For those who have all the basic services, it may be hard to conceive of the extreme poverty faced by the indigenous K'iche communities. My first experience in the Bio-rights initiative was to visit Chicorral, the most remote and difficult to access community, and smallest with only 20 families.
In the rainy season it takes over an hour of difficult walking, depending on the physical obstacles which include mudslides and landslides caused by deforestation. But one forgets how tiring the walk is once you arrive and are greeted by the gentle faces of the community.
During my visit to Chicorral, a tour was given and people demonstrated their vulnerable situations due to landslides. Each rainy season they suffer landslides and mudslides, which are caused by deforestation - the forest is cut down for the production of maxán leaves (traditionally used to wrap tomales) and coffee monoculture. We discussed the importance of being organised to prepare for emergencies and work on measures that reduce the risks and problems caused by the heavy rain.
It is interesting to work and live with the community because despite not having many resources, they give everything they have to make you feel comfortable. Gradually we have earned the trust of the community,which is a key to success for the Bio-rights approach. They disclosed their needs, helped with translation of Quiche into Spanish and in documenting information and the agreements of each visit.
The community visits are planned every three weeks, depending on the availability of community members. In some visits I travelled alone and the community leader walked down the valley, closer to my base, to ensure I could reach them without any difficulties.
When we visited in December 2012, for the identification and prioritization of their needs and to discuss their project ideas, leaders requested that the entire community join to decide. Unfortunately it was not possible because it was harvest season for the coffee and maxán leaves, their main sources of household income. However, this tells me that there is a great degree of cohesion among community members, which is essential for reaching the initiative’s objectives.
When the discussions started on the prioritisation of disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures there was an
atmosphere of openness and trust. Five projects were proposed by the Chicorral community:
- construction of a water tank, that will allow water distribution to families;
- expansion of the school, which in an emergency event serves as a shelter for vulnerable families;
- small risk mitigation and reduction works around 20 homes;
- improvement of the access road to the community.
In return for the financing of these activities, the community members committed to supply their labour, as well as a commitment for reforestation at water sources and along the creek that is a tributary of theMasáRiverSubBasin.
This is the essence of Bio-rights: in exchange for micro-credit funds that support more sustainable livelihoods and increased resilience, a community pays back the loan by restoring and maintaining important environmental services.
My professional and personal commitment to the four communities we work with has grown in response to their trust, hospitality and acceptance: they are always friendly and welcoming despite their difficult circumstances.
Azucena Luna Ordóñez
She works as Local Development officer in the Bio-rights initiative on Ecosystem Management for Wetlands international. She is based in Santo Tomás, a small town at the entrance of the valley where the Bio-rights approach is implemented. Here she raises awareness on the importance of protecting water sources and biodiversity for sustainable livelihoods. She also helps communities formulate Conservation and Community Development plans and supports the accreditation of local disaster response coordinators.