LAS LOMITAS, Honduras — Gallia County has a history of producing individuals who sought to uplift others out of tough conditions and while Kaleb Eldridge and his wife Stacey don’t live in the U.S. anymore, they are continuing that tradition in Honduras.
Kaleb said he grew up in Bidwell. His father works in the electricity and power transfer industry and his mother is a teacher.
“I went to school at Cedarville (University),” said Kaleb. “My wife and I, she was a Spanish teacher and had studied internationally as well (as Kaleb). When we first met, we were interested in doing long-term international development work. That’s part of the reason we met and what drew us together. I had visited Haiti a couple of times and helped out post-Katrina and things like that. I was an EMT on the side, while I was in school, and had done more disaster relief things. But we were more interested in long-term development efforts.”
Stacey and Kaleb met at Cedarville University and married in 2009 before moving to Honduras and have been living in a coffee-producing town named Las Lomitas. The pair work with a nonprofit, faith-based group called Heart to Honduras which seeks to empower local community members. Kaleb and his wife focus in community development and assist residents in “getting back on their feet,” he said, and becoming independent in going about their lives again. The pair’s efforts focus in sustainable development.
“We do that by working in helping relationships with local government and community members,” said Kaleb. “Good development work is having people be able to tackle their issues themselves. How do we empower people to do that? We assist in coordinating projects to improve housing, water projects, schools and road improvement (among other projects). Literally, it runs almost the entire gambit. We do some training as well. We don’t collaborate in anything that we have to sustain long-term. We help in the initial get up and going and then the community is responsible for maintaining it in the long term.”
Hurricane Mitch in 1998 left Honduras in a rough situation, according to Kaleb. Thousands lost their lives and homes. He said much of Honduras is still recuperating.
Kaleb said according to his department with Heart to Honduras and its figures, 95 percent of project costs and labor it has taken part with were executed by ties to the U.S. Local involvement was around five percent. The percent of local involvement has risen over the last six years to 43 percent. The group works with a few dozen communities.
“It’s not the goal but it’s higher than what it was,” said Kaleb.
Along with their work in Heart to Honduras, the pair started a business called de Palo, apart from the nonprofit. De Palo is recognized as a high quality coffee in Honduras.
“De Palo grew out of our philosophy on development work in how do we identify local resources that are being underutilized and then turn it into something we can drive development locally,” said Kaleb. “Honduras is pretty mountainous. A lot of the high altitudes produce coffee, so we live in a coffee producing area.”
Kaleb said he was working on a project before the de Palo business was started and was driving a stake made of coffee wood into the ground as part of construction efforts. He noticed the wood was extremely hard and asked from what plant it originated. Eventually, the Eldridges would pair with area carpenter and pastor Eduar Funez to start creating products made from coffee wood and sell them. Coffee plant trunks tend to be thin but are recognized for being durable and hard and have been often used for tools in the area.
The business within the last few years launched a Kickstarter campaign which led to around $12,000 of orders for de Palo products as a means of “getting it off the ground,” said Kaleb. Currently, the business sells scooping utensils, pour-over stands and coasters and looks to employ Honduran residents.
For more information about Heart to Honduras, visit www.hth.org. For more information about de Palo, visit www.depaloproducts.com.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.