New platforms, new roles for Garifuna women in Honduras

WAGUCHA is a community-based organization of the afro-indigenous Garifuna people, a group historically unserved by public policies and services. It is led by Garifuna women who organized rescue, recovery and reconstruction in coastal towns after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and leverages knowledge gained through community risk mapping to access local government resources and recognition. Reflecting this expertise, WAGUCHA’s grassroots leaders have been invited to train local authorities on resilience building, supporting actions linked to the UN ISDR’s Resilient Cities Campaign. WAGUCHA has also built an active multi-stakeholder platform linking national ministries to community priorities, creating a place at the table for communities to participate in government emergency response and early warning strategies, land-use planning processes and to access livelihoods support.


Honduras is a country highly vulnerable to natural hazards. Severe storms, drought, hurricanes, landslides and earthquakes destroy infrastructure and housing, cause food and drinking water shortages, and damage crops and livestock. Following the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, Garifuna women from WAGUCHA organized relief and rescue operations, helping communities to relocate from high-risk areas and rebuild their lives. Garifuna women organized seed banks to protect indigenous plant species and, in turn, community food security, livelihoods, and natural resources. They also grafted fruit trees to prevent erosion of coastal areas and created the first ever Garifuna market place.

Mapping risks: an entry point to disaster risk management and engaging partners

In 2008, WAGUCHA learned community-led risk mapping in a four-country peer learning exchange and showcased their seed banks and other adaptive practices to peers from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Jamaica. Within a year, women leaders from WAGUCHA had trained sixty Garifuna grassroots leaders on community risk mapping. They found that collective risk analysis and prioritization offered a strategic entry point for engaging local governments and used their findings as the basis for collaborative dialogue. In Guadalupe Municipality, for instance, grassroots advocacy based on risk mapping resulted in authorities’ construction of a footbridge, ensuring safe pedestrian travel across flooded creeks.

Linking policy agencies to community priorities and implementation

For grassroots organizations working in remote areas, it is a challenge to gain the attention and support of the national government. However, WAGUCHA has taken part in a series of policy venues where grassroots leaders can engage their national government, intergovernmental agencies and bilateral donors. At these forums, women leaders met with policymakers such as the Permanent Commission for Contingencies in Honduras (COPECO) and the Central American Coordination Center for Prevention of Natural Disasters (CEPREDENAC). On one such occasion1ProVention Consortium sponsored workshop on ‘the Role and Power of Grassroots and Indigenous Women in Managing Disaster Risk, Antigua, Guatemala 2008., CEPREDENAC and AECID expressed their interest in learning from organizations working at the grassroots how to devise locally effective, gender-sensitive implementation strategies addressing the needs of indigenous communities. WAGUCHA’s presence in such public policy forums, coupled with the public endorsement from policy champions, has bolstered WAGUCHA’s credibility and access to representatives of Honduran governmental agencies.

Building an inter-agency collaborative platform

Systematically building on their relationships with policy makers, in 2010, WAGUCHA initiated the Inter-Agency Partnership for Community Resilience in Honduras. Since then, this multi-stakeholder partnership has linked grassroots priorities to national government agencies, giving local community access to information, budgets, and training, and influencing planning processes to address community resilience priorities. National agency partners include (i) the Ministry of Planning (Secretaría de Planificación y Cooperación Externa, SEPLAN), providing technical assistance and training on land-use planning issues; (ii) Permanent Commission for Contingencies in Honduras (Comisión Permanente de Contingencias de Honduras, COPECO), providing preparedness and response training; and (iii) the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG), providing credit to strengthen and diversify community livelihoods. Through the Partnership, WAGUCHA has helped link grassrootsleadersacross Atlántida, Colón, Francisco Morazán, and Choluteca municipalities, connecting them with decentralized programs and resources from the national ministries. This has included eco-tourism training for 300 youth from fishing communities, promoting non-timber product plantations, supporting seed banks to preserve local plant and tree species, and a multi-city network of local artisans.

