From Peru To Colombia, South American Nonprofits Let Communities Lead

After adventuring through South America, GlobalGiving Field Traveler Viktorija Noreikaite shares her experiences meeting community-led nonprofits.


Every nonprofit strives to improve the life quality of the community they are working with. It’s up to every nonprofit to find the best way of reaching out to and helping their community, but undoubtedly, the closer they work together, the better the results are. Many nonprofits are willing to take this path, but aren’t sure how to become closer with their community or how to strengthen their community focus.

While traveling through South America visiting GlobalGiving partners, I’ve seen many inspiring examples of work not for local communities but with them. Unsurprisingly, that lead to successfully completed projects, achieved goals, and greater overall satisfaction. These are the steps that nonprofits in Peru, Chile, and Colombia are taking to be more community-led.

    1. Involve major local players.

    Peruvian nonprofit Asociacion para la Conservacion de Ambientes Marinos y Costeros is advocating to save giant manta rays in Peru. It’s a tough task where the main activity in coastal villages is fishing. The nonprofit’s director Kerstin Forsber says that their work would be impossible without the involvement of the local community:

    “We work not only with local fishermen that are directly influencing the manta ray population. We also cooperate with local teachers, students, businesses, and artisans to get them involved and spread the message.”

    The achieved results are speaking for themselves: Local fisherman Wilmar has decided to stop fishing and use his boat for manta ray watching tours; the coastal town of Zorritos is colorfully painted with manta ray murals and celebrating marine diversity with parades; local students grouped together for beach cleaning activities and call themselves “Ocean Adventurers.”

    2. Ask for and act on feedback.

    Chilean nonprofit Panal is empowering students to become actors of change in their schools. They can’t imagine their growth and program development without feedback.

    Development Director Romina Martinez emphasizes the importance of listening and responding to the people you work with:

    “We constantly ask for feedback from all our program participants. It’s the backbone of our work. We use feedback to improve our programs, make the necessary changes and insure continuous improvement and growth.”

    3. Let the community take action and initiative.

    Colombian nonprofit El Centro Popular para America Latina de Comunicacion -CEPALC makes sure that Colombian children from neglected neighborhoods have their voices heard—literally. Children have their own Saturday radio programs where, among other topics, they discuss children’s rights, equality, poverty, and peace. It’s up to them to choose a topic, look for information, and create some improvised poems and songs that are streamed live.

    One of the hosts, 11-year-old Vallery, reflects on the importance of CEPALC in her life:

    “We all make mistakes and I had some conflicts with my peers but remembered what I’ve learned here and solved the conflict by talking with them. Together with our radio programs, we get taller, more mature, and above all, we grow in our point of view and spirit.”

    4. Address the root cause of problems.

    Another Colombian nonprofit, Fundacion Vivatma, is taking care of homeless stray animals. The founder, Gudrun, is convinced that volunteer willingness to devote their time and resources proves that they are moving in the right direction:

    “Just taking stray animals from the streets won’t solve the problem. Education and empathy is the key. It’s important to talk about animals’ rights and responsibility for a pet. Our volunteers have a special bond with our dogs. Sometimes they spend two hours in traffic just to come here! Many dogs get adopted by our volunteers or their friends. It’s a great help and motivation to continue our work.”

    5. Hand over your power to the community.

    Peruvian nonprofit Pachamama Raymi uses a unique methodology to eradicate poverty, improve life quality, and ensure environmental recovery of deforested Andean regions of Peru. They offer communities to participate in a two-year competition where the best ones can win substantial financial prizes. In order to participate, families have to improve their homes, complement their diet with home-grown vegetables, plant trees, and focus on a sustainable business plan. Participating families are monitored and advised by their counterparts. The nonprofit leaves all decision power to the community itself: The quarterly winners are selected by the previous winners from another community. One of the winners is feeling proud of what they’ve managed to achieve:

    “We eat our own vegetables, my wife doesn’t have to cook in a smoky kitchen anymore, as we’ve built a chimney. All family members have separate rooms. Our life is much more comfortable now. I am not only planting trees, but also have a small greenhouse with seedlings. Now I can sell trees to others. My son is helping a lot and is starting to see a future in our village not only in the city where he works at the moment.”

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Featured Photo: Donate trees to help impoverished families in Peru by Pachamama Raymi
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