Community Leaders Trained in Sustainable Development and Effective Ways to Teach Their Neighbors

In August, 40 students will graduate from the National School for Environmental and Development Advocates in Mexico, ready to head to work teaching their neighbors about using natural resources wisely while improving their quality of life. The new graduates’ course of study focused not just on sustainable development, but also on the most effective techniques for passing the information onto others. The school is an initiative of five Mexican organizations and is financed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Every two months for 10 months, students came together in several Mexican states for 30 hours of intensive coursework. Students ranged in age from 18 to 55 years and were chosen by the five participating organizations because they are local leaders or have strong leadership potential. They also are specialists whose expertise relates to soil conservation, water, horticulture, or forestry.

  Illustration by Allan Núñez ("Nano")According to Humberto Morales from the CampesinoCenter for Sustainable Development, a participating organization based in Tlaxcala, all the towns where the advocates work are rural or indigenous communities where 95 percent of the families make their living from farming, but have problems with soil erosion, water scarcity, and a lack of basic services.

“Sometimes it is very hard for people with expertise in, say, forest management to communicate with rural residents,” says Morales. So the coursework includes training in topics such as community planning for natural resource management, effective communications, development strategies, environmental legislation, leadership, conflict resolution, and an introduction to local civics.

Morales says that the last topic is very important because many of the advocates become local leaders and need to be prepared for this position. “If we train people so they know how to lead groups and manage natural resources, we must also give them the background and the tools to become local authorities, because if they eventually take this on, we don’t want them to lose sight of their sustainable development projects,” he explains.

The National School for Environmental and Development Advocates began in 2003, and to date has trained 82 people. One of the program’s objectives is to count on financial support from Mexico’s Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources and become a permanent national program with continuing government support. In addition to the Campesino Center for Sustainable Development, other participating NGOs are the Heriberto Jara Center for Municipal Studies in Mexico City, Alternare in Michoacán, General Campesino Self Development in Mexico City, and Nuhusehe in Hidalgo.

Ruth Hernández, from Tlaxcala, is a member of the August 2004 graduating class. Until recently, she worked as a health and nutrition specialist in the municipalities of Hueyotliplan and Españita, mainly helping women gain access to inexpensive but crucial basic services with low environmental impact, such as iron-reinforced cement cisterns to catch potable water. Since November 2001 she has trained around 150 people. Now, her job in the Campesino Center for Sustainable Development will be as municipal environmental management advocate, acting as a liaison between the government and the public.

“The school gives us the tools to better communicate our message, teaches us how to conduct ourselves as advocates, and to carry out our activities successfully,” says Hernández. During her training she had the opportunity to visit and learn from initiatives underway elsewhere in Mexico, in Michoacán, Hidalgo, and Sierra Norte de Puebla.

“The school provides the foundation and the tools for consensus decision-making,” she says, “but it also deals in creating self-respect so that one can then respect others.”

— Katiana Murillo

Contacts in Mexico:

Humberto Morales. Campesino, A.C., tel 0052 241 415 01 80. campesin@apizaco.pedernet.com.mx .

Ruth Hernández, tel 0052 241 4150 105.

Read more about this project on the Eco-Index:
www.eco-index.org/search/results.cfm?projectID=774

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