As we start a new year, we have completed some seven year partnerships with previous communities and are looking forward to working with two new communities. These communities have come to us with written requests, seeking assistance for improving their community. ASOSAP’s vision for each community is that they would live under God’s coverage (love, will, and protection) and advance towards the potential that God has set out for each one. That they would further develop as a community, without losing the rich culture that they live in. How is this vision fulfilled? We strongly believe that through Community and Bible Education, this can occur. Through educating men and women, they can achieve physical, emotional, spiritual, and social health. They can be the whole persons that God created them to be.
Getting to this point is a long process. During recent months we have been meeting with community leaders and the community in general, so that they can get to know us and we can get to know them. ASOSAP’s history, perspective, and vision are clearly explained. Then it is time to hear from the community about their history. They are also asked thoughtful questions which allow more insight into the community. They are asked: What are the positive things about life in the community? What are your dreams for a better future for your family and community? How do you fulfill these dreams? What have you already done? What resources do you have? What is needed for the future? It is a time of discovery for the community and ASOSAP, and a time of mutual storytelling, dialogue, and sharing of needs and dreams.
Our message to communities is clear:
“When we work with a community in need, we want to have a relationship of collaboration and mutual support. We want to be partners. We want to help you reach the dreams that you have for a better life. Our cause as Christians is to follow the good example of Jesus Christ who loves people and helped them achieve a better life. It is possible to have this relationship with you.”
Also emphasized is the need for communities to step up. Ultimately it is their lives, and their communities. We can do our part, but they need to contribute their strength, good will, and cooperation into every stage of collaboration with us. If the community is in agreement, we move forward with education and construction projects.
We are hopeful for the future of these communities when we receive positive feedback that demonstrate that they understand what is needed for their communities to thrive. After a meeting that explained how ASOSAP works with communities, a male community member and previous leader had this to say:
“What I like most about ASOSAP is the education. This helps to change the mentality of the community. The projects are also good, but the education must come first.”
So who are the two new communities that ASOSAP and you ministry partners will be working with? After these meetings and in depth surveys, we are getting to know the communities better. One is called San Lucas that is 8km from San Cristobal. It is a large community of 210 families with a population of 900 people. We will be working with a smaller number of families; those that are the least developed and have the greatest need. It is along the same route as previous communities. The other community is Pansimaj. It is the community that we will be focusing on in this update.
Pansimaj is one of the remotest communities we have worked with. It is along a different route than the other communities and is 32km from San Cristobal. The drive up there is a real adventure! The road is narrow, bumpy, steep, and very muddy at times. If the road and traffic conditions are good, it takes 2.5 hours to get there. If not, the trip can take up to 4 hours! What does one find upon arrival in Pansimaj?
It is a small community of 37 families (175 people). It was founded over 100 years ago by one family. Four brothers that are descendants of this family still live and are important members of the community. At first arrival you do not see much of the community due to dense vegetation, especially of a food crop called pacaya. One needs to hike around to reach the various homes. It has some basic services – a small health post (with once/month attention from a nurse), a school (up to grade 6), 2 churches (evangelical and catholic), and some homes have electricity. For food that cannot be obtained locally, most families travel on the public bus service that makes one run to San Cristobal and back, three times/week. It is a difficult life. 50% of the population live on a monthly income of between $13 to $87. The poorest families are living on 44 cents/day.
Another huge challenge and reason Pansimaj contacted ASOSAP is the lack of water. 80% of the community does not have appropriate access to water. The source of water in the community is unclean water from two natural springs. Unless it is dry season where water is even more scarce, one is used for drinking/cooking water, and the other is used for cleaning/ washing clothes. In extreme times of water shortage, when other neighboring communities have no water, they arrive to use Pansimaj’s water as well. At times, this means 6 communities with a total population of 2300 are using these two springs. The need for water is great and ASOSAP will be building water tanks. We are excited to work on this project with the first mission team in March!
As stated before, education is the essential component and we will start educating this month. It will be done in Pokomchí as 48% of the population only speak Pokomchí and 51% speak both Pokomchí and Spanish. 80% of men are able to read and write, but only 69% of women can. This is below average for women. Most villagers also are not able to complete schooling past grade 6.
The education that ASOSAP provides will change lives physically and spiritually, especially among women. For ASOSAP and community members especially, there is a lot of hard work ahead. Pansimaj is committed to fight for improved families and community. They and we cannot do this alone. Every step needs to be guided by God and is done in collaboration with ministry partners. We ask for your prayers for ASOSAP, Pansimaj and San Lucas. There is much hope and we are looking forward to sharing together in how these communities grow!