By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Halfway through his internship in Honduras with Catholic Relief Services, Kevin O’Brien of Davenport experienced the early effects of the coronavirus pandemic in that Central American country. Kevin, who is completing his master of global social work at Boston College, described the scene in a March 20 email to The Catholic Messenger, shortly before he was advised to evacuate:
“Even grocery stores were closed. Typical greetings in Honduras include kisses on the cheek and frequent handshakes but everything has changed for the time being, as with the rest of the world. Our work has certainly been impacted, with visits to the field cancelled, opportunities to connect in-person with participants shut down, and the potential to implement programs scaled way back by government orders. The health system here in Honduras cannot handle a serious outbreak, so these strict policies seem to be necessary, but my heart breaks that those who were in need before are being cut off in new ways. The work of CRS will continue though. It must. For now, we are working from home (in a host family’s home) and trying to figure out the way forward like everyone else.”
Even before the coronavirus crisis began, Honduras struggled with many challenges “relating to gang violence, income inequality, health concerns, lack of access to nutrition and water,” Kevin said. The work of Catholic Relief Services in partnering with communities in Honduras to find solutions to problems will help direct the way forward, he believes.
He expressed concern about the impact of the pandemic on the annual Lenten Rice Bowl campaign, an important fundraiser for CRS. “I hope that people will continue to support the good and necessary work of CRS, maybe even by going online to make a donation, especially in these difficult times. The challenges are great here in Honduras.”
Despite the challenges, Kevin also experienced the country’s beauty and the warmth of the people. He walked to work and enjoyed the “extra benefit of tamales being sold on Friday mornings on the street. The city of Tegucigalpa has its challenges, as does the rest of Honduras,” but “I find it to be a very lively place with gems all over the place, including music and dancing, restaurants, and a blend of cultures.”
Kevin said that during his time in Honduras he found inspiration “every day in my coworkers, in the way solutions are searched for through partnership with local communities, and through the sharing of resources from those in the U.S. and around the world to support the work of CRS.”
“When I recently visited a school in a rural area of Honduras, I met kids who are every bit as joyful and fun as kids at the elementary school I attended in Davenport — All Saints Catholic School (formerly Holy Family).” He said the Honduran children, working in small groups, made a presentation for him about saving money and setting goals for the future. “Many of the kids detailed that they wish to help their families to be able to provide for the needs of the family,” he said.
In the days that followed Kevin’s March 20 email, securing an airline ticket out of the country consumed a good deal of his time. He wasn’t required to return home, but Boston College and CRS “both thought it was in my best interest to go home since I wasn’t living permanently in Honduras,” Kevin said. His time in Honduras, which began in January, was supposed to conclude May 14. For him, it ended March 25.
His CRS Honduras colleagues, the vast majority Hondurans or others working with them and living in Honduras, are confined to homes and working remotely. The government allows certain people with permission to be out and about distributing food, Kevin said.
Back home in Davenport, staying in place with his parents, Kevin and Eileen O’Brien, the younger Kevin continues his work for CRS Honduras from a computer screen. “I’m still interning with CRS Honduras, helping on different initiatives related to food security and trying to support the programs from afar — mostly in terms of writing reports and coming up with creative ways to implement programs,” said Kevin, a graduate of Assumption High School in Davenport and Loras College in Dubuque.
His work relates to trying to “express the needs and the reality on the ground that people are still experiencing” in Honduras. Among the successful efforts he worked on was securing funding through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program.
In September, Kevin anticipates beginning a fellowship with Catholic Relief Services in Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza. “I will be supporting the work there, which relates to psychosocial support services, emergency shelter, livelihood support through agricultural and small business partnerships, and peacebuilding efforts.”
Kevin believes he is living out his Catholic faith “doing the work I am doing. Something I heard along the way when I was working at Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., is ‘I’m not doing this work because other people are Catholic, I’m doing it because I’m Catholic.’ We can lessen the challenges for people whatever their background or faith traditions. I think that’s what Jesus would do and that’s what we all have to do.”
It’s not too late to donate to CRS Rice Bowl
“Rice Bowl contributions support humanitarian and poverty-alleviating programming around the world, allowing CRS to be more agile to respond to communities’ expressed needs in ways other funding sources do not,” said Alysson Riutta. “It allows us to be innovative, and to pivot quickly to emergency response when necessary,” added Riutta, the volunteer manager of the Midwest Region for Catholic Relief Services. She said 75 percent of the funds go to CRS while 25 percent are returned to the local community.
CRS offers alternatives for people to donate to the annual Rice Bowl campaign that parishes typically hold during Lent. Financial gifts may be sent to CRS directly online, through the toll-free telephone number, or through the mail.
Donate online at https://support.crs.org/donate/change-life-lent-0 or in Spanish https://support.crs.org/donate/cambia-una-vida-esta-cuaresma
Donate by phone at (877) 435-7277 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Time. Tell the operator that the gift is for CRS Rice Bowl.
To donate by mail, write CRS Rice Bowl in the memo line of the check and mail to Catholic Relief Services, CRS Rice Bowl, PO Box 17090, Baltimore, Maryland 21297-0303.