Thursday, August 9, 2007

Claim Jumpers

The church that founded our little school in Trujillo originally bought a piece of property that sits right on the main road into town, in the barrio (neighborhood) of Jerico. It's a beautiful spot, actually divided into two tracts with a "road" between the two. The tract that is closer to the main road is higher in elevation by 15-20 feet and has a great view of the Bay of Trujillo. It's also covered with fruit trees.

After purchasing the property, the church determined that it was too far away from the majority of the population to be a suitable place for the school. Instead, the school was built on property in Buenos Aires, which is a barrio just up the hill from downtown Trujillo. So for about 17 years, the school has owned the property but left it vacant. The Administrator, Emilson, occasionally sends someone with a machete to cut down the higher brush on the property, to keep it looking presentable from the road.

During our last visit to Trujillo, Emilson and I discussed selling the property to raise funds for the school. In particular, we would like to build a library/computer lab, as the old one was converted to a classroom when we added 9th grade this year. A few days after we got back home from our summer trip, Emilson's sister-in-law, who lives in the States and speaks good English, called and left a message for me indicating that she needed to convey a message from Emilson about the property in Jerico. I assumed that it was in regard to selling the property. Perhaps Emilson had already secured an appraisal or needed to pass along some other particulars about the process for selling it.

Unfortunately, the message was that a lady in Trujillo recently hired a couple of men to begin clearing the property with machetes and then began enclosing it with barbed wire, thus claiming it as her own. Emilson immediately went to the court house to make sure that all the legal documents were in order, which they were. He also tried to reason with the lady that the school is the owner of the property, but she wasn't cooperative. So now we're having to get a lawyer to take care of the matter, which I assume could take some time. How long? I have no idea, but Honduras isn't known for its efficient legal system.

From what I can gather, this type of land dispute is common in Honduras. In fact, a friend of ours who used to live in Trujillo said only a few days before this came to light that she was surprised nobody had squatted on the property yet. Maybe she's psychic.

I know that the church that started the school went through some legal hassles with this property several years back, so again, this doesn't really come as any big surprise. I just wish we had gotten our "Se Vende / For Sale" sign out a couple of months ago, and maybe we wouldn't be dealing with this. But I'm sure it will all turn out OK in the end.

Working with the school in Honduras is teaching me a great deal about patience. When I first became involved with the work, every bump in the road seemed like a major hurdle, an emergency that threatened everything. As we encounter more and more issues like this land dispute, the more I'm learning to stop, take a breath, say a little prayer, and take it one day at a time.