February 2008 Newsletter: New Hope in Rural Mexico

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Mexico’s poverty is concentrated in its rural villages, where there are so few jobs, the only hope to get ahead is to migrate to the U.S. and send money home. The Hunger Project is sparking the creation of a very different future: economically vibrant rural communities that express Mexico’s rich cultural heritage. We do this through 10 priority actions.

  1. Village clusters. Individual villages are too small to have meaningful economic or political power. We create clusters of villages to work together.
  2. Vision, Commitment and Action Workshops (VCAWs). Social mobilization begins with a one-day workshop in which each community creates its own vision, commits to achieve it, and launches campaigns of voluntary action.
  3. A critical mass of volunteer animators within each village cluster. Dynamic volunteers emerge from each VCAW, and are trained to be catalysts for local development activities.
  4. Transforming the way local government works. Through meetings and trainings, previously isolated government employees come together as a unified team to work in partnership with the people to achieve local priorities.
  5. State-level networks of trainers. There are many effective trainers within Mexico’s governmental and nongovernmental agencies, whom we train to deliver our programs.
  6. Participatory rural appraisal. Once the catalysts are organized and government functionaries are aligned, everyone works together to survey local resources and strengths that can be built upon for a better future.
  7. Community development plan. Mexico has a unique system: elected officials can serve only one term, which makes long-term planning almost impossible. We empower communities to develop a plan that is owned by the people, who then elect people to help them achieve it.
  8. Registered women’s enterprises. A top priority in rural communities is for women to establish their own businesses and overcome the bureaucratic red tape to register them, so they can obtain resources and legally sell goods.
  9. Reporting progress. We need to make it undeniable that empowerment is the way to go. This means documenting our impact.
  10. Alliances for advocacy. The Hunger Project works with partner agencies to ensure that the voices of the people are heard at higher levels, bureaucratic logjams are removed, and people have access to resources that are rightfully theirs.

Nonviolence in Oaxaca

In 2006, violence broke out in the state of Oaxaca, bringing progress — and our program in that state — to a standstill. The Hunger Project recently achieved a breakthrough by bringing together 32 representatives of government and contending people’s organizations to pursue a nonviolent strategy for resolving the conflicts. We worked in partnership with the Nonviolent Peace Force from Ecuador, which has great experience in empowering contending parties to find common ground and peaceful pathways to progress. The group looked in particular at linkages between the current violence and the conditions that hold hunger and poverty in place, and identified action steps to move forward. After six months, The Hunger Project will review the progress in the state, and we intend to then relaunch our strategies to empower indigenous women and men to end their own hunger.

Nonviolence is not the absence of violence. As pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, nonviolence is a rigorous methodology for political and social transformation. As Gandhi wrote, “Nonviolence is not a weapon of the weak. It is a weapon of the strongest and bravest. The force generated by nonviolence is infinitely greater than the force of all the arms created by man’s ingenuity.”

First Training of Trainers

December 2007 marked a state change in The Hunger Project-Mexico. For the past decade, the intensive trainings of volunteer animators were led by Hunger Project staff. As our reputation grew, we began being invited to work with hundreds of villages — a demand that could never be met by our own staff. Taking a page from the playbook of our program in India, our Mexico team is now committed to a much higher-leverage strategy. It is creating statewide teams by training a cadre of experienced trainers from other organizations to “become” The Hunger Project and deliver its programs of training, mobilization and empowerment.

From December 10 to 14, in the town of Gomez Palacio, trainers from 12 organizations from the states of Zacatecas and Durango were deeply immersed in the principles of The Hunger Project. They discovered their mastery of these principles “in the action” by delivering the three-day animator training to a group of new village volunteers.

This “training within a training” was a complete success, and launched the trainers into immediate action — traveling to new rural areas, collecting baseline data, and meeting with local officials to have them understand and support the empowerment strategies of The Hunger Project. In January, the trainers, who work in teams, held a follow-up meeting at which they scheduled eight three-day animator trainings to be held in the first half of this year, including one for youth activists from four clusters of villages.

Mobilizing Mexico’s Youth:

Ask What You Can Do For Your Country!

The Monterrey Institute of Technology (MIT), one of Mexico’s finest universities, represents the modern, high-tech Mexico that is becoming a growing global economic player. Just outside its walls, however, are some of Mexico’s most impoverished rural villages — a stark microcosm of injustice, a source of tensions, and a deep denial of our human interconnectedness. The Hunger Project has challenged MIT students to become catalysts for linking the rights and needs of women in rural communities to the expertise available in the university.

Students took the VCAW, and launched a campaign to work in partnership with village women to establish registered businesses. Their project began with 11 student activists and has in the first year grown to 80. More than 200 women village entrepreneurs are participating. This month, MIT and The Hunger Project will sign an agreement for a nine-year partnership to continue the work.

The students’ leader, Juan Antonio Ramírez, said, “No matter our age, we are agents of change for a better world, where hunger will not exist.”