For many in international development work, there exists a continuous dialogue in which we explore our place in cultures, communities and struggles that are not our own. We ask ourselves questions about our role in the lives of people who were born into places where clean water is a luxury that is out of reach for many, and where books are as rare as the opportunity to go to college. We ponder the impact we can really have on remote and impoverished areas of the world as we grapple with our own intentions to serve, build and nourish. Our challenge is to discover a way to set aside our own egos and agendas, show up with patience, and find a way to truly make a lasting difference.
Nestled in the emerald green hills of the Cangrejal Valley, Honduras, Un Mundo has found the sweet spot in development work. By facilitating the community’s own development process, Un Mundo has built a model in which the work lasts because it belongs to the community itself. Our model is built with three goals in mind – dignity, community, and self-sufficiency – and the projects are simply vehicles for drawing out the community’s potential to reach these long-term end goals. (Learn more or contribute to Un Mundo)
With 28 neighborhoods and a majestic river flowing through the center, the Cangrejal Valley is home to some ten thousand people. Families, which generally include at least 8 members, often live on less than $100 per month – an income squeezed from working the land, tending dairy cows, and dappling in the somewhat out-of-reach tourism industry. The extreme poverty is indicative of the 500 years of domination and oppression in Latin America – from Spanish conquest to the neo-liberal economics imposed by the United States. Then, in the aftermath of the immense destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, well-intentioned aid organizations arrived with handouts by the helicopter-load. In the process, they created dynamics of inequality, silence and perceived helplessness that have since fused into the hearts and psyches of even the most capable Hondureños in the valley.
That’s why there is one seemingly simple task at the center of Un Mundo’s work: make sure everyone’s voice gets heard. We work with the intention to draw out collective community desires, and we do this by facilitating unique and creative processes in which everyone – even the pre-literate, the deaf, the young and the old – can participate. The path to dignity, community and self-sufficiency often involves reminding each person that their voice really matters, despite never having their voices heard before. Once all ideas and input are heard and a collective decision is made, a powerful force for change – backed by community initiative and capacity-building provided by Un Mundo – is set into motion.
The results are extraordinary. In the past five years, with the support of Un Mundo, community members have formed committees and tasked themselves with constructing the first public vocational high school in the valley (inaugurated by a community celebration on November 30, 2012), creating the first regional public library to improve literacy, providing health and education services to children with special needs, and organizing a network of midwives to improve maternal healthcare services in the valley. Additionally, with Un Mundo’s facilitation, a group of community members has begun working with Engineers Without Borders, and is currently designing a brand-new water system that will provide sufficient clean water to over 250 homes in the community of El Pital.
El Pital, the community nestled on the forested banks of the Cangrejal River where Un Mundo is based, is ripe with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Children with special needs, who were once shamefully kept secluded in their homes, now smile and greet passers-by – eager to share about their recent classroom successes. Community members glow with pride at the mention of the largest building in town, the high school, to which students bus an hour from the nearby city of La Ceiba to attend. The women’s group speaks of their plans to open a cooperatively run restaurant, and the library committee shares about the success of their creative community fundraising initiatives (a $1 ticket for admission to a movie screening, as well as a small bag of popcorn).
Un Mundo’s model assumes that capacities are being built among community members such that, one day, we will be able to step away from the community and the development will continue. To facilitate this process, Un Mundo has implemented a work-study scholarship program that pays for students from the community to attend university in the town of La Ceiba while completing their practicum with Un Mundo. The students, who have all expressed a desire and commitment to uplift their communities, learn creative facilitation and resource mobilization among other skills as integral parts of their practicum.
For foreigners who share the desire and commitment to uplift resource-constrained communities around the world, Un Mundo offers a model that reminds us that our place is not to do the work. But it can be, perhaps, to facilitate the process for the communities to discover their own needs, wants and capabilities to turn their own dreams into successes.
We look forward to continuing this important work in 2013 and beyond, and we need your support! Join us by making a donation, purchasing a raffle ticket, offering your skills, or connecting with our community on Facebook. Our work would not be possible without the generosity of our growing community, and we hope you will do what you can to make next year a success!
Check out photos of the past year with Un Mundo!
By Sierra Brashear, Communications and Outreach Coordinator