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December 2012: End-of-Year Reflections from Andrew Mueller, Building Dignity's 2011-12 Program Director

posted Jun 2, 2013, 6:06 AM by Henrik Mitsch   [ updated Jun 2, 2013, 6:14 AM ]
Dear friends of Building Dignity,

As 2012 comes to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on a productive year at Building Dignity. First, some numbers: 496 children, youth and adults benefited from our Community Education programs; 127 adolescents and 24 adults participated in our leadership training programs; our generous supporters expanded our collection of laptops from 2 to 7 computers, which are used to do homework and research by over 50 children and adults per week; and leadership grants that support adult and youth-led development projects grew from $500 to $2,500.

While the above list gives a taste of the extraordinary growth we’ve experienced over the past year, let’s take a closer look at some program highlights and the people who made this growth possible.

Youth Leadership
When I arrived in Villa El Salvador in September 2011, one of my goals was to expand the youth leadership program, Voices of Youth, which had previously been implemented as a pilot program. This program seeks to provide leadership education to highly motivated youth in our community in a dynamic workshop setting. At the culmination of the program, participants design and implement their own community service project to benefit their neighbors and peers. This year, we solidified the framework for the program and developed a strong cohort of young leaders who organized a youth rock concert in La Encantada, conducted screen-printing classes for their peers, and helped out with a puppetry workshop for children. One of our most dedicated graduates of this program, Claudia Pezo, now works as the assistant facilitator for Voices of Youth. With Claudia’s added leadership, our group of young leaders has taken even more initiative to engage in service projects and organize events for other youth and the community. Before I left, Claudia and her friend Brenda suggested to Julia Smith, the Center’s current Program Director, that they organize a theatre performance at a local orphanage. This kind of initiative is the goal of Voices of Youth, and I was happy to see Claudia’s energy contribute to more youth engagement in their community.
Voices of Youth

Adult Leadership
Since my first week on the job, I spent countless hours meeting with adult community leaders, politicians, government officials, and local community educators in Villa El Salvador. My goal was to understand the challenges and needs faced by community leaders. Through meetings held with grassroots leaders (called dirigentes), I received an insider perspective of the day-to-day struggle faced by these volunteer activists. It is important to emphasize the word “volunteer” because dirigentes are elected public servants who are tasked with leading local development initiatives but receive no compensation for what is essentially a full-time job.

In collaboration with veteran dirigentes, we developed plans for an adult leadership program. The workshop series, called Discover Leadership, is an 8-session course followed by a project design and implementation phase. Using popular education methodologies Discover Leadership takes a holistic approach to developing up-and-coming leaders, touching on character development, communication and organizing strategies, project planning and financing, and conflict resolution. For the pilot project (August-October 2012), Building Dignity collaborated with a local university to bring professional guest speakers to teach topics such as project planning and working within government bureaucracy. Currently, the course participants are designing their community projects and receiving ongoing technical assistance and financing from Building Dignity.
Discover Leadership

Spotlight: Betty Lozano Revollar
If there ever was an individual leader who exemplifies the goals of the leadership development program, it’s Betty Lozano. Before my arrival, Betty had been awarded funds from the Leadership Grant project to help finance the construction of a new roof on her neighborhood’s preschool. Over the course of the year, I met with Betty as well as local business and political leaders in Villa El Salvador to secure all of the financing required for the $4,000 project. It was a time consuming and challenging affair and gave me a perspective on all of the obstacles that cause many development projects to fail in under-resourced areas like La Encantada, even with the leadership of people like Betty.
Betty Lozano

After more than a year of hard work, and thanks to Building Dignity staff and Betty’s never-ceasing positive attitude, the roof was finished this October. Now, over 60 children ages 3-5 as well as hundreds of parents and community members have access to a safe, secure place to learn and gather.
Preschool Roof Completed

Now as we reach the end of a full year of progress, we can reflect back and give a toast to leaders like Betty and Claudia who are filled with energy and a motivation to see their former shantytown rise up and move forward one step at a time.

From the staff and community of La Encantada, we thank you for your support of Building Dignity this year and here’s to a prosperous 2013!

Andrew Mueller
Development Associate
(Program Director from Sept. 2011-Oct. 2012)