“In 2011 a tidal wave completely destroyed my house. It was a day I still remember. The sea flooded hundreds of meters inland and my family and I only had time to find safety while carrying our basic necessities.”
The narrator of this story is Yaki Martins, a 14-year-old girl from Cedeño, a community located on the Gulf of Fonseca. Here, 6,000 inhabitants live by the seashore and depend on the sea for their livelihoods.
Tears appear in her eyes as Yaki tells this story. Yet, a smile shines through whenever she gazes toward the sea. She then tells me about her hobbies, hopes and dreams. “I want to become a teacher so I can teach other children and help my family and community.”
Sponsored by UNICEF, the main objective of “Strengthening Communities in Emergencies” was to help families in 43 vulnerable rural communities to achieve a greater level of preparation for emergencies. A key part of this process was to harness the support of the community leaders and municipal and departmental authorities.
Junior Espinal, a 13-year-old boy, is a student attending the only Center for Basic Education in Cedeño. The 570 students enrolled at the Michel J. Hasbun Center for Basic Education have received training to respond to risks and prepare for storms.
“On days when the sea kicks up, the waves hit the walls of the school, but now we all know the evacuation routes we must follow and where we need to go.”
Children are the most affected by this kind of weather since they must miss class in order to keep safe.
Just like Yaki, Junior lost his house in one of the latest storms. However, today the benefits of the “Strengthening Communities in Emergencies” project are clear and the change is evident in their lives.
“Before, on very windy days we suffered from the time we woke up, but the drills and trainings have managed to help us lose the fear of tidal waves.”
The project was implemented in seven priority municipalities with the highest level of vulnerability in the southern region of the country: Goacorán, Alianza, Nacaome and San Lorenzo in Valle Department; and Marcovia, Triunfo and Namasigue in Choluteca Department. It benefits 46,690 people of which 18,858 are children.
Jose Rigoberto Avila, Coordinator of the Risk Management Unit in Marcovia explains that “Along with the risk of tidal waves and overflow from the Choluteca River, the area is affected by drought resulting from the El Niño phenomenon too, and this is why it is considered a doubly vulnerable area.”
Today, this community continues to face the paradox that the same sea which fills them with life, sometimes takes it away. In May 2015, the sea again entered Cedeño and its adjacent communities, destroying homes and businesses, flooding the streets and leaving a desolate landscape. Large numbers of people were forced to leave their homes.
Yaki lives and acknowledges this paradox. She says with a huge smile “I will always need to be near the sea, the first memory I have is when I played with my sister near the shore and despite the roughness of the waves, it is the sea who has given me the most joys”.
Daniel Atienzar works in communications at UNICEF Honduras.