from a Trócaire project co-funded by the European Commission and Irish Aid.  

The Mennonite Social Action Commission  (CASM), the NGO Association (ASONOG), along with the Honduras Association of Factories, trained local people how to respond in case of emergency. 

Emergency committee members of Bordo Bográn.

Emergency committee members of Bordo Bográn.

Around 4000 workers have also benefited from the project. Factory employees can address emergencies in crowded environments, and they know how to protect each other. 

The companies have also pledged to support communities in this task and to reinforce the local and national emergency system. 

"Before the project, it was every man for himself" remembers Doña Santos, who has been living in the Dixie bordo for almost 15 years. 

"But now we know what to do, we can help people", Teresita says. She is in charge of keeping larders and distributing food to people affected by emergencies. 

“People recognise us as somebody able to help, they look to us because we are trained", Eli Mercedes, from Bográn bordo, adds while she tries to study for the final exam of her disaster risk management course. 

"Now we know how to put out fires", a proud Claudia from Bográn states. Firefighters can't access the bordos, so the neighbours are by themselves. 

"The other day I witnessed an accident, and I was able to give first aid and call the ambulance", tells Dalsia, a mother of three from Dixie that earns a living recycling rubbish. Many of the CODEL leaders are women, as they represent the majority of the bordos population. 

"Men don't like to accept women's orders, but here they are pretty submissive!" Teresita says, trying not to laugh.  

People from the bordos also deal with violence, high HIV rates and stigmatisation. Inhabitants of these areas are usually discriminated against when applying for jobs and have a very low self-esteem.

This project has also helped participants to grow personally. "I have overcome my fears, and I don't feel vulnerable anymore, now I have my little business, and I have plans for the future", says Melkin, a new leader of the Bográn community who benefited from leadership training. 

"I want to be a psychologist," says Claudia.  "I would love to study business management", Wendy, one of the youngest CODEL members, adds. 

Thanks to the private sector involvement, some of the beneficiaries have been offered jobs in the factories that support the project. 

Eli Mercedes stops studying for a second to say "I love to feel part of something important, I am a new woman now, I do what I do firmly and with all my heart."

 "We won't give up. We are ready to keep going. Always," Claudia says smiling. 

"We won't disappoint all the people that have helped us", Teresita says while she keeps selling tortillas on the dangerous gang controlled streets of San Pedro Sula. 

By Santiago Agra Bermejo

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