Humanitarian aid that empowers communities

By Daniela Martínez | August 25, 2020 | The Americas | Education, Gender Equity, Youth Empowerment

Editor’s note: This publication is also available in Spanish

In Jalapa, Guatemala, one GFC partner is using humanitarian assistance to address the effects of the pandemic while respecting communities’ dignity.

What is the situation on the ground?

Coincidir, a partner in GFC’s Empowering Adolescent Girls initiative since 2018, works in two different areas in Guatemala: in the western department of Chimaltenango and the eastern department of Jalapa. The situation in Jalapa before the COVID-19 pandemic had been difficult enough. Located in the Dry Corridor, a region in the Pacific Coast of Central America that extends from southern Mexico to Panama and is prone to severe drought, Jalapa is highly affected by this climatic phenomenon. Years of little to no rain have led to loss of basic crops and, in turn, severe indices of malnutrition in communities in Jalapa.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, containment measures implemented by the government to halt the spread of the coronavirus hit these Jalapa communities the hardest, as most people are day laborers and depend on their daily incomes to keep their families fed. Saul Interiano, Coincidir’s Executive Director, shared that the ban on public transportation caused 85% of the adolescent girls and young women from Jalapa who participate in Coincidir’s programs to lose their jobs. The US-based NGO Action Against Hunger has determined that, by the end of May 2020, the number of countrywide acute malnutrition cases (15,000) had exceeded the total number of cases reported for all of 2019.

How has the organization responded to the communities’ needs?

Coincidir team members prepare to enter a community to delivery hygiene and food supplies. © Coincidir

According to Eyda and María José, two of Coincidir’s staff members who work in Jalapa, theirs is the only organization that has been allowed to enter the communities to distribute masks, hand sanitizer, soap, and basic food products such as rice, beans, corn, and milk to the families of the children and youth who participate in their programs. This access is due in large part to 20 girl leaders from ten communities that, with support from Coincidir, formed a coordination unit known as La Coordinadora. Eyda, age 20, who was a part of La Coordinadora before being hired by Coincidir, shared that “the girls of La Coordinadora have been fundamental to this process. They have put into practice their leadership and organizational skills by reaching out to local leaders and guiding Coincidir personnel through the communities to distribute aid.”

These girls, who have firsthand knowledge of the needs and challenges facing their communities, are adapting a participatory methodology that aims to respect the families’ dignity: when they visit the families, they present them with the products they have, and they ask the family to prioritize what it is that they really need. They then ask the family – no matter how humble their status – if they have something that they can donate to other families. Typically, families will donate something from their home gardens. This helps respect their human dignity and leads to a culture of solidarity in the community.

Eyda, a former participant of La Coordinadora and now a staff member at Coincidir, unloads, carries, and delivers supplies in area communities. Many of the communities served by Coincidir are located in remote, hard-to-reach areas and can only be accessed by foot. © Coincidir

According to Saul, their goal is to provide humanitarian assistance with a human rights approach by dismantling the power imbalances. “We want the families to see themselves and Coincidir members as equals,” he states.

A young girl completes an exercise book delivered by Coincidir. © Coincidir

As the situation has evolved, the communities’ needs have diversified. Coincidir began providing girls and young women with sanitary pads, which became scarce as the communities became more isolated due to confinement measures. As schools remain closed, the girls are also creating training materials on the topics they usually cover in their activities, including sexual and reproductive rights and health, self-esteem, and violence prevention. These are delivered along with the basic hygiene and food supplies, as Coincidir staff have determined that the education guides sent by the Ministry of Education in lieu of in-person schooling are deficient. Coincidir also began developing and distributing recreational materials for adults, such as coloring books, mandalas, crayons, and embroidery, to counter the stress brought on by confinement.

Trying out the new facemask with #LibresyPoderosas printed on them. © Coincidir

Girl leaders also had an idea to generate employment opportunities by creating Coincidir face masks. They prepared phrases to include on the masks – one is #LibresYPoderosas (free and powerful), the Empowering Adolescent Girls initiative’s hashtag created during the first partner convening – that were then printed on cloth material. They delivered the cloth to the families, who receive payment for each mask they complete.

Coincidir is one of the few organizations that is going door to door, providing aid and counsel to families. So far, they have visited 250 families in communities in Jalapa. According to Saul, families have been deeply moved by this expression of solidarity. “You cannot imagine how significant this has been for people, going door to door, asking people how they are,” he shares.

What are the next steps?

While Coincidir has canceled all regular in-person activities and most staff are working from home, the staff’s decision to visit families door to door despite the nationwide lockdown comes from their profound sense of commitment to these communities. They are taking appropriate precautions, such as providing their team with protective equipment and limiting the number of team members who go out at a time, to try to prevent the spread of the virus, while not abandoning the families of the children and youth who participate in their programs.

According to María José, Coincidir is now starting to think about what lies ahead. Coincidir has a large plot of land in the municipality of San Luis Jilotepeque, Jalapa, where it has built a training center for girls and young women and it is planning to use part of the land to grow corn and beans and thus contribute to the food security of area families.

To visit Coincidir’s Facebook page, click here.

How can you help organizations like Coincidir?

Donate to support children affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

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