It would be easy for the average person living in a village in the Comayagua municipality in central Honduras to feel like she has no voice in local and national politics.
The villages in the region are often remote and inaccessible, and their people struggle to survive from one harvest to another. The issues they face are unique and are often difficult for government officials working in offices in the capital to understand.
With the help of a Mercy Corps civil society program implemented through longstanding local partner, Proyecto Aldea Global (PAG), rural villagers in Comayagua and elsewhere in Honduras are discovering that their voices can be powerful and Honduran politicians are starting to take notice.
The program, funded for two years by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Thornwood and SG Foundations, has worked to bridge the gap between local civic groups, including municipal development committees called patranatos associations, and regional and national officials.
“I talked with a variety of people from women’s groups to local mayors and they all confirmed that the civil society program in Honduras has done an amazing job of helping to empower community groups,” said Mercy Corps assistant program officer Sarah Buckley, who recently visited the program areas in Honduras and Nicaragua
Buckley said that one highlight of the program occurred during this past winter’s presidential election race. Working with a coalition of 11 patranatos associations, Mercy Corps/PAG staff helped to organize meetings involving the leading presidential candidates, including the eventual winner, Ricardo Maduro, and local citizens. In the meeting, candidates were asked sign statements saying that they would work on local development issues and maintain a dialogue with the patranatos associations.
“It was a pretty powerful example that individuals working together can take charge of their lives and their communities. By impacting issues on a national level it has inspired people to say ‘We can do it. We can make a difference,’” Buckley said.
The coalition also organized town hall meetings with mayoral candidates in six municipalities, allowing citizens to ask questions and give input about the needs of their communities.
Buckley said that Mercy Corps’ civil society programs in Nicaragua have also focused on creating a network of civic groups and have encouraged dialogues with local municipalities.
Bringing together 26 civil society groups in the Jinotega region and the municipal mayor, the program helped to draft a strategic development plan for the region.
“It has been difficult bringing groups with diverse backgrounds and agendas together, but I think we have demonstrated to both individuals and government officials that civil society can and should play an important role in Nicaragua,” Buckley said.