Part 5 of 7
An interview with Paco Enríquez
[Editor’s Note: This week, R4D in partnership with FieldWorks is highlighting the obstacles faced by local civil society organizations around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic — and the unique and innovative ways that local organizations are at the forefront of response and prevention in low- and middle-income countries. As international organizations and donors adapt to their new reality, we want to amplify the experience, voices, and perceptions of those on their own frontlines — of how the ripple effects of the pandemic are felt by the world’s most vulnerable people and what can be done to “build back better.” In this post, Courtney Tolmie, a senior program director at R4D, interviews Paco Enríquez, executive director of Asocación Bienestar Progreso Desarrollo (ABPD).]
In recent weeks, Latin America has become a regional hotspot for COVID-19 cases, and challenges in the region has made it all the more difficult to prevent spread and treat current cases. These challenges range from existing weaknesses in the health system and issues of corruption in many countries. And for indigenous and rural communities, these obstacles are felt even more acutely when access to native language information and services is limited.
One organization that has been helping communities like these is Asocación Bienestar Progreso Desarrollo (ABPD), which has worked with Mayan communities in Guatemala for fourteen years to fight malnutrition and strengthen the livelihoods of community members. We recently spoke with Paco Enríquez, the Executive Director of ABPD, about how they are adapting to the pandemic in their work.
Courtney: Can you tell us more about ABPD’s mission and vision?
Paco: Asocación BPD is a small organization that works with Mayan communities in Guatemala, and its main focus is children’s nutrition. Guatemala is a country with the fifth worst rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. To reduce malnutrition is a very complicated problem and so we have an integrated approach to fight this problem. One component is about nutrition and education, another is sustainable food production, as well as family planning, access to potable water, basic sanitation, and efficient stoves. And we also do disaster risk reduction at the core of our program — it is community empowerment.
All of our staff Is Mayans from communities where we work. They have received training to develop skills to do work in communities. They all speak Mayan language and know well the context. Thanks to these components, we are now able to deliver efficient emergency response because people are prepared for some of the things we are doing.
Courtney: What are some of the effects that you have seen the COVID-19 pandemic have on the communities in which you work?
Paco: Well, the country has been totally locked down for four months. The communities where we work are mainly made up of small farmers that produce food for their families and to sell part of this production in markets around the communities. That is men normally do, and women are artisans — they weave and make Mayan traditional clothes.
With the lockdown, the markets are open — but there is no transportation from communities to main towns. Many people cannot access the markets, so they are not selling vegetables and or handicrafts.
This means that people have had no income for four months. We know that this population lives in poverty, they have no contracts (for work) and no savings. So, they have lost 100% of income and are having a bad time finding how to feed their families.
Courtney: And how has ABPD been able to help, especially with the country in lockdown?
Paco: Because we have worked in these communities for several years, we have strong organizers in the communities, led by women. These “promoters” in community are women who were elected by other women to be their leaders. We have been providing them with training on agriculture, nutrition, hygiene — and the promoters learn about how to teach other women. So, they become very strong leaders in the community, have learned about leadership and being self-sustaining — all over a process of two years.
They are key to this situation — without these leaders, we would not be able to do anything because we cannot access communities because they are totally isolated now.
When we started working from home, we did not know at first how to give training to communities. After a few weeks, we remembered we have promoters who received training, including on collecting information with their phones on how things are working in communities (for example, domestic violence issues or problems with latrines working). They know how to use software that we use for monitoring and evaluation on their phones so we thought: “if they can use their phones for this, they can probably use tablets too.”
We have been able to deliver tablets to the promoters in the communities and also pay for the internet service. We now have all the tools to film trainings — on nutrition, agriculture, community empowerment, and also COVID prevention. That is what we are doing, creating different videos on different topics each month, which we send to promoters and then they meet with small groups of women. They lead the small groups of five, to keep social distance, using masks — and they watch the videos. This is the way we are delivering this training. Then they can use tablets as a phone when they finish watching videos; if they have doubts, they can call our staff and say, “I don’t understand this part,” and our staff is available to respond.
Courtney: How has this been working so far?
Paco: We have just been doing this for a few weeks so it is too soon to evaluate. I can tell you it is not going to be the same as in the field, the interaction with staff always works much better than just watching a tablet. We were a bit worried at the beginning, not knowing if this would work. So started with a few tablets — and we saw that it was working, that promoters said “women are coming to the trainings, and they have started to make questions to our staff.”
It is not the same, but at least we are doing something with the communities, and they are still learning something very important. We are also showing something about the virus which is very important. For right now, there are no cases in the rural communities. The government says cases in rural are coming in August or September but we hope we are helping to prevent the prevention of COVID cases.
Courtney: Finally, what do you hope that partners and other countries can do to help the Mayan communities where you work and the health system “build back better” after COVID?
Paco: Guatemala has received lots of support from the US and Europe. Millions of dollars are invested each year in reducing chronic malnutrition; however, we do not see changes. The support is important, but supervision is important, too. There should be permanent supervision to make sure right things are done.
Investment in health systems is also very important. We only have space for 8,000 people in hospitals. We need to totally change the health system, but external support is needed for this (through both technical assistance and loans). I think this is something people would be happy to do — paying back a loan over two generations (with supervision of how money is spent).
Follow the 7-part series:
- Part 1: Introductory post
- Part 2: Actions pour l’Environnement et le Développement Durable
- Part 3: Commonwealth Housing Group
- Part 4: Transparency International Rwanda
- Part 5: Asocación Bienestar Progreso Desarrollo
- Part 6: Foundation for Civil Society
- Part 7: This-Ability
Photo © Asocación BPD