Tag Archives: Citizen committees

Emergency help needed for slum families who have lost everything

IMG_20141012_110518477Here at ConeXión Mosaico we employ a multi-faceted strategy to deal with the challenge of urban poverty, with our primary focus being the development of local leaders whom we coach to come up with solutions their own problems. Very seldom do we get involved in disaster relief efforts. However, dozens of families we work with are currently in a state of emergency and ConeXión Mosaico is stepping up to provide emergency aid.

Last Friday night the slum community of San José Palmas in the Los Reyes La Paz municipality, where several of our projects currently operate, was hit with severe rains and a heavy hailstorm.

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San José Palmas is an extremely impoverished community, where many cinderblock homes have dirt floors and roofs made of corrugated tarpaper. The weight of the hail, which in some areas piled up as high as deep as 6 to 8 inches – which is unheard of in this part of Mexico City – coupled with the torrential rains, caused varying degrees of damage to 65 of these insubstantial structures.

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Unfortunately, the following story told to our staff is not an isolated incident:

“My name is Guadalupe. My husband, myself and our 5 children live in a 10’ x 13’ one-room home in San José Palmas. Last Friday night during the rains our roof and one of the walls of our little hut, which is made of corrugated tarpaper, caved in. The only thing I could do was to huddle in a corner with my children and try and keep the water off of them as best I could. We still got soaking wet and our two mattresses, our furniture, all of our clothing and everything we own was ruined, and now we have nowhere to live.”

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Through our contacts in the municipal public assistance program, we were able to distribute 200 donated blankets and twenty food baskets on Saturday to the families hardest hit by the disaster. Many of the 65 affected families lost a large part of their material possessions, IMG_20141011_195413880including mattresses, bedding, clothing and furniture. Tragically, in many cases, those losses included the inventory for the small businesses that were the source of the families’ livelihood.

So far, we have mobilized approximately $2,200 USD worth of in-kind donations for the affected families. We were also able to provide information to the community about how to take precautions to avoid the spread of diseases. The citizen committees we developed over the course of the last year organized work parties to help with the clean-up of the most severely damaged homes, and those families whose homes became completely uninhabitable are being temporarily housed by those neighbors who were not as badly affected.

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We are still hoping to mobilize existing relief resources to provide further support, and our goal is to obtain 200 donated sleeping mats. However, 12 families are currently homeless and 25 more would likely lose their homes as well if there were to be another heavy rain. IMG-20141012-00389An additional 28 lost a lot of their belongings. It is imperative that these families begin rebuilding and repairing their homes as quickly as possible, and ConeXión Mosaico has already started to help the families most affected. However, in keeping with our organizational philosophy, our plan is to assist the community in such a way that we provide them with a “hand up,” rather than a “hand out.”

IMG_20141012_175718668It is our intention to provide emergency construction loans to those families who need to repair or rebuild their homes immediately. Those families who receive assistance will be asked to repay approximately 70% of the amount they receive in very small payments over time. As those payments are received, they will go back into an emergency assistance fund which will be available to provide the same kind of help to other disaster victims in the future.

How precisely are we helping?
On Sunday, our staff conducted a thorough census of all the affected households. The affected families were then divided into three categories and we instigated a three-stage intervention plan:

Phase 1: Staff identified 12 households who lost their entire roofs, parts of their walls and, in the majority of cases, all of their worldly possessions. ConeXión Mosaico began the process of IMG-20141012-00375emergency reconstruction on those homes on Sunday. We purchased corrugated tin panels, cinderblocks, cement, wooden beams, etc., and the community has pitched in to help with the labor. A civil engineer is also helping teach the families how to rebuild with more structural integrity. Several homes have been repaired so far, and we are hoping to finish this phase by the end of this week.

Phase 2: There are another 25 families who lost a part of their roof, and/or there is a very high risk that another rain would cause severe damage to the home if nothing is done. We hope to begin repairing WP_20141012_015and fortifying this group of homes this weekend.

Phase 3: Lastly, there are another 28 families who lost their mattresses and other belongings because their roofs leaked so badly that the homes were flooded with up to 10 inches of water. With this group, we are planning to provide technical assistance in how to make improvements to their homes that will mitigate the risk of flooding in the future. We hope to be able to begin this process by early next week.

According to our calculations, it will take approximately WP_20141012_016$5,000 in order to fully implement this emergency assistance plan. However, these funds are not part of our yearly budget, so we are asking for help at this time. We will need to raise these additional funds in order to make this intervention a reality. Your generous support will not only help the San José Palmas families rebuild their homes, but will provide the foundation for an emergency assistance fund which will be available to other slum disaster victims in the future, since 70% of the funds will be repaid.

Please consider joining us in this effort.

Click here to go the “donate” page of ConeXión Mosaico’s website and make your online donation. In the “comments” section, you can note that your gift should be applied towards the emergency assistance fund. Any contribution, large or small, is sincerely appreciated.

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Working Together for a Miracle

At ConeXión Mosaico, we seek to develop leaders within urban slums who will become agents of change within their own neighborhoods and communities. One of the key ways we do this is through the development and implementation of community improvement projects. These community projects function as hands-on “leadership development schools” for participants, while also positively impacting the lives other community members in a very practical way.

Just recently nine citizen committees in San José Palmas, working together, carried out a community impact project to realize a seemingly impossible dream: to bring public water service to their squatter community. Now, thanks to their efforts, the municipal water company has committed to building a water tower by next summer which, when complete, will provide water to approximately 1,000 families in the area.

