Hans Petter Buvollen, Regional Representative 2014-2016
It is with deep regret that DanChurchAid has decided to leave Central America after 23 years of cooperating with civil society organizations mainly in Honduras and Guatemala, but also in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
The Board of our organization decided in February 2015 to make adjustments to implement international activities in fewer countries and regions of the world in order to confront structural and financial challenges.
Part of this restructuration was the closure of the Central Asia and Central America regional programs. The preparation for a gradual exit was interrupted in October 2015 when the Danish government announced serious cutbacks in the support of Danish NGOs like DCA to free urgent financial support to assist the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and Europe, including attention to refugees – mainly from Syria – who arrive in Denmark.
In addition to dismissal of several colleagues in the head office, an accelerated closure was decided of the Central Asia and Central America programs and offices by June 30, 2016. In addition to the direct affect that this decision has on colleagues and DCA partner organizations, it is obvious that DCA has been an important part of the nternational community in Honduras and that DCA’s absence will be felt in the ACT Alliance and the Association of International Development Agencies (ACI).
Unfortunately, DCA’s exit from Honduras also means an end to Latin America engagement, and reflects a general tendency in Danish cooperation. DCA's two programs in Honduras, Active Citizenship and Food Security, were evaluated in 2015. The original plan to elaborate a new country program for Honduras from 2016 onwards, was substituted for an extension of the existing programs until the end of June 2016.
During 2015, DCA cooperated with 15 Honduran and international organizations on Central American level. During the first 6 months of 2016, DCA continued working with 10 of these partners.
In the publication DanChurchAid in Central America 1993-2016 (2.79 MB) former representatives in Guatemala (1993-99) and Honduras (2000-2016) share some memories from DCA's presence in the region and included are also articles presenting the activities we have supported in 2015 and 2016 and some messages of some long-term DCA partners.
We hope that the publication can constitute a testimony for DCA’s departure.
The following section of the document shows the different experiences of the regional representatives that directed DCA. They share their own experiences and important events that happened while they were in office.
Kirsten Helin, Regional Representative 1993 – 1999
The regional office of DanChurchAid (DCA) was created in 1993 when Kirsten Helin, the first regional representative, was posted in Guatemala to be a part of an ecumenical office, known as the Oficina de Coordinación Regional (OCR).
The OCR was a joint pilot project planned by five European sister agencies Bread for the World, EED, Christian Aid, ICCO, and DCA together with their local partners in the region.
Based on a liaison model the main focus of OCR was to facilitate and improve dialogues and exchanges between the local partners and the five agencies in Europe and to establish more south-south linkages among the partners.
Through the dialogues the partners were invited to contribute to the strategy and policy discussions of the agencies. However, the OCR experiment was short-lived as a 1996 evaluation of the OCR liaison model found that the structure was overly complicated.
The pilot project was ended, and cooperation and coordination among the five agencies continued in a more pragmatic way when needed. DCA and Christian Aid continued to share offices in Guatemala, and ICCO together with the two German agencies had a common office in Costa Rica.
The liaison model kept all program responsibilities with the main office in Copenhagen, but due to urgent needs for more consistent and regular on-site follow upon with partners, two local consultants, Rubio Caballeros and Chris Moser, were hired as part of the regional office in Guatemala.
In 1997 DCA decided to transform the regional office into a delegation model and to decentralize responsibility for all programs to the region.
Central America was chosen as another pilot project, this time in relation to decentralization efforts within DCA. Later, based on the experiences and lessons learned from this pilot project the organization decided to decentralize program management to other regions where DCA was working.
In Central America DCA wanted to concentrate its work in Guatemala and Honduras adding partners that would meet the criteria of the strategic focus on human rights and help make a gradual shift from service delivery to a rights based approach in the programming.
The RR’s challenge was to move beyond its traditional ecumenical partners to create new partnerships that would accomplish these goals. During this period, DCA worked to build the capacity of its partners in planning, monitoring and evaluation skills and around the themes of human rights (including migrants’ rights) and gender through training, coaching and dialogue and exchange activities with a broader group of partners and agencies. In 2000, a DCA board review showed that being present in Central America through the regional office DCA and its partners developed a much closer and strategic partnership.
The assistance given to the partners generally resulted in stronger and more strategic programs. DCA was able to work with smaller and many times more innovative partners that would not have been visible to DCA's main office in Copenhagen.
When the regional office started its work, Guatemala was in the middle of its peace process but still marked by civil war, and times were often very turbulent with violence and human rights abuses. By being present and connected to local partners the regional office was able to constantly provide information to DCA in Copenhagen. There was a lot of focus on the region in the DCA information work, and the profile of the region became sharper and more known by the Danish public.
