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Opening up new horizons for a dignified life

Marcelo Rodríguez Mancilla is currently a PhD student in the program of the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning (IPPUR) at the National University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Marcelo holds a degree in Psychology from the University Valparaíso, Chile (2004) and a Masters in Urban Studies from the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences – Ecuador (2014). His work experience has focused in Social Psychology, Community, Environmental and Urban and Regional Studies, mainly in in: social subjects and territory, urban policies and urban-popular movements and struggles.

Katherine met Marcelo during the International Seminar “Energy Transition for a grassroots/people-led energy project,” convened by the Movement of People Impacted by Dams from Brazil (MAB) and the Latin American movement of people impacted by dams (MAR). Marcelo was traveling to Guatemala to participate at a Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) event, where he presented on “the dynamics and construction of capitalism on space and territory.” Marcelo was interested to learn about grassroots efforts and mobilization for urban planning, an area that ISMUGUA has advocated in alliance to promote national policies to secure urban housing with dignity.

Social inequality and extreme poverty have been constant realities throughout the history of humankind. They are key problems in our so-called modern societies and show their worst aspects in the Guatemalan cities and countryside. It is a reality that has sparked the creativity and solidarity of organized groups as they carry out their work. This is how we build possibilities for crushing hopelessness and developing a dignified future for people. Such is the case of Instituto para la Superación de la Miseria Urbana de Guatemala (Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty in Guatemala, ISMUGUA), which was established in the 1990s, mostly by women. For them, community organization, solidarity, and training are essential to combating human suffering and a lack of opportunities. Their objective is to strengthen the self-management skills of individuals and communities.

They have developed strategies for working on food security, environmental awareness and holistic health. This includes projects related to the creation of urban gardens to increase food sources and creating alternative economies for families. They build biodigester toilets and wood-saving stoves, plant native and fruit trees, recover ancestral medicine, engage in composting efforts, and implement alternative energy sources. This all takes place with the participation of the families, which ensures the adoption and replication of the acquired knowledge.

Educational projects are geared towards reducing the school drop-out rates of children and young people whose human rights have been violated or of adults who, due to financial and social reasons, could not begin or continue their studies. They are supported through a distance learning program. In addition, individuals sponsor boys and girls to provide them with the materials they need for their studies.

Disaster risk management involves training the Local Coordinators for Reducing Disaster Risks (COLRED) on topics related to identifying risks and vulnerabilities. This is coordinated through the municipalities and with the COLRED governing body, the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED). For young people, this provides a forum for disseminating prevention information and training social leaders who are responsive to the needs of the territories.

From its inception, ISMUGUA’s members have participated in the processes of land legalization of impoverished settlements within the capital city of Guatemala. Currently, the organization is a member of the Federation of Organizations for the Development of a Popular Habitat (FODHAP), which successfully advocated for the approval of the Housing Act in September 2012. They also support the construction of low-cost incremental housing, along with an organizational training process, in coordination with local municipalities.

ISMUGUA seeks social justice by promoting concrete participation, respect for social organization, building a sense of community, learning useful knowledge, and recognizing popular wisdom. This is how the organization has become a leader, by opening new horizons for a dignified life to families and communities in Guatemala.

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