At Cooperacion Comunitaria, we work to help vulnerable communities rebuild private and public spaces post-disaster in Mexico. One of the keys to this process is tuning in to the needs of indigenous communities and honoring their traditional knowledge, even as they may consider adapting or adding new technologies as they rebuild.
We are led by our community’s needs: before we start working with a new community we do in-depth assessments. In Spanish, this term is called diagnosis and reflects how we are checking the health of the community and environment. How do they build their environments, how do they work with natural resources, how do they use them, what do they produce? This assessment allows us to better co-design private and shared public spaces with them.
But recently we realized that the feedback we heard through these assessments did not give us the whole story. We were making decisions based on the diagnosis, but we didn’t talk with community members about their responses after they shared them with us. We just got the information, and then adjusted the project. We skipped a very important step: discussing the results of the assessments with community members and making decisions about the whole project together.
This meant that we sometimes missed the opportunity to help communities make the best decisions for themselves. For example, in the case of risk prevention, we mapped the community’s land with members of the community and then with a geologist. This enabled us to draw risk maps that identified buildings that would need reinforcement because they were in vulnerable zones. But, the community’s perception of risk is very different from ours or the geologist’s. We didn’t share the final risk assessment with them, so the risk maps didn’t reflect their cultural perceptions of risk. We missed the opportunity to make culturally appropriate proposals from the get-go.
If we had shared what we heard in the assessment with the community, they could have pointed out that we weren’t taking cultural perceptions of risk into account. That way, we could have started using the most accurate materials and techniques, matching risk perception with technology and cultural expectations at an even higher level. This experience reaffirmed for us the importance of recognizing that an intercultural focus requires that we constantly validate our understanding with the groups we work with.
When we started discussing the conclusions we were drawing based on what we heard during diagnosis with community members we gained a much deeper understanding of the community’s needs and desires. We got something more valuable than information: we got perceptions and insights into their culture. For example in Oaxaca, they draw their land very differently than what we were used to. They don’t look at maps with the north up, they look at it as if they are in front of their plane. They draw the lagoons and seas, and never look at it from an aerial view. This perspective was new for us. We had to change the way we see maps, and now ours reflects exactly how they see their reality, very different from our original point of view.
Even the simple choice of what building material to use in reconstruction can be a very difficult decision. Some communities want to use adobe, others concrete. We talk with them about the advantages of different materials but it’s also about context. For example, many community members feel concrete symbolizes modernity. And this discussion is complicated as some materials may not be right for the environment or temperature.
Now, through having these discussions about what land and materials mean for these communities we work with, we can understand them better. And this understanding will make all the difference between the project proposals we used to make and the ones we make now. We believe now they are more adapted to the communities we work with because we are learning how they perceive the world, their reality, their context. We have learned from them another way to see.
Cooperación Comunitaria A.C. is a non-profit civil association that works to Improve the quality of life of marginalized rural communities. Since its establishment, it collaborates to optimize it´s Habitability in the aspects: sociocultural, productive and territorial-environmental. Through formative-participatory processes with the original communities, in the production and social management of the habitat, the relationship of the population with their territory is strengthened, the sustainable use of the common goods supporting the traditional knowledge of the communities and promoting their intergenerational transfer, and the rescue of traditional ways of organizing, self-building their living spaces to strengthen their self- management.
The projects for the Comprehensive Reconstruction of Habitat in both the Mountain of Guerrero and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, have received national and international awards. The organization has also participated in differents congresses, seminars and training workshops to other private institutions.
México City. Master in Architecture from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Since 2010. She is a founding partner and director of Cooperación Comunitaria A.C. organization, where projects of social production and management of the habitat have been developed in rural and indigenous communities, which have been awarded 6 times with national and international awards. Since 2003 he has conducted research on self-produced progressive housing processes, both in peri-urban and rural áreas, and the impact of social relations on the social production of housing and habitat.
She has participated in various congresses and workshops for universities, foundations and public institutions. Among his most recent publications on the subject stand out Qualitative análisis of popular housing in Mexico City, in Volume Popular housing in Mexico. Challenges for the 21st Century (coordinated by Jorge Andrade and Everardo Carballo, UAM 2011) and Kommerziell oder selbstgemacht. Privatwirtschaftlicher Wohnungsbau und Eigenkonstruktion in the book Verhandlungssache Mexiko Stadt. Umkämpfte Räume, Stadtaneignungen, Urban Imaginaries (Coord by Anne Becker et al. Berlin 2008) and the article co-authored with Eng. Gerson Huerta ´´The Homogenization of Cultural Diversity in Housing´´, Digital Magazine Spokesman, Sept 2015. The Multidimensional Reconstruction, Diario Animal Político, Sept 2018.