By Kaelyn DeVries, PCI Staff
“What can we do to educate people in our neighborhood?” I watch Julia del Cid, Representative of Mujeres Ahorradoras (Women Saving), a PCI-organized economic and social empowerment group, pose the question to the members of her group. Sitting in a circle around the center patio of a home in the community of San Andresito II, Lo de Coy in the Municipality of Mixco, Julia and other group members discuss one of the main problems they see in their community: improper disposal of trash.
This is actually not the first time they’ve had this discussion. The women of Mujeres Ahorradoras had previously organized and carried out a sanitation campaign in their community, coordinating with neighbors, local university and municipal leaders to gather the trash and take it away. Julia and her small army of savings group members (they may be few in numbers, but believe me, when you’re with them, you feel like you’re in the middle of organizing an attack; a raid on those who simply won’t listen) have advocated more than once on behalf of their community, challenging the local government and their neighbors to pay attention.
On this day, at the request of the group, two staff members of the Ministry of Health pay them a visit to talk with them about proper hygiene, adequate use of water and prevention of food and waterborne illnesses. The women’s faces light up as they watch one technician test the level of chlorine in the water spilling from the tap outside. Several begin to ask him questions about this process and I realize that in this moment, they are becoming active players in the monitoring and control of water quality in their community.
The women’s sense of self-worth and their desire to learn are what drive them to discover their environment, thinking critically about changes they’d like to see. So what exactly is the secret to awakening this sense of capacity as the key stakeholders that they truly are? Women, when alone and isolated, can be made to feel vulnerable, voiceless and powerless. As an organized group, however, they’re inspired to support each other and their community; to “be the change.”
PCI’s WE groups develop a shared vision and action plans around issues of mutual concern. In the case of Mujeres Ahorradoras, they are formulating a long-term plan of individual and group activities to confront improper waste management in their neighborhood. As Julia suitably puts it, “When we don’t like what we see, we say something! More than that, we are here to do something.”
Women Empowered (WE) is a key intervention within PCI’s Barrio Mio Program, a two-year project aimed at building resilient, safe and productive neighborhoods. Twenty WE Savings and Social Empowerment Groups have been organized to date in 17 communities in the urban slum areas of Mixco, Guatemala.