Narrated from a community leader’s viewpoint, we take a look at the neighbourhood of San Pablo, Ecuador, where the project “Guardians of the Hill” conserves urban ecosystems while at the same time empowering female community members.
San Pablo is an urban parish of the city of Portoviejo, located on the coast of Ecuador, with an approximate population of 12,000 inhabitants of which 52 per cent are women and 28 per cent children under the age of 12.
Structural poverty is prevalent in the community. This has an impact on daily life, articulating itself for example in domestic violence, traffic accidents, crime, and chronic risks associated with natural and socio-natural phenomena, such as landslides.
Against this backdrop, a woman leader and matron of the parish stands out who has strengthened organisational processes relying on awareness and recognition of her surroundings, history, and culture. This woman is Zoila Moro, who infects her neighbours with her enthusiasm and commitment to take ownership of public space which she aims to make friendly and safer.
Zoila Moro © Pablo Palacios
Her sense of belonging to the area includes that she defines her neighbours as her “great neighbourhood family”. This results in a joint evaluation of existing needs which are resolved in solidarity.
The community characterises her as a brave, enterprising, and hard-working leader. Zoila herself says, “I do a bit of everything, I’m not scared of work and I am the pillar of my family”. In the mornings she works in the cafeteria of the Juan Montalvo school, in the evenings she dedicates herself to her bazaar. She inherited a small shop from her father, but she lost a lot in the last earthquake, “bottles of oil and fizzy drinks were broken; I lost everything… but anyway, I didn’t stop, I took out a loan and I established a mini-bazaar”.
Zoila Moro is a, community leader, and president of the parish for the second time, who, smilingly, admits to being “involved in almost everything. […] I am also a health promoter and I organise bingo events and, of course, the festivals…”
Involved in Everything – For a Committed Neighbourhood
When we talk about San Pablo, we have to go back to the 1960s. Back then the hills looked totally different. “My father arrived here more than 60 years ago when this was nothing but forest; very few families lived here”. By now, less trees cover the hills of San Pablo. Therefore, heavy rainfalls during the rainy season cause landslides in surrounding hills and flooding of the urban centre. Zoila dreams of seeing her hill “green, full of carob, kapok and tamarind trees”. She shares the stories that her grandmother told her when she was a girl: “she told me that the hill used to be full of carob trees, which were very large, and which gave them a lot of shade”. Smiling playfully, she says that, “since there were so many hills, trees and fauna, there were said to be elves”.
Zoila is convinced that they should restore the hill. This is why she decided to be involved in the “Guardians of the Hill” process. She mentions that “what mobilises people is social action.” Therefore, she aims to include the community in her struggle of restoring public spaces, encouraging the community to paint houses and arranging flowers and plants on her block. Furthermore, ecosystem-based installations such as orchards, terraced slopes, eco-paths and/or playgrounds, which stabilise the slopes and allow for increased rainwater infiltration, aim to help mitigate the risk of landslides and to support the restoration of the hill.
San Pablo © GIZ Ecuador
Many of the people involved with “Guardians of the Hill” are women. This makes for a further positive effect of the initiative: through becoming groups leaders, many women are encouraged to speak up on domestic violence, and to identify and guide procedures to support women affected by violence.
She says that transforming your neighborhood is how you fix up your house: along needs but in an organised and entrepreneurial way”. For her, every day her struggle is in recovering public space, calling on the community to paint the houses, arrange her block with flowers and plants.
To her, awareness and sensitivity to the needs of animals is a further aspect of a well-functioning community, articulating the fact that “in the neighbourhood there is room for us all; animals are part of our lives. How people take care of them and love them says a lot about the wonderful people that we have in our parish”.
Her generosity and impetus to serve her large family is touching. “I am silly when it comes to doing something for us. I could spend days on end knocking on doors until we achieve our goal”. This is Zoila Moro, a sensible fighter who mobilises people, enables them to understand how a community is built, and encourages every “family member” to become a more proactive person, making for a committed and resilient neighbourhood.