To find out more about how the citizen committees were able to accomplish what has amounted to nothing short of a miracle, go to a photostory about this exciting project by clicking here…

Working Together For a Miracle

Parent group successfully fundraises to begin construction of new school restrooms

In the last three months, Fortaleza has been working with parents and teachers at the San Sebastián elementary school on a seed project. It has been an ongoing problem that the school, home to 237 students and 7 teachers, has just 3 toilets. Therefore, a group of parents decided building new school restrooms was a priority. Even though the teachers at the school complained that parents were apathetic and uninvolved, this group of parents has proven to be just the opposite.

The proceeds from rummage sales of donated clothing help to raise money for the new restrooms
The proceeds from rummage sales of donated clothing help to raise money for the new restrooms

Since they were told they would need to find their own resources, they have been very creative in their fundraising efforts. With ConeXión Mosaico pledging to match some of the funds raised, parents held community fairs, sold donated clothing, made food to sell and held movie nights to raise money. When ConeXión Mosaico donated a few toys, they held a raffle and worked with the children on how to save up to buy tickets. Altogether the parents have raised over $1,800 U.S. and the restrooms are now about halfway finished. There has also been a lot of participation at the work parties, with approximately 60 parents showing up one day. Through this seed project, these parents have been realizing that, even if they don’t have a lot of financial resources to begin with, they can work together to get things done.

Citizen committees work together to bring running water to their neighborhood

The exciting work taking place in San José Palmas during the last few months has to do with water access. Since last year, several citizen groups in this neighborhood have been working together to try and bring running water to their community. Although the municipal water company has agreed to build the water tower and a donor has been secured to pay for the materials, the delay at this point has been securing a plot of land to build the tower on. The citizen committees figured out that the community itself could purchase the land if 300 families would pitch in about $75 U.S. each. They held a series of community meetings, where at first more than enough families were on board. However, opportunistic local area “strongmen” who sought to personally profit from bringing water into the neighborhood attempted to obstruct the process more than once.

Undaunted, the committees continued to talk with their neighbors. They opened a community bank account and developed accountability procedures to keep the process transparent. At this point, in spite of intense opposition from one local “boss” who has severely divided the community, the committees have raised almost half the funds needed to purchase the land. Although they have not yet reached their goal, spirits are high and there is a feeling of gathering momentum as the committees continue to work towards a collaborative solution.

Blessed to become a blessing

One lovely example of how trust has developed between neighbors in San José Palmas over the course of working on the community improvement projects is Concepción. When staff met Concepción, her only interest was getting a sewer system installed in her own house. Thinking it would probably cost less money if she worked together with her neighbors, she started working to organize a committee to install a sewer system on her street. At first she showed little interest in working together on any projects that did not directly impact her own family. In fact, when other streets began to organize, there were some hard feelings when Concepción boasted to some of the new leaders that their streets would only get sewer systems thanks to the work she and her neighbors had already done.

However, over time, Concepción began to see that others in her community had needs just as real as her own; in some cases, even more urgent. Through the leadership development process, she began to see that real change would only come about by developing leaders who didn’t divide and exploit the community. We often use the following motto in our community work: “You’ve been blessed by God to become a blessing to others.” As a result of our spiritual guidance, over time, Concepción has begun to work on behalf of her community and not just herself and her family. Now, instead of always looking to be in the spotlight at the committee meetings, Concepción instead seeks to motivate and encourage new members. She says that she likes knowing that she can help solve her community’s problems and help other new leaders to create better teamwork and unity among their own neighbors.

Parent brigade kicks off community improvement projects at local elementary school

In the Lomas de San Sebastián neighborhood of the Los Reyes La Paz municipality, we were invited by the local elementary school principal to come in and begin our development process with a group of parents from her school. After several parent meetings, we facilitated a discussion where the community reflected upon the importance of civic involvement. A 28-member citizen committee arose out of that process and, as a result, two projects were implemented at the school that positively impacted the lives of 940 people: the lunchroom roof was replaced and a landscaping project was carried out. IMG00228-20130831-1251 These projects generated a spirit of teamwork and collective action, which was evidenced by the parents hosting two community fundraising fairs in order to raise money for future projects.

Citizen committees have a powerful impact on their community

In 2013, 8 Citizen Committees were formed in San José Palmas and in those committees 24 community leaders participated in leadership training and received regular mentoring. These emerging leaders mobilized others in their community, and altogether 310 slum residents participated in implementing 10 community improvement projects that positively impacted the lives of 1,930 people.

3One of these community improvement projects involved building a new elementary school classroom using eco-friendly, bio-construction techniques. Successfully carrying out small projects like the classroom was an important step for the San José Palmas community. Practically speaking, the improved learning environment has a tangible impact on the well-being of the students. However, parents were also able to see in a very concrete way that, working together, they had the power to substantially improve their environment. The early successes of these smaller projects paved the way for even more ambitious community projects later on.

9) Apertura de la calle LluviaOne of these larger-scale projects was a sewer project. Inadequate wastewater disposal is a major public health issue. When it isn’t properly disposed of, sewage contaminates the environment and causes serious health complications. Therefore three citizen committees, working together and in collaboration with the municipal water company, installed wastewater drainage systems on six neighborhood streets. As the project was being carried out, there were several occasions when problems and disagreements came up. However, Project Fortaleza held conflict resolution and leadership development meetings where members learned how to resolve their differences peaceably. This has helped them to build and strengthen bonds of trust, solidarity and teamwork between each other.

As social cohesion has grown in San José Palmas, we’ve been able to start a new Community Bible Study. That’s always our vision and goal, namely that people may get to know the living God who so desires to see their lives and communities transformed. Since its inception, at the end of 2013, the study has continuously grown. By now 30 people regularly attend.