Empowering local communities is the key to ensuring the long-term success of conservation projects, as World Land Trust (WLT) partner organisations prove
Sonia Tiul Cabnal has lived her entire life in front of the beautiful waters of the Rio Sarstun river, on the border between Guatemala and Belize. In 2005, the area was turned into a protected nature reserve, called the Rio Sarstun Multiple Use Area.
The World Land Trust (WLT) helped fund a reserve within the Rio Sarstun Multiple Use Area, which is owned and run by our partner organisation FUNDAECO (Fundación Para el Ecodesarrollo y la Conservacion).
Since the reserve was created, Sonia’s community (called Barra Sarstun) have been working towards the sustainable management of its natural resources and set up the Women’s Committee for the Barra Sarstun Community (Comité de Mujeres Comunidad de Barra Sarstún), working in collaboration with FUNDAECO.
Sonia, at only 25 years-old, stands out as an enterprising Q´eqchi woman who has demonstrated love and care for her people and her community. She was employed by FUNDAECO as a technical assistant and to manage the women’s group. She says:
“Before, women didn’t recognise their rights; we have managed little by little to increase understanding […] and undertake commercial activities to support the family income.”
The Women’s Committee for the Barra Sarstun Community is made up of 47 working women (mostly illiterate) who have been developing various projects – from ecotourism, managing a bakery, to running a corn mill.
The group’s determination and hard work means it has been recognised as one of the most productive groups of women in the region. They started with the development of ecotourism and they are now running an Ecolodge called Lagunita Creek, which FUNDAECO use to host visitors to the reserve.
After Sonia’s first year as manager, the group more than doubled their income; this enabled them to buy a nixtamal (tortilla dough) mill to process corn for families to use. They also bought an engine for their boat in order to sell bread in other villages and to generally support the organisation of the group.
Many of these achievements are thanks to Sonia. In April, her contract ended but amazingly she continues to work without pay. She says:
“FUNDAECO gave me a lot of help and knowledge through training. My task will always be to transmit my knowledge to my community, in particular to the Q’eqchi women who need it so much.”
The income generated by the group’s efforts support their families financially, as men must rely only on fishing and agriculture which are very susceptible to fluctuations in produce. The women therefore provide food security and ensure that the children can go to school.
For Sonia and the other members, happiness comes from supporting their families while knowing that the visitors to the reserve are happy – seeing their amazed faces when they are in this sanctuary for nature.
“A week ago, a group of nine young travellers came and they saw dolphins – they were really pleased and never imagined they were going to have such an experience.”