Thursday, January 29, 2015

CHOICE - Amazing success in Las Russias, Mexico

"People actually live here." I thought as we pulled off the main road along side a scattering of small buildings. Juan backed up near the small church that was humble, but newly painted and showed a sense of community pride. Juan had honked the horn a few times as we came down the highway and soon village women came running with big smiles and a welcoming hand shake. It was obvious that they loved and respected Juan.
Some of the savings group gather to learn from Juan
A year and a half earlier this village was selected to be part of a CHOICE Humanitarian project. When Juan and his wife, Analy first arrived and presented their program there was general distrust from the villagers. "What is in it for you?" "Why are you coming from so far away just to help us?"

Juan patiently helped them to understand CHOICE's mission to help poverty stricken people lift themselves from poverty. He explained their community savings plan and their self developing village program. The villagers were hesitant yet hopeful, so they agreed to participate.

Bernadina was elected the president of the group in Las Russias and began to hold weekly meetings where each member was encouraged to put money in their own savings envelope that was kept in a locked box by the treasurer. At these weekly meetings Juan and his team taught them of ways to improve their lives. As a group they decided that having a water cistern outside each home would greatly improve their lives. They elected a committee to oversee the cistern project and set up an order of which family would be first, second, etc. The families were expected to come up with what they could, for example sand and gravel. Juan helped them bring in the mesh wire that formed the skeleton of the cistern. They could use their savings for supplies and were even given small loans by the group.

Week after week they worked as a team building cisterns. If the family was not prepared when it was their turn, they went on to the next family and the unprepared family dropped to the last one on the list.

Juan also organized mini expeditions with people from the city that were interested in helping the rural poor. These volunteers came and camped out in the community for a couple of days and helped with the construction.

Some of the villagers show off one of their water cisterns
Now all of the participants have cisterns and other useful assets such as ovens, latrines, smokeless cooking stoves, chicken houses, and pig pens. The amazing part is that each of these families has organized and supervised the work themselves with the CHOICE staff acting as mentors. I could see the excitement in their eyes as the talked about additional projects that could be done.

Bernadina showing off her new oven. Every home has one now.
As we left, it was apparent that these villagers loved Juan and he loved them. He had helped them see a new and better way of living and had helped them to make the changes themselves. They are now a united village that has pride in themselves. It was evident from the newly painted church that this village has a bright future as they continue to work together to improve their lives.

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