Reitoca is a municipality nestled in the mountains of the Francisco Morazán department in southern Honduras. With a population of around ten thousand inhabitants, many of them identifying as part of the Indigenous Lenca group, communities are dotted around the centre of Reitoca.
COVID-19 hit these communities in late May, compounding multiple other crises. For years, the Council of Indigenous Lenca in Reitoca has been actively resisting a government-backed hydroelectric company wanting to build on their lands. As such, the community has received little to no support from local or national governments to respond to COVID-19. Many residents of Reitoca were already living in extreme poverty before COVID-19 and levels of food and water insecurity are high.
The nearest hospital is a four hour’s drive away, and access to testing for COVID-19 is limited. Residents must pay high prices for testing out-of-pocket, and results can take over two weeks to come back. The community is simultaneously fighting an outbreak of Dengue – similar symptoms can make it challenging to distinguish between the two illnesses. In addition to lacking essential supplies and resources, the Lenca of Reitoca also lacks accurate information about COVID-19 and the rates of transmission in the region.
“The government is failing us because we are not sure how many positive cases there are of coronavirus. People are dying with a diagnosis of “suspected case of COVID”, but without the result of tests we just don’t know.”
In July, SeeChange partnered with the Honduran social and environmental justice organization, ECO-RE to accompany the Council of Indigenous Lenca in Reitoca and the Organized Women of Reitoca as they organize, prepare and respond to COVID-19. Reitoca is one of several communities in Latin America using the CommunityFirst COVID-19 Roadmap as a tool to drive their response.
But these communities are still in need of material supplies. In August, SeeChange began a fundraising campaign to support the communities using the Roadmap: to deliver essentials to those who need it the most. In Reitoca, the women’s group distributed Hygiene Kits (masks, alcohol, soap, antibacterial gel and disinfectant) as well as
communication materials and food provisions for the most vulnerable.
To reach Reitoca, Cecilia, the Gender Justice Coordinator at ECO-RE, left Tegucigalpa with the supplies to meet up with the Organized Women’s Group of Reitoca.
ECO-RE and the Organized Women of Reitoca began their mission to raise awareness, deliver materials and focus on high-risk and vulnerable groups. They coordinated the distribution into two parts:
The first was for the small businesses and public spaces in the heart of town. The women handed out and plastered posters and stickers in churches, meeting centres, the health centre and school on health promotion practices such as mask-wearing and hand-washing.
Materials were also handed out to the transit workers and small businesses.
“Thank God the donation came before our transport started up again last Friday. It was an important moment giving them the protective materials… We explained the security measures to the passengers, this way we can protect those who go back and forth into the city.”
Provisions were handed out at the Reitoca health center, meeting centers and the school where the Organized Women raised awareness on prevention measures during a meeting with parents.
“We have been handing out alcohol, gel, masks, spray bottles, provisions to seniors and women – we are focusing on the most vulnerable, but not excluding anyone, everyone is important.“
The second part of the donation was to the more isolated and remote communities on the outskirts of town where the majority of vulnerable populations live. Along with masks and soap they were also able to distribute food kits of milk, oats, rice and sardines. With the rainy season comes rough conditions. The roads that led to these communities were difficult and treacherous.
“It’s extremely hot here! Around 36C, so it’s quite a challenge and very tiring wearing a mask. We sweat, we got wet. For me it was a lot!
We would arrive in the communities exhausted and the people would look at us like – we do this every day! And often double! Life is very hard here, there are communities that walk two and a half hours, but they are very beautiful!“
– Cecilia, Coordinator of Gender Justice, ECO-RE
“It has been a blessing and a great joy to bring our communities this help, not only to the families but also seniors who can’t work anymore, and a lot of times have health problems and are vulnerable to this disease.
We were able to reach them bringing them food and masks. It has been a great success and it is worth it; to leave behind our daily tasks and our families to reach these areas, our brothers & sisters. I am very proud to be a part of this group of women, we have potential and with your help we can achieve a lot.“
– Reina Margarita
“These are very positive and good actions because it is to help others, dedicate yourself regardless of weather conditions, daily tasks, housework, and our professional jobs. We are giving a bit of ourselves to help others.“
The pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on the emotional wellbeing of people in Reitoca. Our partners on the ground tell us that people live in fear, from bereavement to isolation, to anxiety and worry for basic protection. With a continued rise in dengue and exceeding misinformation and stigma this crisis has many faces.
“The central authority of the municipality has failed us… It is up to us to build our community. Many times as women we have to play this important role within our society.“
“This doesn’t end here, we have to protect the most vulnerable people, that’s the most important. Reitoca has had a hard time, they’ve felt very alone, so it is important that they at least feel there are people that support them.“
We can’t slow down our efforts now. Despite the hardships, the women of Reitoca are committed to mobilizing their community to respond to COVID-19. , We can continue to stand in solidarity with the Lenca of Reitoca, and communities around the world facing similar challenges.
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Photos by Cecilia Hernandez