If we were at an all-time low for the last couple of months- this month is making up for all that, and then some- on our local comedor (soup kitchen) project. After a difficult pollada sale and little progress made on infrastructural changes, this month we decided to approach our work and support of the community from several new and promising angles.
First off, our approach thus far to food security assistance has been very limited. While we have been successful in providing food to over 300 local children (approximately 130 attend regularly), we are only really looking at the tip of a larger flame. When addressing any issue such as the cycle of poverty, it is necessary to look beyond the obvious problem to its deeper causes. In our case, this means looking not just at hunger but also home infrastructure insufficiencies, lack of work opportunities, and poor capacity. So, this month I took one of our administrators to a conference on Project Design and Management with the Peace Corps to discuss community needs assessment and the project cycle so as to kick-start a new intervention plan. At this workshop, we laid the foundation for starting weekend capacity-building classes which can help families address poverty and hunger within the home. After a couple more meetings in site, we were ready for our first family gardening lesson which involved the parents of the comedor in training on composting, garden prep, seed saving, veggie cultivation, and cooking with veggies. This first event was so successful we had over 150 in attendance at the comedor for lunch and 20+ parents participating in the workshop. We are now preparing for workshops on sewing and crochet, fogón (brick oven) construction, cleaning techniques, and CV writing. Beyond this capacitation assistance, we have been completing interviews with all of our comedor families to determine their health, work, and home needs. Home visits and interviews should be completed this week and within the next few weeks we will be inviting parents to a health day with local physicians. Finally, we are able to look beyond hunger to its root cause- and do something about it.
Second, we decided to make a big push on local business contributions by distributing pedidos for everything from meat and soy to veggies and cleaning supplies. Meanwhile, we started a community outreach campaign via the radio first with two radio shows promoting the mere existence of the comedor and the progress we've made after our first 6 months of operation. By discussing the project on the local mass media channels, we were able to invite visitors from the community, more kids, and even individual assistance. We then gave ourselves two weeks for business petitions, visitor tours, and municipality lobbying. Finally we were ready to launch our largest campaign yet: a radio marathon which would take over all local radio frequencies for one Sunday morning. And boy did it ever work! In addition to raising several hundred dollars worth of funds, we also raised over a hundred donations of food (mandioca, rice, pasta, beans, meat, veggies), building supplies (cement, bricks, paint), and furniture (100 chairs, tables, kitchen cabinets, freezer). AMAZING! The community was so excited about the project, we were even rushed with volunteer offers to cook and operate the comedor an additional day per week. With all this support, we are secure for another several months and have the resources necessary to start our building remodel for winter. Additionally, we were successful in receiving an extension on support from Emergencia Nacional with dry food donations for the next three months. Following an audit last weekend, we were also offered the possibility of permanent service extensions in return for the continuation of our capacity-building and developed recreation activities. EVEN MORE AMAZING!
So, here I am on cloud-nine and happier than ever with this project. The other day, as we reviewed our donations and planned our first construction day I couldn't help but want to give one big hug to my guapo community commission. They have come so far. Now they are not only known as having achieved a community goal, but as experts in local mobilization and project management. Isn't that what grassroots development is all about? You bet!