Tomy and ‘Chindy’ in Honduras – We are all Human Rights Defenders
BLOG by Sinde de Strijcker
I will never forget the day that I first met Tomy. I just started with my internship for the Shelter City Project – The Hague in September 2016. One of my first tasks was to welcome Tomy, a journalist and human rights defender from Honduras, at Schiphol Airport. She walked through the exit doors with a big pink and yellow striped sombrero on her head and a puzzled face. Her cheeks flashed a greyish color. Later she explained that this is an allergic reaction to adrenaline – when for example arriving in an overseas country for the first time.
Tomy started to suffer from several allergies after being exposed to teargas while participating in a protest march in 2009, the year when Honduras was brutally taken over by the military during a coup d’état and the situation for human rights defenders took a dangerous turn.
Tomy’s participation in the Shelter City project meant a new start for her life in several ways; she was able to take time for herself and enjoy privacy (before she was living and sleeping in the office and would sleep about four to five hours a night), improving skills (English classes, giving presentations, networking, etcetera), making new friends and professional contacts, and being able to walk safely and without paranoia on the street, among many other exciting new events. Little did I know at that time that working with Tomy would steer my life in a new direction as well. Already aware about the difficult context for human rights defenders in Honduras (in March 2016 winner of the Goldman Environmental prize Berta Cáceres was assassinated for leading an Indigenous struggle against a hydroelectric dam project), Tomy her personal testimony encouraged me to engage myself even more in the field of human rights.
One day, while listening with Tomy to a speech of Laura – daughter of Berta Cáceres – about the human rights situation in Honduras at a conference on ‘Heritage and Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, I received an email from the Platform of Authentic Journalism (in cooperation with Utrecht University) wherein a call was made for researchers to do research on FMO (the Dutch Development Bank). FMO is a financial institution that was co-financing the aforementioned hydroelectric project. All the roads were leading me to Honduras, and I decided to go for it.
After writing my research proposal I left in February to Honduras. This time Tomy was the one waiting for me at the airport and this time Tomy was taking care of me. I stayed at her house a couple of days. It was great to see that she is no longer living in an office, but that she found, with the support of Justice and Peace The Netherlands, a little apartment in a safe area. A new home where she can come to rest and enjoy privacy. Tomy also took me around in the old historical center of town. She would not miss a moment to share with me safety tips and urged me to always be careful when dealing with people I do not know. Due to her risky work, Tomy is suspicious towards people she does not know. She has for example her own ‘taxi de confianza’ (trustworthy taxi driver) to drive her around in the city. However, one weekend I convinced her to make a little trip with some friends I met. We would pick her up with our own car. Afterwards, she told me that she is not used to trusting people she does not know that easily. However, she enjoyed the trip and the company a lot. Not everyone in Honduras has bad intentions (on the contrary) and it gave her joy to experience this again. Above all, I was happy to encounter Tomy in good spirit with renewed motivation to continue her important work.
After a week it was time to move to my own research location, La Esperanza-Intibucá (the town were Berta Cáceres was assassinated), where I did research among the Indigenous Lenca. The aim of the research is to analyze the existing tension between the local Lenca Indigenous needs and the hydroelectric dam project which can be perceived as a catalyst of global development aspirations. In this way, I do not only wish to contribute to the debate, but also actively use my academic work to sensitize and mobilize relevant stakeholders. After three months in the field, it was time to visit Tomy again in Tegucigalpa.
While sharing my field experiences with her and receiving an update from her side, I fully understood for the first time that in our own way we can all be human rights defenders and work together towards a more human rights friendly world.