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…
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.
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.
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.
The ACJU Escolar initiative, working in 2 local high schools, impacted 1,594 students between the ages of 14 to 18 in 2013 via our “Youth Leadership Training” curriculum. Since one goal of ACJU is to develop youth interested in bettering their communities, we helped these students carry out six community improvement projects, such as tree-planting, two parasite treatment brigades, a cultural diversity event and two free haircutting events, which benefitted 1,083 people.
In addition, ACJU formed a separate youth organization made up of a group of our youth leaders who designed a sixth community impact project dealing with sexual and reproductive health. The project was selected from over 700 grant proposals to receive funding through the National Youth Institute. The project was successfully implemented, overreaching its goal and benefitting 867 youth between the ages of 12 and 18 from various local schools in the municipality.
Finally, thanks to our advocacy in one of these schools, we were able to get one teacher fired when it came to light that he was sexually and psychologically abusing a group of students.
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. 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.
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.
One 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.
One 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.