A new perception of property

By Katherine Zavala, Regional Director, Latin America

In his final phase of his life, an elder man from outside of Guatemala City, wanted to leave his land to an organization who would take care of it and use it for the greater good.

This was ten years ago, and the man approached our senior partner Instituto para la Superación de la Miseria Urbana de Guatemala (ISMUGUA), or the Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty in Guatemala, to purchase his land.

At the time, the team at ISMUGUA weren’t sure if they wanted to make such a big investment, nor did they feel they wanted to take care of such a huge piece of land – 22.4 hectares (~55 acres)!

But after some group reflection, they realized that this was too big of an opportunity to be missed. In addition, the idea of owning this piece of land, where they could build and be creative, was in many ways, a dream come true for ISMUGUA.

The ISMUGUA team on the land

Flash forward to now, the land has given fruit to a large community center that has taken ISMUGUA five years to build. It is called the “Rural Center for the Dissemination of Buen Vivir.” Only 11 miles from downtown Guatemala City, the center is located on top of a hill. It made me feel far away from all the urban noise and crowds.

Upon arrival, ISMUGUA took me to see the forested area first, sharing with me how they had found the land with many trees cut down, as nearby communities used them for fuel. Once it was their property, they created a fence-line to mark the area and started a reforestation program.

Then we went to see the area where most of the infrastructure had been built in organized sections. There was an area for all types of farm animals, including chickens, rabbits, pigs and pelibueys, a breed of domestic sheep, with both their sleeping and roaming areas. Nearby was an aquaponic system that integrated tilapia fish tanks with vegetable beds, functioning under a netted cover to avoid the butterflies to come in and eat the harvest.

In another area of the land was where the housing infrastructure had been built to experiment with integrated livelihood systems that use energy from the biodigestor that consumed both human waste and pig manure to provide fuel for the stove. There were two housing structures, both using the blueprints ISMUGUA had developed for low-income families in marginalized areas in Guatemala City. Two guardians from the adjacent communities had been hired to live at the community center.

Earlier that day, ISMUGUA took me to visit a group of women who lived in the community of Las Lomas, located closest to the Center. Nine women shared with me how they started organizing themselves with the support of ISMUGUA. They call themselves the Margaritas (the Daisies) and 22 women are involved. They meet once a month to build relationships with each other and to discuss collectively what are the themes or practices they want to learn. They then pass on that information to ISMUGUA to see if they can support in sharing these skills or information.

Since they had been connected with ISMUGUA four years ago, they have participated in trainings on self-esteem, community organizing, environmental awareness, as well as workshops to build vegetable gardens and raise rabbits. They also started experimenting with a revolving loan fund that many of the women have used to improve their homes with construction materials.

We always knew each other from living close to each other, but we never made a point of meeting together and brainstorming together of what we want to learn,” said Ingrid, one of the members.

ISMUGUA helped us see the potential of working together and organize to help improve our livelihoods.

The Margaritas have gone to the Center to do several of their workshops there, and to get ideas of what practices they can use in their own community. Rabbit raising has become a popular project for them, as they’ve seen how easy it has been to manage them and the good source of protein rabbits provide.

ISMUGUA had and continues to have a big vision for this center, which includes being managed by the adjacent communities and offer a demonstrative site where all families can come to experiment and learn collectively. Now that ISMUGUA are members of the Buen Vivir Fund, they can build at their own pace, doing research and ongoing learning to determine what are the next steps to build the Center.

Ten years ago, ISMUGUA took a leap of faith to seize an opportunity, and they centered holistic wellbeing for community members and Mother Earth along the way. Today, this center is demonstrating how all species can live sustainably together within the ecosystem of life.

The elder’s vision of giving back to the community paved a way for this beautiful vision to emerge.

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