San Jose del Negrito is a remote mountain village of 1600 people in the El Negrito District of Yoro Province in Honduras. The economy is mainly agricultural and relies on coffee as the pri-mary cash crop. Childhood malnutrition, one of the primary medical and social concerns in the area, has in recent years dropped from over sixty per cent to less than thirty. The typical diet consists of rice, beans, and tortillas; the poorest go without, rice, often eating two or fewer meals per day. Six months prior to June 2014 the village lacked electricity. Still, given the costs, most homes are not connected to power. Most homes have latrines, but at least thirty per cent are without sanitation. Water is piped down from mountain streams, but is often contaminated on the way.
Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh (STSPGH) is a non-profit that has provided medical and humanitarian aid to San Jose del Negrito since 2001, following devastation resulting from Hurricane Mitch. Prior to the organization’s intervention, medical care had been sporadic. In 2007 Shoulder to Shoulder partnered with the village to construct a large medical clinic. A Hon-duran Doctor, Nurse, and Dentist now provide a broad range of medical and dental care to San Jose Del Negrito and the thirteen neighboring villages. The clinic receives two medical brigades per year from STSPGH in order to augment public health and medical services, but the Honduran medical staff is working everyday and this has made a tremendous impact on the community’s health.
In June 2014 Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh returned to San Jose, to complete a dream 10 years in the making. Before the clinic was built, Medical brigades worked out of the former kindergarten building. The head teacher at that time saw an opportunity—a dream so vivid she never gave up on creating an environment where children could play, the community could gather, a stage to walk on for graduation, and a place to celebrate all the positive elements of the village. Alongside an overwhelming effort from the community, a small group from Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh was able to assist in completing this project within 6 days. STSPGH helped to raise funds that employed a local contractor and his employees to build a pavilion prior to their arrival.
Buffalo photographers William Bergmann and Alexis Oltmer traveled with Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh to San Jose in order to help complete the playground and community center. While there, they documented and helped in the construction process, and they met with the local Parent Teacher Organization to set up a time during the week to take portraits for families and children of the village. Many families and children came to the makeshift studio, and all photographs were returned and distributed to the village in September of 2014. Through the portraits, Mr.Bergmann and Ms.Oltmer saw an opportunity to raise awareness of the village and STSPGH’s work. At the same time, immigration reform was in the news, along with the politically heated argument over The Dream Act. These current affairs highlight why their work and the organization’s mission is so important.
This project is also, however, an attempt to raise money for Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh as they pursue the ongoing financing of the medical center and childhood nutrition programs, as well as the further development of community health education. The next phase of involvement will likely focus on sanitation and waste disposal, but as always, will be determined by the com-munity of San Jose del Negrito via an active Health Committee.