Community Development in San Carlos

Human development is a high priority for Project Minnesota/León. In 2014, experienced development practitioner Rosa Lira Ulloa began working in the semirural San Carlos community about seven kilometers from León. Rosa facilitates a process of change that arises from the residents’ own perspectives and accompanies them as they search for the best solutions to the problems they identify. 

San Carlos straddles the two-lane highway that heads southwest to the Pacific beach area of Poneloya. Many residents live at a subsistence level, surrounded by large agricultural landowners growing cash crops of sugarcane or peanuts.

As a result of the fast and furious bidding at the Fiesta Fundraiser in November 2014, PML was able to purchase a new motorbike for Rosa. The bike enables her to travel economically to remote sectors of rural San Carlos to notify participants about upcoming meetings.

 

 

 

San Carlos was selected because it is rural area but is accessible from León. In addition, there has been minimal impact from international agencies working in the area. A final plus was that PML already has a connection in the community: the organization helped build a health center and playground in San Carlos in 2012.

The PML Process

The PML approach to community development focuses on relationships and cooperation both in Nicaragua and between PML's Minnesota and Nicaragua boards. The process includes four steps:

      • Identify Community Needs
      • Build Consensus
      • Take Action
  • Reflect and Adapt 

 

 

These steps can be used in a variety of settings, ranging from community organizing to board meetings, and can be repeated as often as a group likes. Click here to read the story "PML in San Carlos: Water Commission Reaches Agreement with Neighboring Water Board," about how this process is being used to address diminishing access to water in the San Carlos community.

Rosa prepared for the development process with a careful survey of every household in the community. She then conducted a rapid assessment survey. With the assistance of PML board members, Rosa explored the area’s population concentrations, public gathering centers (churches, school, and the like), economic profile, health status, infrastructure, and other socioeconomic indicators.

  

Rosa is assisted by board member Orlando (second from left) in the rapid diagnostic assessment of the San Carlos area.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Step 1: Identify Community Needs

Based on the results of the assessment, Rosa gathered key individuals in the area and asked them to invite nearby residents to small group meetings. Four reflection groups met to learn about the process and discuss matters of common concern. One participant showed up and said, “Whatever it is, sign me up!” Part of Rosa’s responsibility is to explain that PML’s role is not to provide material benefits or a pre-determined project.

In this human development model, trust and understanding are built within small groups. Everyone is given equal opportunity to speak. This was the first time many of the participants had met and conversed with neighbors.

Mostly women are heads of households and available to meet in the afternoon.

 

 

 

Rosa meets biweekly with groups of women who discuss their common problems and identify strategic initiatives for addressing them.

 

 

 

 

At first many attendees wanted to observe from a short distance, but after a few gatherings, participants began automatically to sit in a circle.

Through discussion, each reflection group created lists of the most pressing issues the community faces. Problems identified included:

      • poor medical attention
      • difficult access and conditions of public schooling
      • lack of quality basic services—potable water, electricity, roads
      • limited options to earn a living
      • poor housing conditions
      • contamination of natural resources and water/river at risk
      • safety and lack of recreation areas for children

 

Residents share concerns as well as refreshments during a small group meeting.

 

 

 

 

Step 2: Build Consensus

The next step was to gather the reflection groups together. Nearly 70 women arrived for the first all-community encounter. This was an opportunity to review difficulties affecting the whole area and build consensus about which needs are most pressing. With this information community members began to create and evaluate proposals for solutions.

Rosa expressed her joy. “I was so happy to see the great turnout for the community encounter. Everyone was excited to get to know their neighbors and hear what was on each others’ minds.” 

Step 3: Take Action

In the third phase of the development process, community members form project commissions based on community consensus. PML staff accompany San Carlos residents throughout this process.

In 2015, the San Carlos community chose to focus first on the need for access to health care. With the support of PML in 2012, the community had build a health clinic, but the electricity and water had been cut off because of confusion about the billing, and the clinic was being staffed only sporadically by the national health service. 

 

Groups of San Carlos women successfullly negotiated with the utility companies to get the electrical and water services restored. And the national health service made a commitment to provide a doctor for the clinic Monday through Thursday. A nurse staffs the clinic on Fridays. 

Progress has also been made on a second community priority. A water commission consisting of three women from San Carlos has been working to address concerns about diminishing access to potable water. With Rosa's guidance, residents of San Carlos and the nearby community of Poneloya, which obtained potable water in 2012, were able to reach an agreement to support San Carlos’ effort to obtain potable water and to ensure rational use of water in the area. You can read more about this important project here.

The youth of the community achieved another success for the community. Youth who took the bus to school in León were being charged higher fares than those who rode to another nearby community. The youth organized to negotiate with the bus company, and bus fares were decreased 1 cordoba per ride.

Even staff for the mayor of León were impressed with the youth's success. The young people had achieved something the mayor's staff had not been able to accomplish.

Step 4: Reflect and Adapt

Actions steps are followed by community reflection. What worked? What didn't? How have priorities changed? What needs to happen next?  

PML by the Numbers in 2015

      • 100 small and large group community meetings were led by Rosa.
      • 75 women in San Carlos orgnaized to promote healthcare access.
      • 25 youth participated in advocating for fair transportation costs.
      • 48 youth, including their families from Minnesota and León, particpated in exchanges.