When Bishop Gerardi, director of Arzobispado in Guatemala City, one of DCA’s partner organizations, was assassinated in 1998, the RR assisted the high level delegation of Danish jurists sent by DCA to Guatemala to advocate for a transparent investigation and to counteract impunity in the country.
When hurricane Mitch hit Central America, Honduras was the country that faced most devastation.The regional office sent staff to the partners in Honduras and together with colleagues from the main office in Copenhagen helped with information gathering and assisted with planning of an emergency appeal to international donors.
By the end of the 1990s DCA decided to move its regional office to Honduras to help to focus on a country less known and with enormous poverty and violence problems.
Inge Merete Hansen, Regional Representative 1999-2002
Sometime in early 1999, after the devastating hurricane Mitch, it was decided to move the DCA Regional Office from Guatemala City to Tegucigalpa in Honduras. More than 11.000 Hondurans died as result of Mitch, the worst natural disaster to have hit the country in 200 years. The thousands of internal displaced persons and destroyed infrastructure called for international disaster relief and reconstruction.
On January first, 2000 we opened a joint office with Christian Aid in Colonia Palmira, Tegucigalpa. The first overall challenge in Honduras was the severe corruption affecting the entire society and which seemed to be worse than elsewhere. Rubio Caballeros continued as Programme Officer in Guatemala together with Eduardo Moser in El Salvador.
Our administrator Aleida Nuñez continued with Ibis in Guatemala and stayed there for many years. In Tegucigalpa, DCA hired new local staff, one of them being the young and intelligent Reina Castillo. She acted as administrative manager and has been in the DCA since then, the stable element and institutional memory who has managed and conducted DCA in Central America all these years. Congratulations!
Honduras was and is still today an enormous challenge in inequality, extreme poverty and exclusion, poor levels of democracy and human rights. DCA had already from the early years several local partners in Honduras that received project support from the Guatemala office and subject to long distance monitoring.
One of them was Casa Alianza which received earmarked funds from DCA Christmas collection as well as support from the European Commission of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO). Another partner and founding member in Honduras of the ACT Alliance was Christian Commission for Development (CCD) one of the historic ecumenical partners in Central America and one of the main partner for all the European agencies in the ACT family, DCA also supported Caritas.
These partners represented challenges related to transparency, a concern we shared with the ACT alliance who because of the context complexities and specific interests at head quarter levels wasn’t able to solve them.
The physical presence in Honduras led to many new partnerships, many of which have lasted till the end: Radio Progreso, Asociación de Orgnaizaciones No Gubernamentales (ASONOG), Comisión de Acción Social Menonita (CASM), Organismo Cristiano de Desarrollo Integral (OCDIH) and the international NGO advocacy network ACI where Trocaire played an important coordinating role.
The new local partner organizations implemented, at that time, innovative and participatory approaches at local level, and much more dynamic processes than the traditional church organizations and thereby a higher level of impact at community level. These organizations introduced advocacy strategies and DCA was among the international partners in the network group ACI to promote and support these strategies.
One of the main topics was advocacy towards Honduras Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRSP) launched by International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Efforts were made to include Colombia and Cuba in the regional strategy but without much success since the DCA set-up and budget were only focused on Danida as main donor and Danida at that time (as today) did not want to touch these two countries. DCA did engage in disaster response to hurricanes in Cuba and earthquakes in El Salvador. The regional approach was complemented with a few partners also in Nicaragua
Katja Levin, Regional Representative 2002-2004
I was very privileged to have worked with the DCA Central America program for 10 years, and in 2002-2004 with the task of leading our regional office in Honduras.
The human rights program had been and continued to be a flagship in the Central America program and many lessons from Central America were learnt by DCA globally.
There was still a strong focus on the atrocities of the armed conflicts and tireless efforts of DCA partners were bringing evidence and important victories were won in the judicial systems giving some justice to victims and their families.
However, new dynamics also gave spaces for new program issues and legal aid was increasingly converted into mobilization and advocacy.
The Danish jurists visited Central America in 2003 for the second time (first time being in 1998), and this time the visit also included prominent regional human right defenders and public servants in El Salvador and Honduras. Some progress was definitely seen, but also many challenges remained. The jurist delegation came just weeks after a massacre in a prison in La Ceiba, northern Honduras.
In general we talked a lot about the region and the importance of working regionally. The DCA Central America program had activities in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, with the former two being focus countries.
Hurricane Mitch in 1998 had shown the importance of accurate emergency response, including regional disaster preparedness and DCA played a strong role in strengthening the ACT National Forums and establishing of ACT Central America.
The region also saw new forms of mobilization and participation. In Honduras, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Plans (PRSP) gave life to engaged citizens and community developed plans. DCA was hosting a small PRSP secretariat feeding into national and global PRSP networks.
