The sun sets on the municipality of Calakmul, Campeche, the myriad colors in the sky reflected in the calm waters below. This serene image in southeast Mexico is only recently possible, its existence owed to collective efforts to bring water to the community.
With a population of 26,882, Calakmul is the largest municipality in the state of Campeche, on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. More than 86 percent of its residents live in moderate poverty (earning under $2.50 per day) and nearly half meet the United Nations’ definition of “extreme poverty” (earning under $1.25 per day and lacking even the basic necessities of food, water, shelter and sanitation).
The reasons for Calakmul’s marginalization are cultural as well as demographic. Most of its families are indigenous to Mexico and emigrated from elsewhere in the country seeking to improve their quality of life. As a result, explains Omar Duhaye, general coordinator for Fondo para la Paz (“Fund for Peace”), “Calakmul is the place where all of Mexico connects. It is highly multicultural. Its population represents 27 Mexican states, each with its own culture and value system.”
Fondo para la Paz is a community organization established in the region in 2011 and supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In working with Calakmul’s underserved populations to identify and address their most urgent needs, Fondo para la Paz quickly realized that civic engagement was a catalyst that could bridge cultures, dreams and expectations in setting priorities and working to enhance the well-being of the city’s families.
Antonia Guzmán Meneses, a resident of the area, put it this way: “It is easier to work as a group to be able to reach better results, contributing with ideas and reaching better goals, then it is to go it alone, or not at all.”
For example, at the top of their priority list, residents of the Calakmul community of la Virgencita set specific goals to improve their access to water.
Today, with the assistance of three foundations, two government agencies and two non-governmental organizations, about 1,357 families, including 3,200 children under the age of 14, have easier access to water for agricultural applications and consequently improved financial security. The difference is dramatic.
“My parents used to take me to spring waters three of four kilometers from our homes to carry water in buckets,” said resident Juan Diaz Jimenez. “Now we can offer our children a better quality of life with the water captors we built as a result of our community organizing process.”
And the community has set a new goal: a water filtration system that will provide those children and their families with ready access to clean drinking water.
Beyond improved access to water, the projects have strengthened the civic participation that will help the community prioritize its needs and work collectively to achieve future goals.
“Our main approach is to foster local leadership for people to grow, to be the ones deciding what they want their futures to be, to be the ones deciding where they want their communities to go,” Duahye said. “We know that they have lots of challenges when they start operating on their own. It is necessary to give them tools to formulate the appropriate questions and then achieve answers that will later guide their actions.”