In rural Honduras, there’s no easy way to get around, as our field technician Daniel Escobar explains in this interview.
Victor Daniel Escobar Peña (who goes by Daniel) is EcoLogic’s field technician on our Towns for Environmental Corridors and Communities project in northern Honduras. He works on the ground with our local partner, the Municipalities of the Central Atlántida Department (MAMUCA), and oversees and helps implement our community-centered conservation work.
Daniel grew up and lives in the community of La Masica in Atlántida, and has worked with EcoLogic for six years. In this interview, Daniel reflects on the threat of climate change, the importance of involving local people in protecting the places they live in, and his hopes and dreams for the future.
What is working in the field in rural Honduras like?
Well, working in such a remote part of Honduras is full of some unique challenges. To get to some of the communities that I work with, way in the heart of the Pico Bonito-Texiguat (PIBOTEX) biological corridor, I have to walk seven hours! Seven hours one way. There is no easy way to get there, so walking is the way I have to get my job done. I walk seven hours in the morning, do the day’s work, and then the next morning, I walk seven hours back.
These are incredibly rural communities, with a population of only, oh, about forty families on average. I’m teaching them more sustainable agriculture techniques, which is important because they’re living in such a critical place for biodiversity. And we’re building fuel-efficient stoves for these families, which has had a huge impact on their quality of life. It’s all worth it!
What inspires you to do the work that you do?
What inspires me most is the direct contact that my work gives me both with my community and with nature. I’m able to share the experiences of the people I live and work with, good and bad, every day. I can’t say enough how rewarding it is to be able to help the people in my community (and the greater region) by working with them so directly. We live our problems together, and we build solutions together, day by day.
What projects are you currently working on with our local partner, MAMUCA, in the region?
We are always working on a lot of initiatives at once. Some of our projects are small, but they have a huge impact on families’ health and quality of life, like building fuel-efficient stoves—which are huge helps both in preventing lung disease and in reducing the need to cut down trees for fuel wood—and filtration drains (resumideros), which filter household wastewater. Let’s see—we’re also constructing more greenhouses, where we will plant native tree seedlings that we can later use in reforestation of degraded areas.
We also work with local community groups, like town water resource councils and local development committees, to help train local leaders in effective organization and management. Strengthening the capacity of these local groups is some of the most important work that we do, because local people are the ones who need to drive initiatives within their own communities. We’re not trying to be paternalistic or impose our ideas on people.
The most important thing for the success of any project is for it to be driven by and have the full support of local leaders. All of the most successful initiatives I’ve worked on over the last six years worked because they were developed, organized, and implemented with a lot of involvement from the people in the community.
What do you think are some of the greatest challenges faced by the people and the environment in and around your community?
We are facing some great challenges! Climate change is probably the biggest threat, but I also see other kinds of human intervention causing a lot of harm to the environment. Deforestation and pollution of our water sources are big issues here. And as a result of deforestation, pollution, and population growth, we are facing the loss of the connectivity and biodiversity of the landscape here—and this part of northern Honduras is part of the PIBOTEX biological corridor, which is a crucial pathway for species moving across Mesoamerica. Recovering the damage to the forests and landscape in this critical area will continue to be a big challenge—but we’re up for it.
Why do you think it is important to protect the environment?
The environment is life! And nowadays, that we’re seeing so many threats to our natural resources from human actions, and especially from climate change—right now it’s even more important to protect the Earth, because all life depends on it.
Are you already seeing the effects of climate change in your community?
Yes. The biggest thing is that many water sources have dried up, which has hurt agriculture. That has forced many farmers to move higher up into the mountains, where there is still more water and fertile soil, but that puts even more pressure on the land’s resources—soil, water, and the forests.
Also, before I joined EcoLogic, I worked for USAID/MIRA, a USAID-funded natural resources management project in Honduras, where my role was assessing climate risks and helping improve communities’ resilience and ability to respond well to natural disasters and extreme weather events driven by climate change. My previous experience makes me appreciate that the work that EcoLogic is doing in Honduras—reforestation, protecting and restoring the landscape, which are important steps to mitigate some of the consequences of climate change.
What are some of the most challenging parts of your work?
Besides the seven-hour walks? Well, it’s always challenging to think about the scope of the human and environmental challenges we’re facing on so many fronts. Especially the huge threat of climate change.
Working with different community groups and local leaders can also be difficult sometimes. People often come into meetings with different priorities. For example, the local development committees and the water resource councils don’t always see eye-to-eye at first. Part of my job is to help resolve those differences. I remind people that they’re all working for the common good of the community.
At the end of the day, we can almost always get different groups and people to work together—and that’s at the core of what we do! The development committees, for example, are almost always on board with conservation projects—even if it sometimes takes a while. They understand that it is possible to develop a community without harming the environment—and that it’s better for the future of the community to do so!
What advice would you give to someone else who also dreams of effecting lasting, positive change in their community?
I would say that first, you need to understand and get to know people living in that community. You can’t try to protect the environment anywhere without giving proper regard to the people who are living in that place. In order to be successful at conserving the environment, you have to work with local people. You have to help them find sustainable alternatives that respect their rights and their needs. That’s the only way to succeed at this kind of work.
This interview has been translated from Spanish and edited for length and clarity.
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