Building Positive Environments in Communities

This is the third post in a three-week series on our Community Development program. Find out why we do community development work here, and learn more about how we work here.


Think back to your first day of kindergarten. Were you nervous? Excited? Maybe you cried when your parents left, or maybe you were too excited about your new classroom to notice their absence. Maybe you don’t remember! Either way, chances are that day held a lot of emotions.

For children in a community Cristosal worked with last year, the first day of school brought all the usual emotions… plus the need to worry about everyday safety. On the blog this week, we’ll look at how our community development program applied a human rights approach to this problem.

Cristosal hosted a Citizen Formation School course in association with this particular community. The course teaches citizens to design and implement rights-based development projects. Community members who graduated from the Formation School zeroed in on their local kindergarten.

Without the resources to build a complete protective perimeter, the kindergarten had done the best it could with the materials available. Classrooms were partially surrounded by a border of sticks, wires, and sheet metal, leaving a real danger that students could hurt themselves or accidentally wander off and get lost during recess. Ultimately, students (rights-holders) had to choose between their right to education and their right to security.

The Citizen Formation School graduates made a plan and presented it to the local government. Government leaders (duty-bearers) approved their initiative, and provided specialized human resources, blueprints, machinery, and equipment for the project. Cristosal, with a grant from Australian Aid, provided construction materials, and community members supervised the construction process. With these combined efforts, Cristosal, community leaders, and the municipal government constructed a perimeter fence, wall, and metal defense that helped protect the children during their time at school.

This completely transformed the school’s environment.

A student told Cristosal staff, “The school is so beautiful, and now I like to come here even more.” The new protection system made it possible for more students to claim their right to education without endangering their right to security. By the end of the year, student enrollment and the number of teachers had both increased.

Through this project, the community learned a new way of doing things. Their perspective about development shifted, from something that happens to them to something they can take charge of. Community members realized the value of their citizenship, which allows them to take necessary action to access their rights.

This project used sound human rights principles to move toward a human rights standard. Community members were integral decision-makers throughout the process, from identifying the issue to implementing the solution. Because of the way the project was implemented, the new security system has had a positive social impact on the entire community.  By working from within the community to produce positive change, Cristosal helped expand the community’s capacity to build environments where the rights of all people are respected, protected, and affirmed.

When the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Displaced Persons visited El Salvador, Cristosal invited her to meet with community members at this very same school. Watch the video to hear more about her visit from Community Development Director Mauricio Quijano.

Hannah Rose Nelson