New roles for grassroots women

Through their partnership with SEPLAN, grassroots leaders from WAGUCHA, Nicaragua and Guatemala, were invited by the Municipality of San Juan de Flores, Cantarranas to lead a two-day training session for 25 municipal officials. The training demonstrated how practical strategies could emerge from community-led risk analysis and mapping, and emphasized how decentralized budgets and other mechanisms could support community-driven initiatives to improve housing, access agricultural inputs and credit, and upgrade settlements.

Following this training, there was similar demand from municipalities in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The curriculum has since evolved, focusing on strategies linking grassroots organizations to local government to advance local resilience, and has come to be known as the “Cantarranas Methodology”.14 The Union of Women’s Cooperatives of Las Brumas in Nicaragua and Fundación Guatemala have since joined the Inter-Agency Partnership to organize grassroots-led trainings for 10 municipalities in Central America. National government agencies from these three countries subsequently endorsed the process and signed an agreement with the three organizations to continue applying this approach. Municipalities are keen to use this approach to advance implementation of their commitments to UNISDR’s Resilient Cities Campaign.

In August of 2013, WAGUCHA and its allies in the Central American region convened a meeting of mayors and leaders of three municipalities in Central America, including Cantarranas in Honduras, Livingston in Guatemala, and Wiwili in Nicaragua. This dialogue and exchange of strategies led to an agreement among the municipalities to collaborate with communities and grassroots women’s groups on trainings, formulating action plans for resilience building

These trainings explicitly focus on local resilience building strategies, with the embedded acknowledgement that grassroots communities are not passive victims of disasters. They are knowledgeable practitioners, prepared to share their expertise to achieve the shared goal of advancing resilient development. Grassroots communities, with the support of their allies in COPECO, SAG and SEPLAN are monitoring this agreement to ensure that the resilience methodology retains a central role for local communities.

Formal partnerships with COPECO and SEPLAN

In 2014, COPECO signed an MOU formalizing its partnership with WAGUCHA. According to the agreement, COPECO will provide technical training and assistance to WAGUCHA to supplement information generated by community risk and vulnerability maps. This might include satellite maps and the use of GPS to improve communities’ understanding of risks and help identify nearby evacuation shelters in the event of emergencies. COPECO will also provide emergency preparedness and response training for more than 3,000 community volunteers (2,400 of whom are women). In two regions, COPECO is also training and certifying WAGUCHA’s volunteer networks for emergency preparedness and response. As COPECO usually works at the local level through committees of local officials, this agreement breaks new ground, recognizing the value of engaging local community networks in emergency preparedness and response planning. Similarly SEPLAN is providing spatial planning inputs to WAGUCHA’s risk mapping and resilience planning processes. While WAGUCHA identifi and accesses land for developing livelihoods (e.g., moringa plantations) based on SAG inputs and support, SEPLAN ensures that this project does not increase disaster risks and complies with land use plans.


WAGUCHA’s formal agreements and collaborative arrangements with national governmental agencies demonstrate its recognized role as a key stakeholder with expertise in building disaster resilience. Its convening of the Inter-Agency Partnership is a unique and valuable accomplishment, getting ministries to coordinate and communicate their approach to local community resilience priorities. This, in turn, enables grassroots communities’ access to decentralized resources to diversify their livelihoods.

These government-community partnerships catalyze new ways of operating. COPECO’s certification of community volunteers indicates a shift from working solely through government agencies to broader partnerships that incorporate community leadership. Local governments are seeking out grassroots leader-led trainings and establishing partnership agreements with grassroots women to formulate action plans. These new approaches indicate that local and national governments are increasingly seeing grassroots leaders as expert practitioners whose collaboration is essential for developing more effective, robust climate and disaster resilience strategies.

References   [ + ]

1. ProVention Consortium sponsored workshop on ‘the Role and Power of Grassroots and Indigenous Women in Managing Disaster Risk, Antigua, Guatemala 2008.