Also other forms for mobilization took place. Plataforma Agraria with its exciting multisectoral member base of peasants, indigenous people, church and academia was a strong new voice with both mobilization power and alternatives for rural development.
Furthermore, internet made new pathways and DCA took its first steps into the digitalized world and supported the digital magazine Revistazo.com which was added as long term support for alternative media and focus on access to information and freedom of speech.
And finally DCA would not be much without its partners, and achievements are made by people: Tireless human rights defenders, visionary leaders, excellent researchers, strong women and men. Several paid a very high personal price for their engagement.
Thank you for leading and continuous the work for justice, equality and sustainable and accountable societies!
Eva Pineda Hansen, Regional Representative 2008-2011
I was Regional Representative for DCA from October 2008 to 2011 in Central America. As a Honduran with eight years working for the DCA in Copenhagen as a program officer, it was a professional dream come true.
When I returned to Honduras in 2008, there were ambitious plans for the future of DCA in the region. The third phase for the program Food Security was about to be define, as well as the strategy for the Active Citizenship program.
We began the establishment with an office in Managua, Nicaragua and with the development of a regional program for Risk Management.
In the case of Guatemala, deferment of presence in the country began during this period, as well as the search for a collaboration model with sister agencies of the ACT Alliance with a stable presence in Guatemala.
Honduras, DCA and my personal life were put to the test in 2009. On a personal level, the joy and preparation of my first born in my country was contrasted with the pain of being the victim of a violent crime in our own home during May, and having to deal with the police. Two weeks later, my son was born.
The Coup d’etat that happened in June resulted in a dramatically unstable and polarized environment, with even more distrust among major sectors of the population and the governmental institutions, as well as organized civil society actors, including DCA partner organizations.
A decision was made to fuse the ACT Alliance organizations internally in Central America, a preamble to the probable closure of DCA in the region.
The Coup d’état had an unavoidable impact on DCA programs, particularly Active Citizenship, which focus changed from transparency, alternative media and local governance, to a focus on justice and human rights.
This illustrates the setback of the state of democracy and the rule of law in the country. DCA played a vital role during the post-coup period.
On one side, because among DCA partners there were those organizations that, during moments of crisis, showed the strength to understand the situation from various angles, representing different stands of public debates and in their solution proposals.
On the other hand, because among the assumptions of DCA, the establishment of important alliances between civil society organizations was possible.
The Truth Commission is a good example of this, documenting from the civil society perspective the causes and the effects of the coup.
It was an adequate bet, but it did not reach the intended process or final result. This commission suffered from the same weakness pointed out by civil society actors, as far as official commission, politicization and particular positions and interest predominance.
The decision taken by our headquarters of accelerating the fusion between the agencies of the ACT Alliance sought to resolve the common problem of lack of sustainable financial sources, in order to ensure the presence of each agency in the countries of that region.
It was considered that unifying the programs could ensure a significant presence of future ACT in Central America. As part of this process, we closed the recently opened up office in Managua and began the closure of the Guatemalan office. Despite our efforts, this strategy did not produce the desired results.
From my perspective, the impact of the coup d’etat has marked the rest of the DCA history in this region. It was the beginning of the end of the DCA presence in Central America.
Klavs Wulff, Regional Representative 2011-2014
I came to the office of DCA in Honduras in the aftermath of the 2009 coup.
Truth commissions were still digging into the causes of the political crisis and the denial of basic human rights for those who dared to stand up against the destruction of a fragile democracy.
The civil society was divided between those who supported president Zelaya and those who attempted some sort of reproach to the new emerging authorities. Financing NGO activities, in particular those touching human rights and democracy had become a highly risky affair.
It was all of a sudden, a major and sensitive challenge to coordinate activities, involving local NGOs, who could hardly meet in the same room. Mistrust and lack of confidence almost made all dialogue attempts futile and naïve.
Nevertheless, the office attempted to keep a few initiatives alive, whilst a lot of expertise and energy was put into rural development projects and major activities to continue the work with disaster prevention.
Organizational changes following the closure of the last sub regional office in Guatemala including new models for regional cooperation, principally within ACT were attempted.
However, it proved difficult to transform decisions taken at the central level into concrete action and implementation. Following political changes in Denmark, decisions were taken to rapidly facing out official Danish development assistance to Central America.
Ibis and DCA got together to draw up a partnership model for the implementation of human rights activities in the region, in case there was political will in Denmark to continue financing some activities in this important area. The two organizations were ready for action, when finally green light was given for such activities.
Since 2013 and up to this date, the Program for Empowering Civil Society in Central America (GESCCA), a regional consortium has been facilitating the implementation of key interventions within human rights in integral implementation.
A unique experience of collaboration between two Danish NGOs that for sure gave a lot of headache for the involved staff members from Ibis, DCA and the participating local implementing rganization, but most today will probably agree that it was worth the effort.