Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Saturday 21 September 2013

Health motivates positive action

The Environmental and Social Studies Group, a Mexican NGO is one of the 2012 Equator Prize winners. The case is described in: United Nations Development Programme. 2013. Environmental and Social Studies Group, Mexico. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY. Based on the information from this publication we hereby try to tell the story not from the perspective of the prize winning NGO, but from that of one of the project beneficiaries: a member of a women group.

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: women from other communities that have water issues
Key point: Realizing that health of women and children is at stake motivates to take positive action
Conflict: access to clean water
Hero: Fernanda from Oxtoyahualco
Adversary: our own passive and fatalistic attitude and initial lack of interest in conservation 

My name is Fernanda. I am from a Nahua family in the village of Oxtoyahualco in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. I am a mother of four. I cannot read or write. I have been a farmer all my life. My main concern always has been the well being of my family. I love the land where we live. In my great grandmother’s time it used to be full of beautiful forested valleys. There were many streams and lakes full of clear water and fields for farming and grazing.

Over the years more and more families became dependant on the land. People started to farm where you actually could not farm. The forest disappeared. Land slides occured, floods as well. The main problem became water scarcity. There were many projects of city-based NGOs active in our region to help improve the situation. But for us simple villagers it was not easy to see the benefits. We were passive, thinking this is our fate. Then one day we realized that the health of our children and ourselves was at stake. Our drinking water was not clean, and we all believed we were losing our water because we were not taking proper care of our forest. That was the moment I became active.  

In Oxtoyahualco, the fields surrounding the water spring were all private property, but since it was the community that was really in charge of them, I called the owners and asked to turn the fields over. For collective benefit, it was decided to fence them and plant trees instead of corn. It was also decided to stop cutting trees. The decisions were made by the General Assembly in the common house, with the agrarian authorities. My next step was to connect with the NGOs who were helping communities to form self-organized user groups. We mapped our area and from what we knew from our elders and other communities we made work plans for our watershed. We organized workshops and trainings, we had technical support from the NGOs and could submit project proposals to them to fund technical improvements. 

Now we are improving the forest again, we engage in a series of alternative livelihoods and manage the water supply. The projects we have built have been decided within the Assembly, here in the community, that way we decide among all. The technicians from the NGOs do come, but they do not decide for us. They say “Where do you want to build?” and where we decide it gets done. We go to the very place where we think it should be built and we all look at it, if it is a good place or not. That way we all talk about it, and since we know where our water springs are, we can make those decisions among all in an assembly with a majority of ejidatarios. I do all the extra work because of my children. And by doing so I educate myself.  

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