The Municipality of Villa de Zaachila is located in the peri-urban outskirts of Oaxaca, next to the city’s largest garbage dump. Once informal settlements, only 30% of households have running water, 76% of the population lives in poverty, with 25% of these in extreme poverty. Many people in Zaachila are informal recyclers and waste pickers, which exposes them to a myriad of health risks. There are no trash collection services within the community, which leads to improper disposal of waste and many families burn trash as a source of heat. There is lack of access to fresh, nutritious food, which leads to high rates of malnutrition, especially among children and young people. Members of this community experience significant discrimination due to living near a landfill, and without opportunities to improve their life circumstances, many young people feel hopeless about the future.
In July 2017, a social conflict erupted in Zaachila, which continues to influence the welfare, mobility and security of young people and other residents. Members of a group called the June 14th Popular Front that controls groups of motorcycle taxi drivers in the area and has been linked to crime, had 50 their houses burned down by residents who took matters into their own hands, after inaction by the authorities. The displaced families have not been able to return to the community. The conflict continues, though more latent. Residents remain alert as they receive ongoing threats of retribution from Popular Front members, and continue to cause blockades in the streets accessing the municipal garbage dump in an attempt to get authorities to act. Motor taxis still have not resumed service, which means people have to walk great distances (a safety concern). After the incident, violence in Zaachila is more palpable.
Safety issues and adherence to traditional gender norms in Zaachila limit the mobility and life prospects of adolescent girls. Public spaces are deemed too dangerous for them (harassment is common and there have been recent incidents of rape and trafficking of girls) and girls are often not allowed to leave their houses unless accompanied by a family member. Families expect girls to take care of their younger siblings and do most household chores. Some consider girls ages 14-15 to be old enough to have children because there is little access to sexual and reproductive health and rights education, many girls get pregnant before they turn 18. Young men in the community are taught that to be “masculine” is to be violent and aggressive, particularly in regards to their sexuality, which negatively affects young women. With few positive role models, young women look to pregnancy as a way to transition into adulthood, and some young men engage in risky behavior such as doing drugs and joining gangs.
Founded in 2009, SiKanda is a non-profit organization that works with highly marginalized communities including waste pickers living in and around Oaxaca’s largest municipal garbage dump to address in creative ways critical issues such as inadequate waste disposal, sanitation, health issues including malnutrition, low levels of education and skills, and lack of employment opportunities. It takes a holistic approach in working with communities that have been largely ignored by the government and most local organizations (which lack expertise in these issue areas), and supports individuals to become productive members of society. Its work with adolescent youth supports them to improve life skills, increase self-esteem, challenge traditional gender norms, reduce violence and become change makers in their communities. Co-founder and Director José Carlos León Vargas has 14 years of experience working with international NGOs in Latin America, Asia and Europe, and has worked with human rights organizations in 35 countries to combat poverty through sustainable development.
EMpower’s 5th grant to SiKanda would provide training to 368 students (grades 7-9) including 30 youth promoters to strengthen their ability to protect themselves from violence (particularly gender-based violence) and promote a culture of peace, strengthen their psychological health and wellbeing, and increase their leadership skills and visibility/participation in their communities. Sikanda would also work with key adults in the community to create a supportive environment for youth and develop a mechanism to receive recurring donations from individuals on its website.
Primary Location: Oaxaca
Funded Since: 2014
Our Underwriters pay for all of our administrative and fundraising costs, so 100% of your donation goes directly to empowering at-risk youth.