ALDEA’s and ABPD’s Mission is to promote integrated development services that improve the well-being of families with limited resources, especially in rural Mayan areas.
Our overarching strategic objective is to improve the health and well-being of Mayan families in rural Guatemala through lasting, community-driven solutions. To accomplish this objective, we use a process of community mobilization that targets a major health-related problem in Guatemala: chronic childhood malnutrition.
As communities work together to address high rates of chronic childhood malnutrition, they also acquire the skills necessary to move forward with their own development processes in the future to address other self-identified needs.
Our approach consists of three strategies that mutually reinforce each other to contribute to achieving the strategic objective, as summarized in this chart:
Empower women to actively participate in community and household decision-making about infant and young child feeding and care, community infrastructure, and food production.
Empower young people to become change agents and emerging leaders in their communities.
Engage men and local authorities in being more inclusive and considering gender equity as part of their community priorities.
Assist communities in building potable water systems that bring clean, running water to every home, along with gray water filters for proper treatment of waste runoff.
Support families in building more efficient, safer cook-stoves that use less firewood and reduce the harmful effects of indoor air pollution.
Assist families in installing vented latrines and train them on good hygiene and sanitation practices.
Strengthen community resiliency to recurring disasters.
Improve nutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (pregnancy through age two) through education programs and increased access to healthy foods.
Support families in starting home gardens and raising dairy goats, laying hens, and rabbits to diversify the traditional local diet of corn and beans with protein- and nutrient-rich foods.
Increase access to information about family planning and provide family planning methods.
Mobilize and empower communities to achieve local development and address future challenges.
Successful and sustainable development projects require the active participation of the entire community. Our programs are designed to engage everyone, especially women and youth, whose voices are typically marginalized within families and communities. We use a capacity-building methodology to analyze community needs and define the local activities and partners to solve the problems. Graphics for non-literate community members are used to stimulate thinking, engage people’s creative abilities, and develop solutions they can apply to their everyday living – both in their individual families and collectively in their communities.
Women’s empowerment programming is integrated into activities related to improving the nutritional status of the family and includes topics such as gender equity, women’s rights, and self-esteem. The goal is for women to realize their agency so they can be primary actors of change in their own communities. In the early stages of our work with a new community, women participating in the program choose leaders among their peers to serve as “promotors.” Promotors receive specific training from our staff during the first year. During the second year, ABPD will continue to guide these emerging leaders until they are ready to take the reins of the program, solving issues and motivating people without the need for external support. As we conclude our intervention after three years, we usually see a substantial increase in women’s participation in community communities and other decision-making roles.
Our empowerment programs for youth engage them in becoming responsible actors in their own development and emerging leaders in their communities. Our youth programming includes training on topics like gender equity, sexuality, family planning, and supporting their interests in handicrafts. Toward the end of our work with a youth group, we offer them the opportunity to apply for a mini-grant that supports them in implementing a project idea. Successful proposals must benefit the community and be financially sustainable – for example, some groups have chosen to start egg production businesses by maintaining flocks of laying hens.
We have learned that in order to truly support the empowerment of women and youth, we must fully engage men in our community mobilization programs as well. In 2019 we developed a New Masculinities program based on feedback from women in our empowerment programs. Through these trainings, men learn to respect the rights of women and youth, how to support improvements in their families’ health, and how to be inclusive leaders. They also choose a practical training topic, such as masonry or electricity, that builds their skills to help improve their community.
Community mobilization is the component that makes our projects sustainable. When women achieve autonomy in the home, and when a community has a sense of power over its future, a paradigm shift takes place that results in ongoing, long-term improvements to the health and well-being of the community.
Improve family health through water and sanitation infrastructure projects and disaster preparedness.
A healthy home environment plays a critical role in a family’s nutrition and overall health. In the rural areas where ALDEA works, women and often children often have to spend several hours of each day carrying water from springs or rivers, and in most cases the water they have access to is not suitable for drinking. Many families must cook over an open fire, and the indoor smoke causes respiratory and other illnesses. Without proper sanitation facilities, homes and yards where children play are contaminated with household waste. All of these factors lead to gastrointestinal and other diseases that inhibit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Our partnership with a community usually begins when they approach us with a request for infrastructure support. ABPD then visits the community to verify its water and sanitation needs and to assess the community’s capacity to manage the project. If the request is approved ABPD, the community development council, and the municipal government sign a tripartite agreement that includes a general description of the overall project and each partner’s responsibilities. Each beneficiary family provides a signed commitment to pay monthly into a water fund and to share in the communal activities to monitor and maintain the system. ABPD then signs an additional agreement with the participating community regarding environmental sanitation, including the installation of gray water filters and latrines, building improved cook stoves (that ventilate smoke outside the house and use less firewood), and introducing the health education plan to ensure that families adopt appropriate hygienic practices such as hand washing. When the infrastructure projects begin, the municipality provides the necessary technical consultants and monitoring support for the water system. Community members provide basic coordination and oversight, manual labor, locally available building materials, and the full cost of hiring masons for the construction of stoves, latrines, and gray water filters. ABPD supervises the projects, provides most of the materials that are not locally available, and supports and mentors the local committee to coordinate the whole process.
