This might have been the push we needed.
I’m born and raised in Honduras, a beautifully green and lush country known for being the home of ancient Mayan civilizations and having the second largest coral reef in the world. Unfortunately, we are also known for being one of the most dangerous places in the world. Poverty, violence and lack of education have been ongoing problems in my country for as long as I can remember. Now throw some Coronavirus into the mix and you’ve got yourself quite the situation.
The Downfall of an Economy Dependent on Production of Raw Materials
I know none of us were truly ready for this pandemic, but Honduras was as far from it as you can get. We are largely dependent on the production of raw materials, we have a poor infrastructure for technology, and don’t even get me started on our medical capacity (or lack thereof).
With agriculture being our main industry, most of our jobs require physical labor and a lot of social contact. Take this away from us and our economy plummets. Saying this is a suboptimal situation is an aggressive understatement. Unfortunately, our economic model and infrastructure are not our only weaknesses. I believe that as a society, we were not ready to handle Coronavirus.
Culturally, we do not possess the sentiment of social responsibility that other countries have. Don’t get me wrong, we are very warm, friendly and welcoming people, but we are also very self-centered. The feeling of camaraderie is almost non-existent.
Every Man for Himself
Living in a poor country teaches you that help is not coming. If you want to feed your family then you have to do what is best for you, regardless of how it affects others. This mentality affects everyone, even the wealthy. We are a society that believes that the end justifies the means, and this is what fuels corruption and violence, and in this case, the propagation of Coronavirus.
I think we all know by now that we should not generalize. People from the same country are not all the same, which is why I want to give credit where credit is due. There are many people who are truly invested in helping our country, from doctors and teachers, to regular citizens doing all they can to help those who can’t help themselves.
These people are the ones that give us hope, because they show us that no matter our situation, we can always be better and do better. So yes, our situation is far from ideal, but there’s always a silver lining, quite a few in this case.
We’ve always fallen behind when it comes to technology, but not due to a lack of talent. The problem is many technology-based projects don’t get the funding they deserve because they are viewed as luxuries rather than necessities. However, this point of view has massively changed ever since quarantine began.
Technology as a Necessity
It has finally become obvious that technology is a basic part of our future. It’s a shame that it has taken a global pandemic for our government and business owners to realize this, but hey, better late than never.
In these last few months I have seen more digital advancements than I have seen in my entire life. For example, last year only a couple supermarkets had an option to order online, and honestly, the user experience was terrible. Fast forward to today and now every supermarket has their own website, online catalogue and payment platform.
Most businesses now have a fully functioning chat bot on their site, literally everyone has suddenly discovered the value of webinars and working from home is finally seen as a viable option. It has been amazing to see this shift happen right before my eyes. However, my favorite digital transition goes to government services. In order for you to understand the magnitude of this change, you need to know just how primitive our system was and still is in many ways.
A Journey Through Outdated Systems
Late January I accompanied my boyfriend on a journey to find government records of a deed for an old property. Usually you would just go online and find what documents you’ll need, but this kind of information is not readily available online in Honduras, so we had to physically go and ask what we needed in order to get the deed. So we drove for an hour until we finally arrived at the Property Institute, a run down building with a parking lot smaller than most front lawns.
From here we were sent on a never-ending quest for information; going from one place to another and back again, visiting the same places over and over and getting nowhere. At this point I honestly thought government officials make you run around like crazy for their own enjoyment. If they would just email each other instead of making you travel back and forth, the entire process might take 30 minutes at most.
About a month later, once we were finally able to get all the documentation we needed, we returned to the Property Institute and handed in the required documents. The clerk took the papers and asked us to sit and wait while he fetched the deed, and boy, am I glad I was sitting down when he came back.
The door opens and out comes this man with the largest leather-bound book I have ever seen. I kid you not, this book was half my size and I’m 5’9 tall. You should have seen my face when he started flipping through the book.
Each page was handwritten in the most beautiful calligraphy. The thing looked like it belonged in a museum. The craziest part was that this ancient looking, handwritten letter, was a valid, government-issued, official document.
Can you imagine how much faster and efficient this whole process might have been if everything was digitized? If we had a centralized system for information? Granted it wouldn’t have made such a good story, but it would have saved us a lot of time.
Fast-forward a few months to early May. After two months of being quarantined I finally started working on my own projects. As a newly self-employed woman, I would need a few things in order to earn money, specifically, government-issued receipts. I immediately felt defeated. I knew getting these receipts would normally be a complicated process, so I knew it would probably be impossible during quarantine.
I was already thinking about how I would have to politely decline my client’s offer, since I wouldn’t be able to bill them for my work. I was discouraged, but I figured I might as well go ahead and find out how to get these receipts as I would eventually need them anyway. So I did a quick google search and I found this image…
Each image represents a different institute, the numbers in orange boxes represent the step number and the numbers below the image indicate how many times you have to go to each institution. I couldn’t even leave my house, how would I be able to go to the Mayor’s Office 10 different times?
Any hope I had to be able to get my receipts was shattered when I saw that image. As any strong, independent 29 year old woman would do, I called my dad and my boyfriend crying about how I would never be able to get this done. Both of them told me not to worry, that they would find a way to help and surely enough, a few days later I had my solution.
Apparently, due to the Coronavirus situation, the government had finally decided to digitize a few key processes, including the issuing of receipts. The process ended up being far from seamless, but I learned that the option to do it online had been implemented literally only five days ago. Ultimately I was able to submit most of the required documents and now all I had to do was put in an order to print my receipts.
“No hay mal que por bien no venga,” is a commonly used saying in Latin America. It literally means, there is no evil that doesn’t come from good and is roughly the equivalent of “everything happens for a reason”. Covid-19 has certainly affected us in many ways, both negatively and positively. I believe the negative outcomes are obvious, plus they are the ones that are always being shared, so I think it’s important to share some of the positives as well.
We still have a long way to go before life returns to normal, if it ever does, but I believe that we will be better off in the end. The exciting thing about coming from a third world country is seeing a realm of possibilities, of endless options and paths for improvement. I’m eager to see where this takes us.