Basic Solutions Set New Cycles in Motion

A cistern is a solution. It is a reservoir that retains rainwater for ready use in cooking and cleaning. In the village of La Concepción in Aculco, Mexico—home to the indigenous Otomi people—a cistern is quite new and quite valuable. The ability to wash hands, dishes, and clothes accessibly is a convenience that improves hygiene and health; one level above that, the ability to irrigate a garden, boil more meals, and sustain livestock can empower families to the point of lifting a community higher.

Where generations before have relied on recurring daytrips to retrieve minimal water—and have necessarily limited their water usage to survival-level consumption—a community cistern changes that course for future generations. With this small update to resources, a longstanding cycle of poverty and suffering begins to break. With the available water comes an ability to produce, to plant, to provide, to push forward.

Playing a Part in the Big Picture

In January of 2016, a group of 35 ASEA volunteers embarked on a CHOICE Humanitarian expedition with the Advancing Life Foundation to help the people of La Concepción in the construction of 10 new water cisterns, 16 new stoves, and 5 chicken coops. The expedition and its immediate impact on volunteer and villager alike has been documented in this video and this blog article. What we’re now in a better position to understand is the larger scope and significance of these concentrated efforts for the long term.

Those cisterns, stoves, and chicken coops all serve very important roles within a community working toward self-sufficiency and stability. With proper training on usage and care, these prized new resources become family and community assets capable of imparting benefits for years to come. The discipline of managing these assets is the key to establishing new patterns and breaking bad cycles. Without it, newly created dependencies can cripple a charitable cause. Without it, communities cannot hope to survive alongside their urbanized neighbors.

Sustainability through Savings

Little can compete with water for basic community wellbeing. That’s why the cisterns are primary projects on these expeditions. But behind even these efforts is the firm truth of modern trade, currency, and investment. Yes, much of the materials, tools, and labor that go into building new basic community infrastructures are freely given by volunteers, but the local people remain the ultimate drivers of their own progress by contributing money for these projects from their joint savings.

In their 25 years of helping impoverished communities learn to leverage and mobilize local resources to reach self-sustainability, CHOICE Humanitarian has created a foundational program to which they credit their success: The Savings Box Program, which enables the community to jointly manage and invest its own funds into development projects. They refer to it as “the critical first step in building economic empowerment in the community,” and you can learn more about it on their website.

Progress Accelerated and Measured at Five Months

In June of 2016, CHOICE Humanitarian compiled a report showing the progress of the people of La Concepción, accounting for improvements facilitated in large part by the expedition and contributions of the Advancing Life Foundation. The progress outlined in the report gives a detailed view into what the Advancing Life mission looks like in action, i.e., how an age-old cycle of poverty is broken.

With more than 50 families participating in the Savings Box Program across the two areas of La Concepción (Rincon and Pueblo), the village has both the foundation and the direction they need. What the Advancing Life expedition delivered, then, was invaluable acceleration. By assembling willing hands to construct resources according to the community’s plans, volunteers pushed progress considerably closer to completion. What would have taken the Otomi people a year to build, volunteers helped them complete in 5 days!

From that rapid leap forward to the time of reporting, La Concepción gained the following infrastructure:

  • Accessible Water: 44 cisterns have been built, with a combined capacity of more than 115,000 gallons (2,630 gallons each). In three months’ time, the community has saved $8,280 in water collecting.
  • Sanitation: 19 dry latrines are in place, cutting down on instances of stomach diseases while contributing specifically to the cleanliness of pig livestock.
  • Air Quality: 28 efficient wood-burning stoves have been installed in homes, saving $860 a month on firewood while significantly decreasing respiratory and ocular diseases caused by in-home air pollution.
  • Food Prep: 25 ecological ovens have been accompanied by baking workshops put on by local government, in which 43 locals have been trained in the art of bread making—providing for family needs and creating a marketable commodity.
  • Animal Protein: 23 poultry houses are now being used to produce meat and eggs to improve upon children’s poor diets and lacking development. Villagers are earning $1,020 a month through egg sales in the city.
  • Agriculture: 22 vegetable gardens and nopal cactus (prickly pear) farms serve to further enrich community nutrition and add cash crops. These amenities are made possible by cistern-held water and educational courses on irrigation, planting, cultivation, and harvesting.

At Work in the World Community

When ASEA established the Advancing Life Foundation in 2015, it set out to tackle chronic world ills knowing full well that chronic conditions are not easily cured. Its mission to break cycles of poverty, abuse, and suffering is as ambitious as it is simple. It’s a commitment to long-term treatments with experienced partners, continuous caring, and ongoing giving of resources.

And it is happening in La Concepción, thanks to the work of CHOICE Humanitarian and our ASEA volunteers.