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.
In the last 2 months, some of the ProSalud participant women in San José Palmas have organized on their own initiative to start their own microbusiness. Five of ProSalud’s most active participants in this severely impoverished neighborhood have formed a small group that makes bracelets and necklaces to sell in order to augment their income. When they first came up with the idea, the women started off being paid piecework to assemble the jewelry for someone else. However, they soon organized and pooled their money together to buy their own supplies. Now they are no longer working for someone else, but instead have created their own micro enterprise where they make and sell the products themselves.
In just their first two months, the women have recovered their initial investment and made a 50% profit from their sales to date, with quite a bit of material still left over. The women credit their participation in ProSalud as their inspiration for starting their own business. Among other things ProSalud emphasizes mutual support and teamwork, as well as being proactive in solving problems and looking for solutions. These values, combined with the friendships that formed as a result of their participation, led to the women’s decision to work together and launch their new enterprise.
One important community connection that ProSalud made in 2013 is with Alma, one of ProSalud’s most active San Sebastián Promoters. When ProSalud first launched in the neighborhood, Alma was not interested in becoming involved. Her brother had been killed a little while earlier in a carjacking and she had been in a deep depression ever since. She was full of anger and resentment towards everyone around her, knowing that his killers (who were never apprehended) could well be people from her own community.
When first asked to participate in the project, Alma told the ProSalud staff, “No, I’m no good for things like that.” However, little by little, she became more involved. As she started to participate more actively, she began slowly to come out of her depression. Now, Alma is the first Promoter to arrive at every workshop. A consistent participant at every ProSalud event, Alma now approaches the staff to ask what she can do and how she can help. She has even donated space in her home to serve as ProSalud’s warehouse in the San Sebastián neighborhood. As Alma told the ProSalud staff, “I like working with you! It helps keep me from feeling depressed!”
The momentum caused by the elementary school improvement projects caused Blanca, one of the residents from an area on the outskirts of San Sebastián, “el Potrero,” to invite Fortaleza project staff to begin a community development process in her little slum neighborhood as well.
Before Fortaleza came into her neighborhood, Blanca stayed to herself and did not socialize with her neighbors at all. As she told project staff, “Life here in Potrero is hard. I don’t want to get involved, for good or bad; that way, I can avoid problems and misunderstandings.” When Blanca agreed to let project Fortaleza hold community workshops in her home, she and her neighbors began to get to know each other for the first time. They began to develop friendships and spend more time together. Staff recognized many leadership qualities in Blanca that she had never had the opportunity to develop. Slowly, over the course of the workshops held in her home, staff helped Blanca to recognize those qualities and encouraged her to develop them.
Now Blanca tells us that she has become an informal leader in her community. People all over the neighborhood seek her out because of the positive changes they have seen in her. Her neighbors go to her to tell her their problems or ask her for advice or assistance. In fact, recently Blanca helped one of her neighbors, who was 7 months pregnant when she went into pre-term labor. She helped get the woman to the hospital, notified her husband and family and, thanks to Blanca’s assistance, the doctors were able to stop her labor in time and save her baby.
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.
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.