In November of 1999, Hurricane Mitch devastated the communities along the Motagua River in Guatemala. The hurricane, followed by landslides, flooding, and torrential rains, washed away the houses of the most economically deprived people. The people lost everything they owned, from their pots and pans to their animals and plants, and many people lost their lives.
The devastation caused by the hurricane, left many people homeless. The people, who today make up the town of El Triunfo, had been “relocated” to a farm eleven kilometers away from their original location along the Motagua River; most of them did not know each other. They have been placed in their new location without any efforts at building infrastructure or a sense of community among them. The local government purchased a farmland, divided it into 150 12×20 meters lots, and gave the lots to misplaced families. The families made makeshift houses out of rotten wood and scrap material, and named their new town, El Triunfo (The Triumph).
During this time, the Life Foundation, under the leadership of Ms. Louise Pope, donated $100,000.00 to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) to build a potable water well for the Guatemalans affected by Hurricane Mitch. The Life Foundation selected the area of El Triunfo to receive the potable water. When the FAU team arrived in El Triunfo on February 14, 2000, it was clear that the town needed community infrastructure as well as a water system. They saw that people distrusted each other and had no sense of community organization or cooperation.
The Guatemalan Project was born in response to the people’s need for a community. They held meetings with the people and engage them in dialogue to evaluate what they had, their strengths, their needs, their goals, and their willingness to become a community. After a few meetings, much was achieved. The people were able to recognize their strengths and to outline their basic needs and priorities. The people set out the programs for the Guatemalan Project. The women of El Triunfo identified the need for employment as top of their list. They wanted to have opportunities to work, to start their own little businesses. One thing was very clear: The women of El Triunfo did not want charity; they wanted to work and earn their own money; they wanted to have opportunities to do what they are capable of doing.
“The people of El Triunfo had lost everything during Hurricane Mitch. They never lost their dignity.”