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Community Connections -- How One DM2009 Winner Develops Them

Tom Grubisich's picture

One of the cardinal rules of development aid -- the new cardinal rule -- is, Don't just “deliver” assistance, but instead make sure it's "accepted.”  DM2009 competition winner Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) has been following that not-always-embraced rule since the community-based nonprofit indigenous environmental organization was formed in southern Belize in 1997.

SATIIM’s mission is "to safeguard the ecological integrity of the Sarstoon-Temash region and employ its resources in an environmentally sound manner for the economic, social, cultural, and spiritual well-being of its indigenous people.”  For SATIIM, this isn't just window-dressing verbiage.

The Q’eqchi Maya Indigenous People of Crique Sarco in southern Belize have been active participants in SATIIM programs to rescue the region's rich but endangered 13 forest ecosystems while collaborating with the Q’eqchi to reduce poverty by creating jobs and also delivering a range of social, health, educational, cultural, and civic benefits.

As SATIIM awaits the arrival of its DM2009 grant of US$200,000, it is already involving the Q’eqchi in the forest-management/community betterment project that will be financed.  With its long history of working with the Q’eqchi in Crique Sarco, SATIIM knows the total tapestry of the community –- as shown in this richly informative report to the DM Blog by SATIIM technical coordinator Lynette Gomez (photo at left), with the help of SATIIM Executive Director, DM project leader, and Maya activist Gregory Ch'oc:

"We have been conducting monthly meetings with the villagers of Crique Sarco.  So far we have an organized forestry group with 20 members and four officers.  We have also gone ahead to get fee quotations from various potential consultants to draw up forest management documents as well as create a detailed list and schedule of activities so that when the grant agreement is signed and funds disbursed, the ball just keeps rolling.

"Crique Sarco is one of the  Q'eqchi Maya villages that buffer the Sarstoon Temash National Park (which SATTIIM co- manages).   The Q'eqchi Maya are originally from the Verapaz region of Guatemala but came to Belize in the late 1800s after losing their land and freedom to German coffee growers. After the Q'eqchi Maya immigrated to southern Belize, they established the community of San Pedro de Colombia and branched out into the rest of the Toledo District. Over the years they have mixed with some Mopan communities. They practice subsistence slash and burn agriculture and have a self-governing Alcalde (village council) system. The Q'eqchi are renowned for their cooperative practices in farming and town development and rich in terms of cultural traditions and autonomous pride.

"Crique Sarco, a long-established Q'eqchi village, is the furthermost village in the southern region of Belize, approximately 40 miles from Punta Gorda, the capital of Toledo District. The village has approximately 240 residents and 44 households. Until the completion of the Moho Bridge, this village was isolated and was accessible only by boat along the Temash River. The road from Sunday Wood is completed to all-weather status, but experiences a high amount of flash flooding and washout during the height of the wet season (June-July). Dory transport, however, is still required to reach the village that lies on the south side the Temash River.

"The actual village lies within the Crique Sarco Indian Reservation, which stretches further to the south, though most farming now appears to take place north of the river, along the new road, which is National land. Several of the villagers have leases in this area, though by no means all of them. The village is the only one in the immediate vicinity of the park that practices cattle rearing, some of the pastures being substantial.

"Economic activity in the village is predominantly subsistence agriculture, though there are some large pastures and some cacao cultivation. Some villagers travel to Punta Gorda to sell arts and crafts (beadwork, baskets and rosewood carvings). Historically road conditions have limited the market share for the village of Crique Sarco, however with the completion of the all-weather road and regular village bus service, the situation is changing quickly.

"The village used to be a local administrative centre, with a police station and airstrip, though both are now abandoned. There is a primary school, community telephone, and the Alcaldes village police system. A few hand pumps and local creeks supply water, although as the dry season progresses, households do collect water directly from the Temash River.

"Electricity generator is only infrequently operated, as it is difficult to bring sufficient diesel fuel to the village and the cost is very high." 

Having acquired, year by year, this kind of multi-layered knowledge of its community, SATIIM looks to be a good bet to succeed in the often uncertain business of development aid.

Photo on this page -- provided by the SATIIM website --are from Sarstoon Temash National Park:

Top: Q'eqchi community promoter illustrating to local schoolchildren data collection procedures for biodiversity monitoring inside the Park.

Middle: Blossoms of Malay Apple, a popular regional dessert fruit.

Bottom: Tree lizard.