Community Development | Leadership Education
Building human capacity is a critical element of community development. Through the evolution of our programming, Via International and Los Niños have developed a unique model of promotoria that has enabled us to have tremendous success in our work. Promotoras/promotores are community members who have taken a leadership role in organizing and educating their community.
Family Health and Food Security -- Our promotoras offer classes in nutrition and ecology that teach participants how to prepare inexpensive, healthy meals as well as how to grow their own organic vegetables. These classes serve as the cornerstone for our engagement with community members. Through discussions of family health and food security, participants begin to establish alliances and bonds of trust that allow for the discussion of other issues confronting the community.
Many of the participants often decide that they would like to take a more proactive role in their community. This decision sets them on the path of becoming a promotora or promotor. They then work closely with our existing promotoras to receive the training they need to do the work they are interested in pursuing. The role of Via and Los Niños is to facilitate this process and secure resources. What is most unique about our process is our focus on the promotora or promotor.
Rather than conceptualizing promotoria as a process that enables the delivery of particular messages to an audience that would be otherwise difficult to reach and perhaps even more difficult to impact in a meaningful way, we consider promotoria to be a process of human development. In a sense, we approach community development one person at time. By working with individuals to understand their issues of concern and interest, we are then able to empower them by arming them with the resources they need to accomplish their goals. In many cases, their most important resource is each other. This is one of the reasons why our model of promotoria is so effective. We encourage community members to rely on each other at the same time as we encourage them to be self-sufficient.
The focus on self-reliance produces proactive, empowered people who take the initiative to organize themselves and participate directly in the development of their community. Their self-reliant efforts address issues of social justice and human dignity while promoting positive change in their communities.
Access to education has been a challenge for many of our promotoras. Although school is ostensibly free to children in Mexico, families still have to shoulder the hidden costs of schooling. Necessary expenditures on books, supplies, and uniforms too often make education cost-prohibitive for many families.
Unfortunately, these families then find themselves faced with a very difficult choice: if they cannot afford to educate all of their children they are forced to take some of their children out of school. Due to cultural norms that are heavily patriarchal, parents often make the choice to educate their sons and not their daughters. Thus many of our promotoras have not had the opportunity to finish their primary education, and even more promotoras have not had the opportunity to finish their secondary education. This of course means that these women have absolutely no means of access to higher education. What this translates into with adulthood is extremely limited employment opportunities with extremely low salaries. In fact, most women can only hope to secure low-paying work in the informal sector. Even the maquiladora factories are beginning to require a secondary certificate as condition for employment.
In response to the promotoras’ need and desire to address this problem, Via International and Los Niños have worked with the promotoras to develop a unique educational program organized around community development. In collaboration with Simon Fraser University of Canada and Universidad Iberoamericana Noroeste of Mexico, funding was secured for a five-year pilot project designed to bridge basic education and higher education, while at the same time bringing the university to the community. The project gives promotoras the opportunity to finish their primary and secondary education.
Through cooperation with INEA (Instituto Nacional de Educación Adulta), the promotoras receive government certified credentials for the levels of education they complete. They then have the ability to pursue more traditional higher education studies. They take courses in business, community development, computers, English, literature, research methods, and other electives.
In order to complete the program each promotora is required to develop, organize, secure resources, implement and evaluate a community project. Upon successful completion of the program, they also receive a government certified credential in community development from the university.
With their credentials, the promotoras have expanded opportunities for employment at significantly higher levels of pay, as well as increased credibility when dealing with government officials and others in positions of power. They have acquired skills and knowledge that make them more successful communicators/educators and more effective community leaders.
Through our innovative programming and our unique approach to promotoria, Via and Los Niños have been able to assist our promotoras in breaking the cycle of poverty and improving quality of life for themselves, their families, and their communities.
The program has given more than 200 outreach workers the opportunity to secure a higher level of education with graduates continuing on to university studies, securing employment and better serving their community. Via International and the Universidad Iberoamericana are now focused on securing on-going funding and scholarships for the program.
Developing Human Potential
“Human capital – the individual and collective health, skills, capacity, and knowledge of people – is the foundation on which all other progress is based. Healthy and well-educated citizens who are given a political voice and access to opportunity play an essential role in alleviating poverty, promoting good governance, and ensuring a more secure and prosperous future for themselves, their families, their communities, and their countries. Investing in human capital is both a humanitarian imperative and a driver of economic vitality, technological progress, and political stability.
It gives people dignity, as well as the necessary skills to be productive workers, creative innovators, and active citizens at every level of society – from local communities and grassroots organizations to international corporations and institutions. In the face of a global economic downturn, demographic shifts, climate change, growing humanitarian crises from natural and manmade causes, and high levels of poverty, developing human capital and creating and sustaining good jobs will be more difficult – and more important – than ever.
It is a joint challenge for both the public and the private sector, and a priority across the globe. For the governments, companies, philanthropists, and civic leaders who are willing to work together in new alliances that leverage scarce resources and innovative technologies, the opportunity to make a difference through building human capital is immense.” Clinton Global Initiative