The observations presented here are drawn from six years of work in an indigenous Guatemala village of about 1,500 families called Chocolá. Our experiences may not apply to other rural communities. However, from our conferences and discussions with other NGOs and our interviews and work within other communities, we suspect our experiences are more common than they are unique.
The end of the Guatemalan Civil War resulted in a flood of non-governmental organization (NGO) programs spreading across the country in the hope of helping desperately poor people gain everything from their human rights, to better health care, food and nutrition, and training in governance. Most deserve to be applauded, but because the government and many NGOs find it quicker and less costly to pass out money, services, and equipment for “immediate impact” on critical issues, there has been a lack of emphasis on human resources. The absence of such training may leave communities fighting over the goods and services, rather than learning how to work together toward critical common goals. Many communities came to look to the government and NGOs for charity rather than for the human resource development that they need in order to gain control of their futures.
The observations presented in this blog post deal with some of the things we have learned while founding and then running a small community development NGO in an indigenous Guatemala village of about 1,500 families, called Chocolá. Our experiences may not apply to all rural communities. But, from our conferences and discussions with other NGOs and our interviews and work within other communities, we suspect our experiences are more common than they are unique. Large NGOs may have all the experience and tools they need to deal with some of these issues, but younger start-up NGOs with modest budgets and small staffs might find these lessons of value.
Seeds for a Future (Seeds) is an Arizona based 501(c)3 with an on-the-ground partner organization of the same name in Guatemala. Our long-term goal is to help the community develop leadership skills, create enterprises that provide jobs and to help Guatemalans gain the self-confidence needed to identify and pursue a vision for themselves that is inclusive of men, women, young adults and children.
The first thing we did, prior to initiating any work in Chocolá, Guatemala was to organize a body of Guatemala business, academic, and community program professionals to advise us. Through connecting with these individuals we were able to gain a clearer picture of the Chocolá community. It helped us understand the interactions between individuals and learn about the types of NGOs that had failed in the past, eventually resulting in our adoption of the key principles that now guide our organization. Without these initial interactions, Seeds would have been unable to offer its ideas and assistance in a cultural framework of relevance to the citizens of Chocolá.