Inclusion Video story

‘It never happened before’

A creative approach to community engagement in Guatemala has community members making videos about their lives, concerns and challenges after a series of storms and floods.

Along the banks of the winding Chixoy River, and just inside Guatemala’s border with Mexico, lies the small community of San Luis Palo Grande. More than six hours by car from Guatemala City, the town has no electricity and a weak cell phone signal, making it a bit cut off from the outside world.

Local resident Natanael Barrios says it’s pretty rare that people come by and check in with us . That’s why he and other residents were excited when Guatemalan Red Cross Society (GRCS) team came with a novel way help them share their stories — using tablets and microphones to direct, shoot and edit their own videos about community needs and concerns.

“It had never happened before, that someone bothered to come like this to ask what we are up to here.”
Natanael Barrios Barrios, Community member
San Luis Palo Grande

Using the methodology of “participatory video,” members of IFRC’s Community Engagement and Accountability (CEA) regional team joined two Red Cross volunteers to help community members design, direct, record, and edit short videos that were then shared at community gatherings.

The idea is to use the video-making process to help the community better understand and express its own needs, while also helping humanitarian organizations, such as the IFRC and GRCS, better understand how to help towns such as San Luis Palo Grande when crises emerge.

‘The community knows best’

By doing so, future responses or interventions during crises can be tailored to have a bigger and more meaningful and sustainable impact on the community because the community will be more likely to make it their own. “The community knows better than anyone what they need,” says Diana Medina, former Community Engagement Regional Manager for the IFRC in the Americas.

In addition to the aftermath of two powerful hurricanes, Iota and Eta, that slammed Central America in 2020, San Luis Palo Grande has often been inundated with heavy rains, which flood homes and crops and have destroyed many families’ only sustenance.

These are the kind of stories the people of San Luis Palo Grande wanted to get across. “To make a video so that they can see everything that happened in our territory,” says Julian Choc, community member of San Luis Palo Grande. “And so that they can see in other countries what happened here.”

Serious but fun

The activity began with volunteers from the GRCS working as interpreters, translating to and from Q’eqchi, the local language spoken in the community. Eventually, the community decided to be divided into 3 groups: men, women, and children. Children learned about COVID-19 and preventive measures while men and women learned about video and recording techniques.

The women’s group decided to make interviews in Spanish and Qʼeqchiʼ, making shots showing their homes and fields and how they were affected by the floods, which they called “La Llena.”

The men decided to use scripted fictional skits to address three topics: the cost of the basic shopping basket at the market and how this affects their local economy, the difficult access to health services and, finally, the problems caused by the Eta and Iota hurricanes.

For the first topic, they set up a pretend shopping scenario at a store; for the second topic they represented some health problems and how they help each other because there are no doctors nearby. For the third topic, they made videos of their crops and fields.

While the topics being raised were serious, there was also time for fun along the way. When the final videos were finally shown at a community school, children giggled and laughed as they watching their parents acting. The men and women also laughed as they watched themselves or the work of the other groups on screen.
Amid the laughter, community members shared expressions of understanding and satisfaction as they listened to each other’s testimonials, reports Carla Guananga, IFRC regional CEA specialist, who participated in the project.

“We can finally say that it is indeed possible for a community to express themselves through video even if they had never used this technology before, even if they do not speak the same language,” Guananga writes in a colorful description of the project for the platform Exposure.

The approach followed in San Luis Palo Grande illustrates the importance of putting the people at the center of humanitarian efforts, according to IFRC CEA experts. The community members were able to express themselves and communicate their needs through videos, despite the language barrier and lack of technology.
This experience showed that with the right tools and methodology, even the most remote and technologically challenged communities can have a voice and play an active role in the decision-making process during humanitarian crises.

Ultimately, it’s about the community, sharing ideas with each other, suggests Olga Marina Barrios Alvarez, community member of San Luis Palo Grande. “We are asking each other questions about each other, how we are in the village, how we got through the hurricane.”

People in the small community of San Luis Palo Grande make videos about their concerns following a series of storms and floods that ruined crops and drove up food prices. The digital story telling project was part of a “participatory video” initiative by the IFRC and the Guatemalan Red Cross Society to better understand community needs during and after crisis.

Building trust in vaccination

The GRCS has continued to implement new participatory and community-based projects to help communities voice their needs and concerns. One of these projects is called ‘Building Trust’, which aims to build trust in public health responses and emergency measures before, during, and after emergencies. The project focuses on fostering trust in immunization, especially in the context of COVID-19.

Through CEA activities, the Guatemalan Red Cross has sought to listen to the people they serve and adapt their messaging accordingly. In recent months, CEA activities have had a significant impact on the COVID-19 vaccination rates. In Quetzaltenango, health promoters, midwives, and a group comprised mainly of returned migrants participated in talks led by the GRCS, which generated greater care and increased vaccination rates.

The partnership between the National Society, health commissions, and community leaders was also successful in increasing confidence in the vaccine. By associating with trusted leaders, the Red Cross encouraged more people to get vaccinated , proving that community participation and accountability approaches have positively influenced the response to public health emergencies such as COVID-19.

The ‘Building Trust’ project is an example of how CEA activities can help build trust between communities and humanitarian organizations. By empowering people to express their concerns, they can tailor responses to the needs of the community better.

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