- Release date
- September 12, 2009
- Robyn Fieser
- Regional Information Officer, Latin America and the Caribbean
- Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
- 011 (809) 567-1271
Hispanic Heritage Month: Raising Awareness
September 12, 2009, —
Based in Guatemala, Schuyler Thorup is Catholic Relief Services' regional director for
Latin America and the Caribbean—a region where CRS has programs and
partnerships in 16 countries. To mark Hispanic Heritage Month, he recently
answered questions about CRS' role in the region, our impact and the challenges
that lie ahead.
- Robyn Fieser:
- What is Catholic Relief Services' approach in Latin America and the Caribbean?
- Schuyler Thorup:
Our approach is really three-pronged. First, we assist vulnerable people,
especially in the Caribbean and Central America, to respond to and prepare for
emergencies: principally droughts, hurricanes and earthquakes. Second, we work
with the rural poor and focus on food security, agro-enterprise, water and
sanitation, HIV and AIDS, and microfinance. Finally, Catholic Relief Services
supports local church advocacy to address some of the underlying causes of
poverty in the region, namely human rights violations, domestic violence and
- You mentioned that CRS has a unique opportunity in Latin America and the Caribbean
to support the Church in its efforts to bring about lasting change. Can you
opportunity is unique for two reasons. First, the U.S. Catholic Church is becoming
increasingly Latino and as such offers a natural, influential constituency for
CRS to engage in awareness-building and advocacy—specific activities both in
the United States and in the region. Second, the Catholic Church in Latin
America, while understandably diverse across the array of its 33 countries, is particularly
well organized at a regional level. That allows CRS to construct common agendas
on issues such as migration, environmental degradation and emergency response.
instance, on the extremely complex and controversial issue of migration, CRS
not only provides direct humanitarian assistance to migrants, we also carry out
in-depth research and policy analysis on specific aspects of the migration
debate, such as unaccompanied minors and human trafficking. This information is
extremely helpful for the bishops' conferences (both in the United States and
Latin America) to be better informed and to construct a more credible platform
upon which they can influence policy and practices.
- What has CRS' impact been?
our impact is felt every day throughout the region: working with and
strengthening our partner organizations, responding to emergencies, reforesting
damaged watersheds, and influencing national dialogue on issues affecting the
last year's very active hurricane season, thanks to our supporter's generosity,
we provided more than $5 million of emergency support (food, blankets, hygiene
kits and roofing material) to the Catholic Church in Cuba to respond to the
immediate needs of storm-affected families. In June, we completed
href="/bolivia/preventing-chagas/">reconstructing the last of
3,000 homes in southern Bolivia which had been previously infested with insects
that carry Chagas disease. In Haiti, in more than 240 health centers,
orphanages and schools, CRS provides a nutritious meal to more than 60,000 children
broader civil society issues the Church, with its moral authority, local
credibility and tremendous reach, has the necessary cachet to engage in and
influence complex public policy debates such as land tenure, workers' rights
and gang violence. At the request of the local Church, CRS supports programming
that strengthens these efforts through both service delivery and research.
- What are the main socioeconomic trends in the region that are influencing our work?
Many of the macro trends of the last three or four decades remain in place. We
continue to observe significant rural-to-urban migration as well as a
consolidation of democratic governments and institutions throughout the region.
Three negative trends that have continued are the increasing levels of income
disparity, as well as rising violence and widespread corruption. Drug trade,
gangs and human trafficking have all fed these conditions to the point now
where certain democratic institutions are at serious risk of failing.
- What about more recent trends?
we saw huge, unprecedented increases in food prices in 2007 and 2008, which put
a tremendous burden on the region's most impoverished countries, where the poor
will typically spend up to 70 percent of their income on food. Their inability
to provide for their families led to
href="/haiti/food-crisis-protests/">public riots in several
countries such as Haiti, Mexico and Nicaragua. This in turn led to increasing
migration pressure for family members to seek employment opportunities in wealthier
countries such as the United States, Canada, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil and
the current worldwide economic recession has impeded this traditional employment
option for many countries in Latin America. That has led to substantial
reductions in the hugely important remittance flows back to the migrants' home countries.
This in turn places additional burdens on these families.
- What do you like about living and working in Latin America?
been with CRS for 19 years, most of that overseas. I love the opportunity to
serve and to make a real impact. It is both a privilege and a responsibility. When
I travel, I am so often impressed by the faith, grit and sheer determination of
the people we work with, with their conviction to salir adelante (move
forward), in spite of often huge obstacles.
a few weeks ago, I visited a rural community of about 60 families in western
Honduras, which since its founding had depended on a potable water source located
more than 3 miles away. Every day, children and their mothers spent several
hours going back and forth fetching water for the household. Today, through a
partnership between CRS and the community, the spring has been capped and the
water now reliably flows to six distribution points in the community. You have
no idea the tremendous impact this has had on the lives of the people of this
community, on their health, on their security and on their ability to provide
education. We can all feel proud of such results.
do you wish people knew about the region that they may not know?
know, unfortunately the cameras and news reports move all too quickly from one
emergency, drought or war to the next. Recovery and reconstruction often takes
years and it is challenging to maintain the public's focus. It is a struggle to
build U.S. awareness that, today, 28 percent of Nicaraguans still earn less
than a dollar a day, or that 49 percent of all Guatemalans under the age of 5 are
the same time, I don't want to give the impression of simply unending, unmet
needs. Latin America offers tremendous opportunities and, indeed, much has been
gained over the past decade in terms of economic growth and reduction of overall
poverty levels. Nevertheless, these gains have been largely unequal across the
region and in many cases remain extremely fragile. More can and should still be
done to assist the poor and provide them with opportunities for a dignified
life. CRS offers a great opportunity for U.S. supporters of all faiths to
directly engage in these efforts and to make a true impact.
Fieser is CRS' regional information officer for Latin America and the Caribbean
based in Guatemala.