Guatemala is among the world’s ten most climate-change affected countries. Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of hazards such as floods, storms, heat waves, and drought that can negatively impact our partners. We take a proactive approach to addressing new weather realities through our programs. Our Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) plan draws on and adapts existing tools and methodologies. DRR activities focus on specific locations, addressing the unique vulnerabilities and capacities of the particular community, its culture, and its processes. Activities include collecting and managing information, analyzing risks based on location, local infrastructure, and resources, and building people’s capacity to determine their own risk, as well as devise and implement risk reduction measures.
Even as we work to adapt to the increase in tropical storms, drought, and other disastrous weather patterns, we have to be prepared to step in when prevention methods fail. Understanding this, ABPD will continue to provide an emergency response when necessary. Such responses include distributing relief supplies and rebuilding damaged water systems, latrines, schools, and other small infrastructure in communities that suffer disasters.
Increase nutritional status of children through better feeding practices, a healthier family diet, and improved family planning.
To most effectively address chronic childhood malnutrition, our program interventions focus on the right nutrition for mothers and children in the “first 1,000 days” (beginning with conception through the child’s second birthday). In these crucial days, the body is quickly laying down its fundamental building blocks for brain development and future growth. Any disturbance leaves a long-lasting mark: damage from undernutrition in early life is largely irreversible.
We apply our participatory community education and capacity-building model to nutrition education that addresses nutrition during pregnancy, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding for 24 months, gradual introduction of complementary foods after six months of age, demonstrations on how to use locally available food to prepare nutritious meals, and hygienic food handling. Nutritious snacks are also provided at all community activities. ABPD trains local youth to take care of children using early childhood stimulation techniques while their mothers are being trained on nutrition.
Access to healthy foods is a key component to nutrition, and we address this through sustainable agriculture programs that help increase food security. ABPD works to improve the production of local staple foods like corn and beans through the use of more sustainable fertilizing techniques, improving soil quality and preservation, reducing post-harvest losses, and using seeds that are less susceptible to the effects of climate.
Dairy goats are an important component of our efforts to defeat chronic malnutrition and address the impact of climate change. They are a resilient source of nutrients that are not affected by tropical storms. Goat milk is an excellent source of calcium and vital minerals for children suffering from malnutrition. They are easy to sustain, can eat almost anything, and their manure serves as healthy compost for family gardens. Goats adapt to the rocky highlands of Guatemala better than cows do, require less food, and consume less water. Importantly, the pesky problem of lactose intolerance doesn’t occur with goat milk. Our goat project is simple and sustainable: families who have children under five that are malnourished receive a milking goat. The family commits to giving the first female offspring of that goat to another family until all children in the community have access to goat milk.
Based on feedback from program participants, in 2022 we diversified our sustainable agriculture offerings to include laying hens and rabbits in addition to dairy goats to increase families’ access to protein in their diets. Both laying hens and rabbits are inexpensive, sustainable, easy to maintain alternatives for families that prefer to increase their protein intake from sources other than goat milk.
Family gardens also help ensure a low-cost and easily available source of vitamins through small-scale production of fruits and vegetables. We promote sustainable farming techniques that can be implemented using locally available resources. ABPD provides an initial donation of seeds to help families start their gardens and families gradually contribute more of their own funds to purchase future seeds. Many families are able to produce sufficient amounts of food that they can sell extra produce to generate the income necessary to re-invest in seeds, fertilizers, and insecticides.
To ensure adequate nutrition for their family, parents must be able to determine the number and spacing of their children. High birth rates contribute to large total family size and closely spaced births, and are an indirect contributor to chronic malnutrition. The family planning component of the program is integrated into all of our training activities. Nearly one third of married, indigenous women of reproductive age have a self-reported, unmet need for contraception. ABPD provides individual family planning counseling and makes a variety of contraceptive methods available to program participants.
View a virtual site visit in one of our partner communities below to see our work in action! Paco Enríquez, Executive Director of our sister organization ABPD in Guatemala, hosted a live tour of projects currently in progress in our partner community of San Vicente, Tecpán for #GivingTuesday November 27, 2018. Watch the video to tour a potable water system under construction, see a nutrition training led by local promotors, and even meet one of the women leading the community’s efforts!