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Community Organizations and Their Leadership Cohi update #4

As we move further into Year 1 of Communities of Holistic Impact, our three pilot villages of Lomas del Aguila, Las Lomitas, and Caliche continue to show their commitment to development by their attendance at two recent key trainings: "Our Community's Organizations" and "Our Local Leadership Roles." Community leaders have long expressed to us their frustration with their lack of understanding of the role of each local organization in a community’s development. In addition ,they have long felt that they have a poor understanding of the responsibility of each member within those groups. We took the months of June and July to work through this confusion with them in through two interactive workshops.

OUR COMMUNITY'S ORGANIZATIONS - JUNE

Rural communities in our region of Honduras are typically composed of a number of small community organizations, known locally as “fuerzas vivas.” Although individual communities may have groups unique to only their town’s interests, there are four types of groups that appear universally and function as local leadership institutions: Patronatos, Juntas de Agua, Sociedades de Padres de Familia, and Church Leadership groups.

We continued to build on the concept "holistic development" by extending the analogy of the holistic human to the holistic community. When these four important community organizations work together in harmony, holistic development occurs in our communities. In the same way that human is one being composed of different elements: spiritual, socioemotional, intellectual, and physical, so is the community.

Our June training session saw extensive representations from each organization in each town (nearly 70 people total) gather at our Santa Elena offices to learn more about their rights and responsibilities in local development efforts. One by one, the communities arrived to the facilities in groaning, overloaded pick-ups, packed in - 20 to a truck, tired from the long trip but smiling as they greeted HTH staff and one another. The simple fact that these leaders continue to arrive despite adverse conditions encourages us at HTH.

After a time of greeting, instruction, and devotions, each of the four groups split out to their respective breakout sessions.

Patronato

The Village Council is the local governing body elected by community members and recognized by the municipal government as the entity responsible for community development efforts and administration. We invited our good friend Elder Murillo, a seasoned Honduran expert in community leadership, to lead this session on the legal rights and responsibilities of Patronatos.

Junta de Agua

The Water Board administers the community’s water system and is legally responsible for local environmental health that affects the natural environment as well as public health. Many of the session’s attendees were surprised to learn of their responsibilities beyond basic water acquisition and administration. A leading engineer with more than 20-years of practical and professional experience, Denis Gutierrez, from the Honduran national water oversight entity (SANAA) led this session. Many of the local leaders have kept in touch with Denis and are already making adjustments locally based on the information that they learned in the session.

Sociedad de Padres de Familias

The “Parents Society” is somewhat of a local equivalent for a US PTO. This group represents the parents of local schoolchildren and is responsible to cooperate with local educators and superintendents to improve the community’s educational opportunities. We invited the new district education supervisor of the municipal government of Santa Cruz de Yojoa, Marlon Caballero, to lead this session and illuminate to local parents exactly how they could practically support their local schools and their children’s education.

Church Leadership

This group varies from town to town, but all three of our pilot communities include one Catholic Church and one or more Evangelical churches. The leaders of these congregations are often recognized locally as part of the community leadership structure. Pastor Yovani Alas from a large and socially-engaged church in nearby Taulabe was invited to come share with local leaders how they approached their community in order to share the love of Christ and spur on local holistic development.

OUR LEADERSHIP ROLES – JULY

We have observed a good many community votes over the years. When rural communities vote to elect their community leaders, they seem to follow a pretty standard pattern. Except for the role of secretary - most positions will be filled by men.

The presidential vote is a popularity contest - determined by local factions and family loyalties, with the runner-up becoming the vice-president. Young women with good handwriting make fine secretaries - especially teachers. Pick someone who has been fairly responsible with their crops to be the treasurer. Finally, whoever happens to be in the room and can be coerced into accepting a role will serve as fiscal or one of the vocals - normally a young man who cannot resist the majority pushing him towards the role. Ask him what he is supposed to do, he will say "I don't know."

He never intends to participate in a single meeting.

Needless to say. This does not make for effective local governance.

As a follow-up to the training on organizational responsibilities, HTH CoHI staff traveled to each community for an engaging workshop on how leadership structures within each local organization should be legally-comprised according to Honduran law: President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Fiscal, and Vocales. Each of these members have unique and important functions – although these functions are often poorly understood by community leadership. This lack of understanding often leads to critical oversights by local leadership and generally-poor efficiency in community governance.

As noted above, we observed that most confusion surrounded the roles and responsibilities of fiscales and vocales. Important provisions within Honduran law are designed to promote transparency and confidence in local government, yet many local leaders are ignorant of these considerations. As a result, transparency is often lacking and confidence by the people in their leaders is very weak. In particular, the role of the local “fiscal” as an internal auditor in both finances and operations was universally misunderstood and the role of each "vocal" as an auxiliary member was commonly unappreciated.

All three communities seemed genuinely excited to understand this role for this first time and looked forward to implementing some basic changes to recover confidence amongst the populace.

In Caliche, as the session was wrapping up, the community playfully asked their fiscal if he understood his responsibilities. He had been excitedly taking notes during the session and with a note of seriousness in his voice and new confidence in his eye, he replied he understood for the first time and was ready to get to work.

These trainings in themselves are not the solution to the deep dysfunction that oftentimes exists in rural Honduran leadership, yet the local dialogue that results from this information is certainly part of the solution. When local leaders are poorly informed (or intentionally-misinformed by the powers-that-be), they struggle to make effective decisions. These trainings provide some very basic groundwork that can contribute to more efficient governance, greater transparency, and a greater ability to collaborate within the community.