Ten years ago, Hurricane Mitch changed the lives of millions of people. Many lost their homes and livelihoods; whole communities were devastated. Today, thanks to projects in which the survivors were directly involved, many have been able to improve their living conditions.
One of these survivors is María Eugenia Raxuleu from Guatemala. She was just a girl when Mitch swept away almost everything she had. Today, at the age of 23, she makes a living from selling garments she produces as a dressmaker. She is also the president of the Txumil Association of Craftswomen, a Red Cross initiative to promote the professional development of women.
These craftswomen design and make huipiles, the typical embroidered blouses and tunics of Guatemala, and sell them to tourists. In Honduras, craftswomen have benefitted from English classes provided by a Red Cross volunteer, which helps them to talk with tourists.
1.5 million lost their homes
Over one and a half million people lost their homes during Hurricane Mitch. Many of them had to stay in temporary shelters while their houses were being rebuilt. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement constructed over 2,600 homes which were equipped with electricity, drinking water and sanitation systems.
The beneficiaries themselves participated in designing and building their homes and joined forces to create new communities. This is what happened in Ciudad España in Honduras, the Red Cross’ biggest housing project. Vanesa González, one of the residents, explains “this house is important to us because we were involved in building it and it is part of a new community that we are going to create together”. The 23-year-old is making her contribution as the chairperson of the Ciudad España Youth Committee.
Reclaiming lost opportunities
Mitch deprived many young people of their childhood and schools. To prevent the lack of resources and poverty from driving them to street violence, the Red Cross implemented various projects in the region. One of them was a project to prevent juvenile violence, which helped young men like Edwin Chévez, an 18 year-old from Nicaragua, to leave the “La Calle Loca” gang and exchange weapons for work.
In Honduras the efforts of Rodolfo Sauceda have given young people new opportunities. With the help of the Red Cross, he organized a leather craft workshop, which helped participants to become architects of their own future by learning the necessary skills to craft leather products, which allows them to start their own businesses.
Ten years after Mitch, hurricane survivors have recovered part of what they lost and become masters of their future.