[private] Marco Caceres is a rocket scientist who invented a new model for helping and networking NGO help in countries in need. His “Project Honduras” website serves as a model in coordinating private and individual help in small, undeveloped countries. Born in Tegucigalpa, when he was four he moved to the US. He studied history and political science at University of Richmond. Marco has worked for the past 20 years as an aerospace analyst for NASA, Lockheed, and Boeing, then worked in Washington DC’s Capitol Hill for seven years. “If I can do it for satellites, I can do it for oranges in a poor country like Honduras,” says Marco. Whenever back in Honduras he was always told that Honduran politics were “too complicated for him to understand.” To prove them wrong Marco launched a Project Honduras website in 1998 and in 2000 launched a networking conference.
Bay Islands VOICE: How does Project Honduras work?
Marco Caceres: Project Honduras is HC x ICT … human capital times information and communication technology. You take your human not financial capital, like energy, experience, enthusiasm, contacts, talents, and you find a way to channel all that using the beauty of the internet. It’s a simple concept and we have all the pieces together. The key is human interaction. There are a lot of great websites with great esthetics that have a lot of good information, but what they lack is a constant interaction of people who are helping. (…) Education, healthcare and community building are the three themes of the conference. If you take care of this, everything else will solve itself. It sounds simple, but it is actually true. Every year we take a slightly different angle with these themes. One year we focused on clean water, another year we focused on social tourism–what and how we can attract more social tourism to Honduras?
B.I.V.: Why is it important to also have a conference each year?
M.C.: So people can share information. We have examples of medical brigades doing vaccinations. They all think they are doing a great work and they may be; but they also may be doing more harm than good. You go to a village that has a road and you vaccinate everyone against measles and mumps. There is no record of that visit. The government doesn’t track it, but we track it as much as we can. Two weeks later another team comes to the same village, and they’ll give the same vaccines to the same kids. Team members don’t speak Spanish and the mothers think that more medicine is better. If you give MMR (Mumps, Measles, Rubella) vaccine more than once to a kid who is malnourished and with a poor immune system, you are going to kill them. That’s why Project Honduras is important.
B.I.V.: Is there a growing trend in volunteer, social tourism to Honduras?
M.C.: Hurricane Mitch was a blessing in disguise for that. It put Honduras on the map. People started coming here with their churches, university groups. The word got around. Bigger missions send 20-30-40 mission teams to Honduras a year. We’re talking thousands of mission teams coming to Honduras every year and you see some of them here. Americans are very practical and they like to solve problems. They think they can fix everything.
B.I.V.: Why does Honduras attract such a stream of help groups?
M.C.: Honduras is a perfect model. It’s not that big and has a good proximity to US. It’s like development 101, you want to go to a really poor country really fast–Honduras is your place. You can go to Mexico, Haiti is too scary, but what you want is somewhere where you can go to a really nice restaurant and hotel room. You’ve got to be hardcore to go to Haiti.
B.I.V.: Do you see that part of these nonprofits are scams, or ego-driven, money-making enterprises for their founders?
M.C.: You always will have a portion of people like that. The network is one way of spreading information about someone that is a problem. Brad Warren case [Roatan’s Sandy Bay Orphanage] was the only obvious case of this in the ten years I’ve been doing this. You don’t see a lot of people like that at the conference.
B.I.V.: Can you make a difference with limited resources?
M.C.: Financial capital is a great tool, but it shouldn’t be emphasized as the solution to problems of poor countries. Money from World Bank, or IDB [International Development Bank] in tens of millions of dollars, is funneled through a broken system called the government. There are some things that the government does well, but development isn’t one of them. The trickle down approach where you spend money up here and it eventually ends up with the poor doesn’t really work. We [USA] spent over three trillion dollars worldwide in the last 50 years in development and it hasn’t really worked. Most of this money goes towards band-aid solutions, but in terms of really empowering people it doesn’t work very well. Honduras still has 70-75% poverty, people living on a $1, $1.50 a day. 50% of Hondurans live as indigent poor; they live selling Chicklets on a street corner, but they live barely. There have been reductions in infant mortality, there have been some highways built, businesses like Pizza Hut have come in. But the poor are still very poor. So the idea I had was that there has to be something else besides money to do development.
B.I.V.: With dozens of orphanage, water and healthcare projects, are there project areas that are overlooked?
M.C.: There are problems like trade, immigration and sex tourism that the government needs to address. A lot of these problems are symptoms of other problems; and a lot of these problems would not exist if there were more stable homes and stable communities. People like to focus on the violence, the drugs, the sex. Nobody seems to be willing to write about what we talk about at the conference: education, water … this is hard work.
B.I.V.: Is there interest in spreading the “Project Honduras” model to other countries?
M.C.: I introduced this concept to the World Bank, but they think differently out there. World Bank isn’t necessarily a development organization, it is a bank. The World Bank executives get promotions based not on how successful their lending project is, but on how much money they lend out. This makes me believe that this money is being lent for the wrong purposes and it sometimes does more harm than good. I’ve seen examples where money was introduced in a community which had peace and stability and it created infighting. The money destroyed a spirit of a community.
B.I.V.: Is there an example of this in Honduras?
M.C.: Back in the 1960s and 70s World Bank started lending to cattle farmers so they could increase exports of meat to US. That produced more pressure on the campesinos to give up their land. That created a problem of urbanizations [campesinos moving to cities] and deforestation. The campesinos started arming and talking about taking their land back. There were problems and violence. [/private]