We began by conducting assessment studies in 8 communities in Santiago Texacuangos, one of the regions in El Salvador that sustained the most damage during Hurricane Ida (Nov. 2009). Based on these studies, we chose to work with 3 communities who were most in need of social reconstruction, determined by levels of damage and the communities’ expressed desire to “get organized.” A 6-person team implemented the chosen projects, with one project leader for each area, one accountant/lawyer/administrator, and one coordinator/fundraiser. We designed the projects with our resources in mind, which included a budget of $30,000, a strong volunteer base, and donated materials. We consulted with the local governments of Joya Grande, El Sauce, and Shaltipa and then launched the projects in February 2010. With our support, these 3 communities (over 3,000 people total) have formed 3 Emergency Committees (officially called Communal Commission of Civil Protection, and sworn in by the national government), built a Hurricane Shelter, and have not lost a single life in any of the Tropical Storms (Agatha, Alex, Matthew, Nicole) that have occurred since our intervention. The communities have successfully run their own hurricane shelters, learning how to lobby for aid from their government and other NGOs. CEIBA is the only NGO in the region with a long-term commitment to these communities and we can see that we are making a difference.
After Hurricane Ida, we spent 2 months conducting direct disaster relief in 30 communities, ensuring that basic needs such as food, water, an
Once these basic needs had been met, we decided to try and diagnose the more complex needs in the 8 communities most affected. With a team of 20 volunteers, we spent 3 hours interviewing community leaders and assessing damages in each community. Communities expressed similar needs: to rebuild crops for food security, to organize the community and expand the leadership base, to heal psychological wounds, and to do something with the youth so they wouldn’t join gangs. Many communities expressed a plethora of infrastructure needs, including repairing water systems, building housing, fixing roads, etc. However, CEIBA knew that if we concentrated on these extensive infrastructure needs, we could easily spend all of the $30,000 on ONE project in ONE community, and we wanted to do MORE to prevent future disasters. Thus, we decided to work towards the top 4 priorities that were NOT infrastructure related and hired directors for each program. The idea was to pilot this intervention for 10 months and replicate best practices in new communities the following year.
CEIBA’s vision is to be a foundation that promotes sustainable community organization that manages the natural resources, well-being, and social development of Santiago Texacuangos. CEIBA’s mission is to give community members the tools to organize themselves in order to generate: environmental consciousness, alternatives sources of income, food sovereignty, disaster risk reduction, mental health, and gender equality.
d health services were provided to communities in need.
Our strategy was to hire a balanced team of 2 Salvadorans from the local region and 2 Salvadorans from the capital with more experience and college degrees so that CEIBA would balance theory with local wisdom in our 4-project intervention.
Each program involves 15-30 community members, so 60-120 people in each community are directly involved in the 4 projects. However, for our flagship project, community organizing for disaster prevention, communities were divided into “sections,” and a sector leader was selected for each. After training all leaders in basic skills such as drawing risk prevention maps, identifying evacuation routes and shelters, learning first aid, etc., each leader developed an emergency “plan” for his or her sector. The project manager, Mercedes, then helped each sector leader meet with all of his or her neighbors to begin to transfer knowledge, so that the entire community is trained in disaster prevention, not just the 15 core leaders.
We developed “exchanges” with communities and North Americans students, as well as with our 3 communities and 3 other Salvadoran communities that had experience with disaster in urban settings. We even planned an exchange with Honduras to take 17 Salvadorans to the neighboring country to learn best practices from reconstruction efforts for Hurricane Mitch. Exchanges were key because the community had to self-reflect on its progress and share its experiences. We also have done public events in the plaza of the main town and public acts like painting a mural so that people ages 3-80 can be involved in rebuilding community spirit.
CEIBA underwent an extensive evaluation 6 months into the project, with over 15 volunteers who helped formulate surveys for participants based on each project’s specific objectives. Each project underwent both quantitative and qualitative evaluation through the use of surveys and focused discussion with participants. The evaluations were very helpful in determining the strengths and weaknesses of each project. Nearly all community members responded that the projects impacted personal and community progress. However, it was noted that the teaching pedagogy could be improved in all projects. The participants in community organizing run by the “locals” lacked the ability to transfer technical or scientific skills, and felt they had learned values like unity, cooperation, how to work together, environmental sustainability, etc., but could not repeat any workshops or recall specific skills or processes. However, the youth groups and organic agriculture projects run by “professionals” used overly technical language and participants yearned for more practice and less theory. Evaluations were passed to project leaders, and the CEIBA team together suggests improvements on teaching pedagogy.
CEIBA’s intervention in this community is designed to be a 10-month process to jumpstart community empowerment. We have provided the community leaders with the contact information of all NGOs who donated to the projects to ensure that they can continue to write and design their own projects. We have taught the community leaders basic steps of writing and planning, and have sent many leaders to trainings in community project management. After our 10 months are over we will close our projects, but transitions have already begun. For example, we have recruited local artists to volunteer to teach art classes in communities and coordinate with the government to acquire donated materials for classes.
CEIBA will continue to help communities make contacts and provide technical support for project writing, but we hope to begin organizing in NEW communities and to push the old communities out of the nest to see if they can fly! Disaster prevention especially includes skills and implementation of community emergency plans that will be practiced with multiple drills so that the community is clear about the first steps to take in a disaster. We have left lasting imprints as well, such as 2 murals, and reforestation of 2 hillsides with 100 trees each.
The biggest overall impact is a more united community with more effective leadership.
The communities in this part of the country have been politically divided since the start of the civil war in 1980, and have had difficulties bringing people from BOTH political parties to the table for community betterment. However, our emergency committees in all three communities where we work have nearly 50-50 representation from the two political parties! One of the communities has a female coordinator, and the others have nearly 50% participation from women. The ability to overcome gender and political boundaries allows the emergency committees to have effect in the entire community, and gives them the energy and moral standing to manage community projects, like building and operating a hurricane shelter. No one has died this year in disasters, because people are actually evacuating to the hurricane shelters; this is due to new and effective community early warning systems, the existence of community shelters and risk maps that identify neighbors who live in safe areas and are willing to take in families during storms, and community security systems to protect abandoned houses during storms so families know their animals will not be stolen, etc. Our efforts to strengthen community organization have reduced impacts from disasters and encouraged a culture of prevention.