December 15, 2011

Building Beyond Schools: “We are not united, but we will be”

The town of La Ceiba once enjoyed a community where neighbor befriended neighbor and civic harmony was in ample supply. 20 years of disparagement, encompassing a hellacious civil war and multiple natural disasters, has malformed La Ceiba into a community divided. But they have not given up hope. “We are not united, but we will be”, says Don Roberto, secretary of the local community advisory for development.

The details of La Ceiba’s schism are not offered, but the sorrow is clearly written upon the faces of its community members. They desire greater community cohesion, but have not had the rallying point in which to mobilize their people. They do now. According to Don Roberto, “This project is for all of our children and will be the motivation to bring us back together as one.”

To help build a school is outstanding—to help build a community is lasting. This is what Pencils of Promise means when it says that we go beyond four walls and a roof. Yes—we build schools. But before a single screw is purchased or a brick is laid to the ground, we build so much more. We build community consensus; we build community collaboration; we build community participation; we build community ownership. And La Ceiba, although still in the early phases of their project with Pencils of Promise, is a shining example.

PoP requires that every village form a Promise Committee, composed of four local women and four local men, to secure the participation of the community as a whole. On the outside, La Ceiba’s committee is seemingly ordinary. The men are dressed casually for work in the field. The women wear trajes típicos (traditional dress), some nestling infant children. However, scratch the surface even a little bit and you will learn that this Committee is made up of community members who consider each other to be strangers. Many sit on different committees, representing different factions of the community and have come together for the first time in years with the purpose of a achieving a common goal.

We don’t know yet what the future holds for the community of La Ceiba; but what we do know is that they are trying to make a difference in their lives, not only through individual efforts, but also through an earnest effort to become a united community again.

- Noah Marwil