Emelisa Callejas, Honduran consul general in Atlanta

It’s a situation that repeats itself all over the developing world, especially in Honduras.

Ana Padgett tells of an organization that dug three wells in a village, only to frustrate the local women whose lives it was supposed to improve.

The hour they spent going to the river every morning was a key social outlet, a time to talk about life and family without intrusion by their husbands. However well-intentioned, the charity took that away.

“They were trying to do something that was good but they didn’t take into consideration the reality of the community, and that happens a lot,” said Ms. Padgett, vice consul for outreach to nongovernmental organizations at the Honduran consulate general in Atlanta.

Honduras is a poor Central American country that largely depends on the activities of outside non-profits and relief agencies. It has become a go-to destination for Christian mission teams looking to make a big impact in a foreign country that’s practically in their backyard – just two hours by plane from Atlanta.

But as with many needy countries, the proliferation of aid groups has caused confusion, with some groups duplicating efforts and others ignoring the nation’s regulations and long-term priorities, said Emelisa Callejas, the Honduras consul general.

Atlanta has become the epicenter for her country’s efforts to change that.

Last year Ms. Callejas hosted the first international nonprofit conference in Atlanta, an annual event that was repeated this March.

Ms. Padgett spoke at the first event. At this year’s, she had just arrived in her official post at the consulate, the only one among Honduras’ 10 U.S. diplomatic offices with a staffer coordinating outreach to nonprofit groups.

An economist with a master’s in business administration and a history of working on social programs, Ms. Padgett is tasked with helping match groups with needs in the country or directing them toward the right government officials to maximize resources.

By linking up, they’ll be more in tune with the government’s 30-year national plan for development, which was enacted in 2010 with input from village and city leaders across the country, Ms. Padgett told GlobalAtlanta.

She acknowledged that some aid groups try to retain control because they see government as part of the problem. According to Transparency International, which publishes an index ranking countries’ perceived corruption, Honduras is No. 129. That ties the country with Syria and the Dominican Republic, but puts it lower than Iran.

Still, it’s best to work alongside the government, which hopes to reduce poverty and improve rural education and health through the national plan, Ms. Padgett said.

Atlanta-based Honduras Outreach Inc., which has been working in western Honduras for more than two decades, has never had problems with the government, said Sue Church, one of the organization’s founders and a former board chair.

Working within the law and with a heart toward giving the people “tough love” and empowering them to take control of their own development, Honduras Outreach has achieved a model that all groups working in the country should follow, Ms. Callejas, the consul general, said.

The organization began at Decatur United Methodist Church focusing on one village in the state of Olancho. Over time, it became a conduit for communication among villages separated by dense jungles without any connecting roads.

Over 23 years, the organization has built up work in 120 villages, and things have drastically changed, said Ms. Church.

“There were no latrines, no chimneys, no cement floors – mud huts,” she said of the scene when she first arrived there.

Through a combination of public health and education efforts, the infant mortality rate has dropped drastically in the areas where Honduras Outreach works.

Ms. Church travels to the country about four times per year, going back to people who call her “godmother.”

“They don’t have much, but they’re happy,” she said.

The organization has 42 kindergartens and four clinics, along with a Bible training school. Already this year, 400 people have visited the country on mission trips arranged by Honduras Outreach. Last year the organization hosted 790 volunteers who built 106 latrines and installed 330 concrete floors, among other accomplishments, according the group’s 2011 annual report. 

Thanks to another Atlanta-based effort, other organizations across the country and the world could soon have access to a portal to share information about their work in Honduras.

The idea to create an organization to consolidate the activities of nonprofits sprang out of the two nonprofit conferences hosted by Ms. Callejas in the past two years, said Murray Van Lear II, a retired attorney who volunteers with the consulate.

Mr. Van Lear, who works with an Episcopal nonprofit called El Hogar de Amor y Esperanza and leads a consortium of groups spearheading the effort, said the new organization would provide on-the-ground travel information and help groups avoid duplicating work.

It would also help them understand the priorities of the national plan, which focuses on reducing poverty, enhancing democracy, generating jobs and increasing government transparency.

For more on Honduras Outreach, visit http://www.hoi.org.

To contact the Honduran consulate, call (770) 645-8881 or email the consul general at emelisa.callejas@gmail.com

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...