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StoveTeam Blog

11 Apr
2012

UO Addresses Security Concerns in Honduras

We at The Holden Center realize that there has been an increase in news coverage about Honduras recently. Concern for safety and security issues in Honduras has been spurred by two particular events:
• An October 2011 United Nations report on crime and drugs ranking Honduras as having the highest per capita homicide rate in the world.
• Peace Corps’s decision in January 2012 to pull out its volunteers while conducting an administrative review of the safety and security of its operation.

Given these recent events, we have been diligent in taking every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of our students on this particular program. To be clear, we would not continue with this particular trip if it were deemed too dangerous for travelers, visitors, and/or volunteers. While the U.S. State Department has listed information about safety and security concerns when travelling to Honduras (as they do with every other country), they have not issued a Travel Alert or Travel Warning for Honduras. If that status should change between now and trip departure, we would initiate cancellation of the trip.

Travel information for Honduras can be found at travel.state.gov.

Impact of Peace Corp Decision: StoveTeam International, our community partner for the Honduras alternative break experience, is an established organization within the specific region of Copán Ruinas, Honduras—the host town for our experience. Here is an announcement from StoveTeam about the Peace Corps situation:

“Many of you have heard the news today that the Peace Corps is pulling out of Honduras due to the drug trade that has been such a problem. We as volunteers can witness and attest even better that as to Copan...nothing has changed...on the contrary, our contacts there feel the town has now a feeling of calmer spirits and less overt stress...and are looking forward to a full holiday season of visitors and business for the winter months. World travel is always fascinating, but even if one travels on the freeways in the United States one has to assume some element of risk. Thanks to all of us who are making choices to help, the world will be a better and safer place for everyone.” –Statement from StoveTeam International on 12/23/11.

Additionally, we trust the wisdom of the Peace Corps—understanding that the safety of each of their volunteers must be paramount in their decision making. However, we believe a distinct factor in their decision to withdraw comes from the reality that their volunteers are scattered across remote areas of the country, living on their own and working independently. As is standard practice on our alternative break experiences, our student team will stay together throughout the trip—joined by several experienced StoveTeam staff members and volunteers who have developed strong connections with the people of Copán Ruinas. In fact, the Assistant Director of the Holden Center, Chris Esparza, traveled to Honduras in November 2011 in preparation for the spring break trip with UO students.

Safety in Copán Ruinas: Copán Ruinas is a small town of under 10,000 residents (most estimates are in the 6,000 to 8,000 range) about 7mi from the Guatemalan border. The town is small enough to be safe, yet large and touristy enough to offer basic comforts and resources. Copán Ruinas is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Mayan Site of Copán). Copán Ruinas and other similar tourist destinations in Honduras are known to have a much lower crime rate than other parts of the country. There are certain risks when traveling abroad to a developing country like Honduras. But, we believe almost all incidences can be avoided by taking certain precautions and by using common sense. First, most of the crime in Honduras is directed towards those involved in the drug trade or gangs. Volunteers are rarely targeted, especially when traveling in groups. Second, crime in Honduras ‐ and in just about any country ‐ is localized in certain geographic regions. The overwhelming majority of the crime happens in specific neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba‐areas where we will not take our students. The town, Copán Ruinas, where our students will travel to is located in a quiet and relatively peaceful area, outside of the major cities listed above. Our community partner‐‐StoveTeam International‐‐has built relationships with the locals in Copán, including a network of Rotary International members who have been very welcoming and committed to looking out for the safety of our students.

Precautionary Steps: To help verify safety and precautionary steps taken by the Alternative Break Program, we recently initiated a call to the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The State Department office validated the steps we’ve taken to minimize safety risks (e.g. enrolled our group in the SMART traveler program and instructed our group on common‐sense behaviors and choices pertaining to materials and possessions). They also reinforced that the crime in Honduras has not been targeted specifically at U.S. citizens. In this conversation, we received specific in‐country contact information (police and the U.S. Embassy) in case of an emergency. Our UO team has several Spanish speakers to manage this potential communication. Additionally, we received communication from Katherine Ordonez, Vice Consul at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, which validated our assumptions and precautions thus far.

The following are standard safety considerations we make for all participants on our international trips, including Alternative Break Honduras:
• We advise and require our students to stay together as a group, using the same common sense that they would in any high crime area in the U.S.
• We advise students to avoid dressing in a way that could mark them as an affluent tourist (e.g. not wearing expensive‐looking jewelry, not carrying large sums of money or displaying cash, ATM/credit cards, or other valuables, etc.).
• We have arranged to stay in a local hotel that is staffed 24hrs/day by a bilingual, on‐site owner/manager.
• We have arranged for security on our transfers to and from the airport (San Pedro Sula to/from Copán Ruinas). Airport transfers will occur during daylight hours using a privately owned tour bus company.
• We have registered each of participants with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Not only does this inform the U.S. Embassy about our impending arrival/trip, it provides an additional measure of communication in the case of an emergency.

The official US Embassy‐Tegucigalpa web page, where you can find recent and past years’ Messages for U.S. Citizens released by the Embassy: http://honduras.usembassy.gov/infotravelers.html

Additional information/resources: Please explore the links below to find resources and publications of other current and upcoming travel to Honduras. There are a number of other university groups traveling to Honduras for 2012 Spring Break:
• Tulane University thru Global Medical Brigades: http://www.globalbrigades.org/
There are recent student testimonials posted regarding Honduras:

• At this link one can read a story in which two University of Arizona graduate students reflect on the Peace Corps’ decision to temporarily withdraw its volunteers from Honduras: http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu/index.php/article/2012/02/volunteers_reflect_on_leaving_honduras
There are also several volunteer and mission projects traveling to Honduras during March 2012:

• March 2‐9 / San Marcos. Medical, dental, and eyecare mission by Cape CARES of East Orleans, Massachusetts.
• March 3‐10 / Rancho El Paraíso (Olancho). Medical, education, and construction mission by the Priebe Physical Therapy Group of Rochester, Minnesota, sponsored by Honduras Outreach, Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia.
• March 10‐17 / Tegucigalpa (Francisco Morazán). Education and training mission by Gardner Webb University of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, in partnership with New Life Deaf Ministry.
• March 10‐17 / Rancho El Paraíso (Olancho). Medical, education, and construction mission by Smoke Rise Baptist Church of Stone Mountain, Georiga, sponsored by Honduras Outreach, Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia.
• March 16‐23 / Tegucigalpa (Francisco Morazán). Construction mission by Hillsboro Church of Christ of Nashville, Tennessee.
• March 18‐24/ Danlí (El Paraíso). Medical mission from the Global Medical Brigades chapter at the University of Denver, Colorado.
• March 21‐29 / Choluteca (Choluteca). Construction mission by Oakdale Baptist Church of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
• March 24‐31 / Rancho El Paraíso (Olancho). Medical, education, and construction mission by the Wilderness Team sponsored by Honduras Outreach, Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia.
• March 25‐31/ Honduras. Medical mission by California State University at Bakersfield, sponsored by Global Medical Brigades of Fresno, California.
(Source: Volunteer Missions Calendar http://hondurasweekly.com/missions-calendar/):

In summary, we continue to anticipate safe and incident‐free trips for each of our international alternative break programs, including Honduras. While we cannot necessarily guarantee complete safety for our international participants, we remain confident our preparation leading up to these trips minimizes our risk and increases the personal security of our students.