Situation Before the Initiative Began
Villa Hayes, a rural town and the capital city of the largest province of the region with a population of over 32,000 people (47% aged 0-18 years old), with the lowest school-performance in the country, is located in the semi-arid western bank of the Paraguayan river, known as Chaco. More than 50% of the population lives in extreme poverty; the average year of school attendance is 4.76, and the average children per women is five. Scarce local-job opportunities for men, forced then leave their families to work in far-located ranches, thus having a prevalence of one-parent families. No access to information technology and communication were available; community had never hosted cultural events such as performing arts, concerts, book launchings nor use a public library; and, women could only access to church- related activities.
13.2 Establishment of Priorities
Statistics and community-based conversations with authorities, province government officials, Ministry of Education’s local representative, schools teachers and students, youth, citizens and interested parties, helped the Center focused its actions on the youth, children and women. To foster women’s leadership, the Direction of the Center has been run by a female executive. Likewise, the Center established a community home organic gardening programme to ensure that women in the community have their space, different programmes and skill-adquiring training have been brought for teenagers and children. Cultural Diversity and equity has been respected by involving indigenous people, youth and children at risk. A reading encouragement program to develop life-long readers is set in place under the leadership of women. Support group for fund raising of the Center’s orchestra is led by a woman, but the orchestra is directed by a 18 years old male Musician.
13.3 Formulation of Objectives and Strategies
To connect the community to the rest of the world and empower youth and children to feel part of a globalized society, the center focused on providing information technology access by means of computer classes and internet. For that a computer room was fully equipped by articulating resources between the private and public sectors. An agreement between the Center and a National Government office provide free-access to computer classes for children and youth.
Music was encouraged by offering guitar lessons, and later on bringing the Pilot Project for a Music School Orchestra, which resulted on the “Bajo Chaco Orchestra”. The program is attractive to children and teenagers, and also is very well accepted by adults.
Reading was major problem, at all levels, so it was imperative that a free-access community library be started, for school students, and also some entertainment activities. We still have a long way to go in this field, and to bridge that gap an intensive Human resources development program is being run with the support of the Rotary International Foundation, the Ministry of Education of Paraguay, the Centro Cultural Melodìa, and a Group of Reading Experts.
Involving women in the Center’s activities planning and actually providing a key space for their development has been essential to have a “Grupo of Señoras”, and their families interested in the Centro’s activities.
Cultural Diversity is promoted and respected, by extending participation opportunities to all residents, including indigenous people and physical impaired as well.
13.4 Mobilisation of Resources
From the beginning the Centro Cultural Melodia has formed partnerships involving local authorities, civil society, private sector and international organizations. Every initiative the Centers has it opens to the community to carry out activities all together, to enable a major impact. This practice it is also considered one of the Center’s main strength as it provides the community protagonism on its development.
The Association Melodia, is the main financial sponsor of the Center’s; however, the partners involved in each activity, make a major contribution, usually in Human Resources, logistics, and kind so that actions are in place. .
Another important source of resources, represents the network of civil organizations and international agencies Melodia is connected to.
When the project started everybody was curios and cooperative about the Center. In fact, they actively participated on the survey ran to establish objectives and design an action plan. But when the Center opened, it took a while for the general community to actual come and use the center. Teachers and civil organizations were the first to attend; library use was strongly encourage by teachers assigning research work to students, and thus gradually the community take ownership in their cultural center. As we look back to those days, it is impressive all the creative initiatives the Chaqueños can come up with. At present, the Center is concentrating its effort on helping the community take ownership on their projects, so that they lead their own ideas in a joint effort with other residents. As an example, after two years of promoting Children and Youth Rights Training Programs amongst authorities and Teachers, in cooperation with the organization Defense Children International – Section Paraguay, the Center is now invited to those events as guests, because the community is now taken the responsibility in the project. Similar experience is taking place with the Province CNC-UNESCO office, as they are no longer highly dependant on the Center’s intervention to meet their goals.
13.7 Results Achieved
The Centers success results from the combination of a private initiative with firm determination on making improvement in the community by involving everybody in it. The Melodia effects as some called has made possible that various actors, organizations, institutions and similar gathered their resources and sheltered their hopes under a common goal “Let`s improve Villa Hayes”. This fact is showing a change in people´s living condition as they have risen their standards. Melodia’s line of work, has also inspired public offices to function on a more equal and diverse manner, so that benefits reach everybody. The involvement of Melodia with a Para-Statal organization like FONDEC in charge of the Promotion of Cultural Development has made an important contribution to a descentralization process the started three years ago. High level of participation of the Chaqueños to all sorts of cultural and educational events. The 2004 National Creativity Writing Competition was won by an 18 year old local writer, presented by Melodia; and, 23 Children from the outskirt of Villa Hayes participated in 2004 International Painting Competition “May Peace Prevail on Earth” sponsored by the UNESCO Office in Chile. The String orchestra has recently been invited to attend a Pre-Cosquin Festival in nearby border town with Argentina, Clorinda, to be the keynote of the event. All the different cultural alternatives offered has educated the public, and we have to please a more demanding are audience. The community is still very safe in contrast to others in the eastern region, as we work very closely with children at risk.
The sustainability of the Center is very much in line with co-ordination and integration between the different actors involved in our programme within and outside the community. Results and practice back the Centers performance which in turns becomes of interest to different organizations and institutions from all sectors that identifies in Melodia an strategic partner to fight poverty in the region. Most of these interests have been formalized by the signing of mutual interest agreement, by which resources are made available.
The Recognition of the Center as an Open Education Center by the Ministry of Education of Paraguay, not only confirmed the importance and the credibility of the work but it especially, certified that the Center is making a major contribution, to the development of the region. For instance, the Executive Director of the Center came from another city, and the fact that she considers herself “Chaqueña”, has helped raise the self-esteem of the teachers, stated by Ms. Ati Zarate, Ministry of Education representative in the area.
The Center has access to different resources and contacts that can support local initiatives, and the Center encourage and promote that community-based project be presented so that each citizen have the opportunity to grow. We help people to help themselves as they normally have more resources than any organization as such would have.
People are learning to respect each others individuality and differences, attitude that generates a more harmonious living environment. Currently, 188 teachers in the Province are participating on a year-long program “Values to Live” sponsored by the UNICEF, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, the national CNC-UNESCO Schools Networks, the Gobernación of Presidente Hayes and the Centro Cultural Melodìa.
13.9 Lessons Learned
One of the most important lesson learned was as simple as knowing that when people are ready for a change in their life, they ask what they want . One cannot force them to. It will never work.
Solidarity amongst the community members is the major asset they have. They cam share the little they have, and jet feel totally fulfilled;
Living in a very poor condition and in distant areas forced people to become extraordinarily creative to survive;
Projects that will be implemented amongst them expecting to develop leadership must include a close and systematic follow up, as they will have a lot of fear on taking up commitments.
a) People have an inner need to feed their soul to nourish their body. So, wherever there is a community of people, an opportunity to set up a cultural center is available. The idea is that people have an alternative physical space where they feel physically and psychological safe and free. The specific characteristics and the nature of the initiative will vary depending on the priorities of the community. But there are some common problems shared by all developing countries such as lack of reading culture, inequality access to information technology, women and family oriented programme. The outstanding practice here is that a group of concerned citizens decided to contribute not only with their finance but with they know-how and experience to put hands on and fight the severe exclusion endured by the people in Villa Hayes, that could be any one from any country in world.
13.11 Related Policy/ ies or Legislation
This practice has gotten the recognition from the Ministry of Education of Paraguay, by certifying the work of the Center as a complementary educational center at National Level.
Also the Province Government has recognized the work of the Center as contributing to the development of the Province.